Are football managers any different from creative directors?

Are football managers any different from creative directors?

Published date: 10 Aug 2018

With the premier league about to kick off, the usual trickle of friends and colleagues encouraging me to join their fantasy football league has started.

I can’t say I’m a football fan. I have hopelessly feigned interest in World and European Cups, Champions, UEFA and Mickey Mouse leagues. I do recall being bought a Norwich city shirt circa 1985 and wearing it with pride as I kicked a ball about, but that’s about as close as I’ve got.

With all this talk of fantasy football I remember hearing an interesting opinion on the similarities between football managers and creative directors, and it got me thinking.

To be a creative director, you will have played the game, spending your days as an art director, copywriter or designer. You’ve learned the trade, put your time in. You know what it’s like to graft, to win and to lose pitches, enjoying the highs and the lows of a creative career. And you’ve been a team player.

Being a team player is important. Great moments come from individuals, like winning goals and amazing saves, but the silverware and pitch wins come from teamwork, be that in an agency or a football club.

So you’ve spent your career playing. But now it’s time to lead.

I know there are a few managers who still don their boots and run out on the pitch. But these are generally at the start of their management career, usually in the smaller clubs. As a creative director you do the same. You understand when the team needs some help, rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in.

But a point comes when you shouldn’t do this any more, because your role is to manage your creative team and for them to be the stars. Your efforts should go into empowering and enabling them to score the goals. You should be building a team so you never have to play again. Ouch, did I just say that?! Yes: because I think every creative director still wants to play. I do. But you have to play in a different – and arguably better – way. A way that nurtures and guides the creative process. Identifying talent and growing it. Seeing flashes of inspiration, guiding it and fashioning it into life.

You also have to remember that, as with football managers, creative directors have an awful lot of other things to do in their day. People management, client relationships and agency board suck up a lot of time. These things have to be done, and done well, for the team to be able to perform.

So, as the season kicks off and you see your favourite manager looking slightly anxious, stressed and excited as they face a season of fixtures with their carefully curated team (or even your mate with their fantasy versions), think how it might feel to be a creative director feeling slightly anxious, stressed and excited as you build a creative team with every pitch and creative brief that lands on their desk. Similar challenge. Very different pitch.

And no, if you were wondering, I won’t be submitting a fantasy football team this year.