Being the new kid in a creative agency is exciting, fast-paced, and challenging. You’re trying to do well at your job, learning the ins and outs of the industry, and soaking up the culture of your agency. Self doubt often abounds as Creative Directors tell you to “do it again”, “go back to the drawing board”, and “explore other options”. You’re might be wondering if you’re up to it, and what you can do to make sure you succeed.

The good news is that success in a creative agency is as much about spirit as it is about ability. And ability isn’t something you can actively work on while you’re working - you’re already busy doing that as you flex your muscles on the tasks assigned to you. In fact, the only thing I know of that you can do to get ahead while you’re working isn’t even about you. It’s about focusing on being an outstanding creative partner.

Here’s the math:

  • Being an outstanding creative partner fosters an ambitious, productive, and creative partnership
  • Fostering an ambitious, productive, and creative partnership gets more good ideas produced
  • Producing more good ideas gets you noticed and lauded
  • Getting noticed and lauded gives you access to bigger accounts and responsibilities and more internal leverage
  • More internal leverage allows you to hire and promote those who value the same collaborative, creative spirit, making everyone stronger.
  • Everyone wins. Our people. Our clients. The world.

Here are things you can do right now to be the best creative partner you can be:

1. Be dependable.

Do what you say you will. If you say “I’ll look into that”, look into it. If you say, “let’s get together at 10 to discuss”, don’t be late. Your partner has to trust you first.

2. Be agnostic about where good ideas come from.

Don’t have a “not invented here” complex. Try to make every idea better, not just your own.

3. Balance your focus on ideation and execution.

Pull your weight in both areas. Everyone I know enjoys one more than the other. Don’t leave your partner hanging out to dry on either end.

4. Push yourself and your partner, constructively.

Always find something to like in your partner’s work before you say something negative about it. If your gut tells you “no”, figure out why you’re bummed with an idea before you shoot it down, and come prepared with a solution. Some helpful language: Instead of “I don’t like that idea” try “Interesting thinking. I wonder if it’ll make the idea more powerful if we…” “Yes, and…” is also a helpful construction that will force you to build on the beginning of your partner’s idea rather than supplanting it with your own.

5. Share the credit.

Internally. Externally. Always.

6. Hang out with your partner.

Seriously. Go out for a coffee. A beer. A movie. Get to know him or her on a personal level. Even if you don’t discuss your campaign during these times, ideas will flow between you more naturally if you really know one another.

7. Don’t settle.

It’s hard to know where the edges of an idea are. So search, search, and search some more. Don’t fall in love with your idea (or your partner’s) until you’re sure you’ve explored its full range. If you aren’t sure if you’ve done that, rope in an ACD or CD to clarify your direction. Nothing is more frustrating than a partner who thinks the first idea is “good enough” and stops working toward better.

8. Be moral support superstar.

If your partner is having a late night, but your job is done, stay for coffee runs, feedback when he or she is too fuzzy to think clearly, and occasional attaboys. It’s a team effort start to finish.

9. Be a clear communicator.

If your partner is visual, help him or her understand your thoughts by drawing pictures. If he or she is auditory, speak more slowly and try to be very clear with your descriptions. If you consider the way the recipient is most comfortable taking in the information, the more likely he or she is to understand your point and expand on it instead of shutting it down out of confusion or overload.

10. Be a good presenter internally.

Before you pitch your ideas to leadership, take some time to think about how you want your work to be received, and how you should present it in order to get it adopted. Your partner may be so wrapped up in the work itself that he or she hasn’t thought about how to sell the idea internally. This is where you can really make an impact. PS - Back to number 5, always use “we” when referring to the creators of the work, regardless of who is presenting it.

Do these things and you’ll have the best creatives in the agency scrambling to work with you. Then, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re well on your way to a long and lustrous agency career.

Next up: What is good work?