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3 Incredibly Dumb Things a CEO Should Never Say to His Creative Team

1. “You should really believe in our company.”


It’s hard to believe, but true. This awful phrase is most often heard from startups. It is code for: “We want you to work cheap” and “Our startup is about to go down in flames.” It’s a signal to good creatives to immediately flee for the nearest exit. See those people leaping out the windows? Those are the copywriters.


If you have a good idea, people will naturally buy into it, so never ask a supplier to believe in your company unless you’re prepared to follow with: “And we’re prepared to offer you equity.”


What you should ask of your suppliers is the best class product and services that they’re known for. Guessing who’s going to be the next Elon Musk isn’t a skill creatives are particularly good at. Better you keep them focused on what they do best.


2. “We want to be like (insert competitor’s name here).”


No, you don’t want that at all! If you wanted that you would have gone to work at the competitor’s company. You’ve got to be you, and asking a creative team to ape the work of your competitor will only result in unenthusiastic, second-rate work.


One thing a creative team can be good at is helping you figure out just how and why you’re different. I was once part of a meeting where hours were spent to reach the conclusion that a company really couldn’t say why it was better, but that there were some intangibles that somehow always produced miraculous results. We ended up talking about an alchemic blend of factors that produced quantifiable results. It was honest, and it worked.


3. “I’m not sure what I want.”


Even if you’re thinking that, don’t say it. Your creative team needs to believe that the brief you’ve given them is 100 percent on target. If creatives don’t have a clear brief, they know the assignment will deteriorate to something akin to trying on shoes in a department store. “The patent leather’s nice, but show me something in suede.” (Again, note the open windows.)


Also, not knowing what you want usually means an endless stream of invoices. Creatives are arrogant enough to believe they can get it right the first time. So definitely play to that by being sure of your assignment.


It’s always a good idea to involve your creative team at some point in the strategic phase. Let them ask the tough questions and help you figure out what you want, or at least allow them in the room to pepper your strategy guru with questions. Your work will be the better for it.


What’s the best thing you can say?


Honest, thoughtful criticism of creative work generally serves to motivate. If you can articulate why something does not work, somehow taking it beyond the subjective of “I don’t like blue,” then the criticism will be welcomed. You’ll be loved for having taken the time to seriously consider the work.


Of course flattery is nice, too. Do a little research and find something your creative has done before that you like. Mention this to him (or her). You only have to do it once, and that creative will be as loyal to you as the dog you had when you were a kid.


Of course, if he hasn’t written anything you like, then you shouldn’t hire him in the first place. Remember that window? Just push him out of it.

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