David Innis: Where you go after being a successful Creative Director

David Innis has been writing advertising for over 30 years. Before setting up Fat Free, David was vice-president and senior copywriter with Vickers and Benson Arnold Advertising, MacLaren McCann, Chiat Day and J Walter Thompson, Toronto, at JWT Sydney, Australia and Bombay. His awards include Cannes Bronze Lions, The One Show, New York Art Director’s Club, London International Festivals, Toronto Art Director’s Club, Cassies, Marketing Awards, Clios and more.   

Good question regarding where you go after being a successful Creative Director. The bigger tragedy is feeling burned out at 35Personally, while I have been a Creative Director and owner of an agency (Nexus) at thirty, I feel that I am NOW in a position to be a Creative Director. I wasn’t ready for it then. Sure, I did the job, but it was one-dimensional. On a lucky day, it could be two-dimensional. And if I ever had a three-dimensional day, it was the 100 I scored at a CAG cricket game against Rediffusion. First of all, I haven’t worked in India for a while now, so please keep my comments in perspective. Become an Entrepreneur: 
In my opinion, the barrier to growth is believing that once one is a Creative Director, the only avenue to growth and success is to become a CD at a “better” agency, and make more money. Both are important and not to be scoffed at. But there is, and should be more to it than that. As a veteran, as you charitably put it, (my friends say old fart) I’d tell you to stop thinking titles and money. Both will come. Start learning the business again. Too few Creative Directors actually know the business of the business. 
Start believing in yourself:   
As a Creative Director, you have the tools to change process. At your level, you make an agency. J Walter Thompson died many years ago. Your campaign, your work is making JWT (for example) what it is. Given you, as a CD knows what it takes to do good work, the next thing on your agenda is to eliminate things that get in the way of ideas and idea generation. Ensure you have a say in this. This isn’t politics. This is being entrepreneurial. One of the old CD’s at Fallon used to look at ads, then use post it notes to cover elements he thought were extraneous. He would keep doing it to test what the ad could do without before it fell apart. You need to do this with process. A few years ago, I made the obvious but remarkable discovery that 80% of my time, as CD, was spent on the politics surrounding advertising rather than finding and executing opportunities. I actually logged hours spent on generating and nurturing an idea – and the percentage shocked me. That was the reason for the burnout. That was also the reason for setting up Fat Free – the elimination of bullshit. Clients should pay for ideas and not process. The moment that becomes a priority, the joy comes back. India 2006 should inspire you. If every entrepreneur in India is throwing out the old way of doing things – the government included – why aren’t advertising agencies? The big agencies here dying very quickly. Clients are handing out more and more projects to smaller shops. The reason why is simple. The process hasn’t changed in a hundred years. An agency here called Rethink is actually involved in brand development and R&D. If their product idea flies, they get a percentage of sales from client. 
Get involved:  
Dip your hands into other parts of the business – even if it’s to increase your knowledge base. Shoot your own ad. Sing your own jingle – hey, a bad VO might be unpredictable enough to work wonders. Here’s a painless way to get the ball rolling. Get management’s blessings to start your own agency – within the agency. Pitch it as an experiment. Go out there and get a client – a real one. Write a strategy, sell it, come back, do the ads and sell them – with a media plan? Write an estimate and figure out the profitability. All as a creative guy. Now go back and be a Creative Director. See the different spin you put on your work, the way you lead the troops, the internal respect you get. Most of all, the level of personal satisfaction is tremendous. This is exciting stuff. Don’t get led into believing the myth that creative people are incapable of doing this. You can.If your agency doesn’t let you do that, be courageous and start your own. You are too smart to starve. And it’s okay to make mistakes. Currently, on my desktop, I have the following apps open: Word, InDesign, Photoshop, Excel, Acrobat, Fetch – and of course iTunes. That illustrates the kind of stuff I do on a daily basis. Finding a way to make money is exciting and creative. One of our clients here sells samosas – in fact, 20,000 every hour. I’ve hooked him up with Ikea and Canada’s leading grocery chain. I’m making 10 cents on every samosa sold. That’s pretty cool. Very left field for me – but it sure brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. It isn’t the money (which by the way I’m yet to get). It’s the unexpectedness of it. 
Enjoy the moment:  
I think CD’s need to rediscover Joy. We are lucky to be in a profession where we don’t do the same thing every day. Where we get paid big bucks for coming in late, shooting the shit most of the day, playing cricket, wearing what we want to wear, looking at pretty girls, eating well, and, if we’re lucky, writing ten words. This isn’t to undermine the talent that goes into it, but let’s count our blessings. My Mum is a teacher, and I wouldn’t dare tell her how much money I made and how many hours I spent actually working. 
If it ain’t broke, fix it:  
Is there a Oscar Week at your agency? No? Go buy some pizza and beer and screen a film every Friday. What about an agency DVD library? What about inviting people over for a series of lectures – not advertising guys but people from unrelated businesses. Really, all I’m trying to say here is change up the routine. Bring the unexpected to your job, not just to the ads. Bring in other creative guys like musicians and ask them to tell you what makes them hang in there. 
Give back:  
This business has been good to us. What are we doing to give something back? There was, for example, no real system in India (when I was there) to educate people enthusiastic about our profession. Sure, the Art Directors had art school, but most of us slipped into the business by accident. I know I met the CD of McCann at an illegal betting shop. We used to bet on horse racing. I was 18 then, he was carrying a copy of Advertising Age. I flipped though it and liked what I saw. Total accident. Is there an after hours project where some professionals can donate their time? As a CD, think beyond guiding your team. 
Stay healthy:  
I know it sounds weird to say that, but being physically healthy is critical. Given most of us work late hours, eat crap, and drink too much, it’s important to be in shape. I go to a boxing gym thrice a week. It pulls me away from routine. Puts me in touch with people I would never meet on a professional basis, gives me a street point of view on things, gives me the stamina to work hard and gets the endorphins going. Helps me punch out a client that’s pissed me off. And hey, it doesn’t hurt when the babes look at you too. 
Be a kid:  
Ask why. Discover. Laugh. We are lucky to be in the business. I don’t know it all – and I’m really glad I don’t know it all. Would be boring if I did. 

7 thoughts on “David Innis: Where you go after being a successful Creative Director

  1. ganapathy says:

    wow, frickin inspiring. never heard a CD put it like that! really, neatly put. i’m sure anyone reading this is gonna take a reality check.

  2. sneha says:

    superly written…never knew all dis..m still a student n after readin this my goal is to be a CD..jus lyke u..:)

  3. madhulika says:

    Hi david….. lika here ….this is a gr8 article about you…. i am in Gurgaon now …married again !!!!!! please do get in touch

  4. rajesh says:

    superb piece. someone should catch u and have u give a seminar to the CDs of delhi.

  5. Nice read. Ambition will always take you far.

  6. Quan Hoang says:

    I enjoyed and share a lot of common threads with your perspective. It’s encouraging to see that there are others. Keep going!

  7. Vinita Ghose says:

    Are you the David that studied in La Martiniere Calcutta ??

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