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Want to move up the creative ladder? Think like a leader.


Want to move up the creative ladder? Think like a leader. Want to move up the creative ladder? Think like a leader.

Key Takeaways

  • Creatives must prove their value by mapping their work to business goals and KPIs.
  • Supercharging creative skills is important for advancing in the industry and staying relevant.
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) is increasingly important for career growth.
  • Personal branding is crucial for standing out in a competitive field.

Sure you're creative. And while you might be a word whisperer or a pixel phenomenon, you need to prove that you're valuable. This is key to your career. How can you do it? By mapping creative work to business goals. Bumping up your technical skills. (And your EQ, that is, your emotional quotient.) Boosting your brand.

Become a boss in four steps.

1. Make creative quantitative

This is the biggie. It's how you go from contributing to leading. It's why the creative works. And it's what you need to charge forward in your career.

Research has shown that 73% of CEOs feel marketing and creative teams lack credibility because they can't prove they help grow the business. It's your team's job to explain to senior management how the work impacts the bottom line. And rather than simply basking in the creative glow of your amazing campaign, show how it contributes to the company as a whole.

There are a few ways to go about this. First, you need to figure out what your manager and the C-suite care about. This means understanding company goals, which are usually revenue related, and how your team fits into those goals. Often they are in the form of KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. Have a conversation with your manager (and their manager, too) about how the KPIs were determined and where they get the data to track them.

Say you learn one of the KPIs is lowering the cost of customer leads. Remember that amazing campaign we mentioned? Dig around to find out how much it actually costs to make. Start with how many people worked on it (say four: a writer, art director, developer, and the creative director) and ask your project manager for help with the total number of hours worked (40 hours for five weeks times four people = 800 hours) and help putting a price on that labor (800 hours x $200 per hour for the team) = $160,000.

For that money, your team created a microsite, and the online ads and paid social to drive to it. Sniffing around your media team, you learn the cost of the buy was $50,000, bringing your total to $210,000. And Google Analytics tells you that from your microsite, 500 people signed up to learn more in the first three months of your six-month campaign. Your cost per customer lead is $420 and will likely go down as the second half generates more leads — and in this faux example, that's less than last quarter's $500 per lead, which makes a compelling argument for you.

Sometimes it can be tricky to tie creative directly to revenue. Instead you can look at things like lead time per project, estimated vs. actual completion time, estimated vs. actual budget and client satisfaction ratings to build a case for how effective and efficient your team is.

You should also be gathering all the data you can. Think open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribes, number of shares for a blog or social post, comments on social. Also investigate if any testing on your site or other advertising. Which performed better? Why? Do you have demographics? How can these answers influence what you and your team do next?

2. Supercharge your creative powers

The best creatives never think they are creative enough. That means always being hungry for more. You need to be on top of new trends. Check out what the competition is doing. Check out what other categories are doing. What people are talking about on Twitter. What ads are being applauded. Notice the best emails you get yourself. The brands doing something different and those doing it right. It's all important to doing your own job better.

While the industry is ever evolving, so are the skills needed to make everything come to life. So, if you ever plan to be a creative director or lead an entire creative department, you need to keep up with new software. Don't get comfortable or think it doesn't matter. Relevancy is everything when it comes to creativity. Check out our 2019 Creative on the Cutting Edge to see what experts predict is coming next and their takes on everything from augmented reality to design systems.

In addition to boosting the tech skills in your own wheelhouse, think about how you might extend your skills into other areas. For example, if you're an art director, learn what makes a good dev. Or if you're a writer, learn a design program. Check out our free Gymnasium classes in development, digital design, copywriting, SEO, and more.

Plus, take a tip from @jessicawalsh, Creative Director of &Walsh (and followed by nearly a half million people on Instagram): Go with your heart. Walsh is a big proponent of passion projects, which she says “make me feel like I have a sense of purpose. Creating work that connects with people, that starts dialogues on topics I care about or uses my skills to give back, gives me meaning.”

3. Be the Einstein of the EQ

When it comes to career growth, your EQ (emotional quotient, or emotional intelligence) is as important as your IQ. Because no matter how much your creative wows, if your people skills are meh, so are your chances for advancement.

The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report says that by 2020, EQ will be one of the top 10 skills, and Forbes and MSNBC contributor Chris Meyers says, “When it comes to success in business, EQ eats IQ for breakfast every day of the week.”

EQ is all about understanding your own emotions and those of the people around you, and using that information to guide your behavior. When you have a high EQ, you tend to be more curious, more empathetic and less stressed. You can defuse stressful situations and stay calm under pressure. You are open to communicating with different people in different ways.

And that communication is key. You want to be clear. Be concise. If you're a better written communicator, follow up conversations or meetings with a quick write-up of your thoughts, expectations, or pertinent details. Understand how to communicate within your team, as a manager and to your manager. Know what works for people you sit next to, those who work remotely, and those who might be freelancing for your company. Think about the customers or end users that have guided your work and apply that behavioral understanding to your team.

4. Boost your brand

As someone in a creative field, you're likely aware of branding. And even if you cringe at the thought of a personal brand, it is important. In the same way you want your client to stand out from the competition, you should, too.

A good starting point is with an honest assessment of yourself (which we've recently covered here). This will help you see where your strengths are and where you can improve. It also gives you an idea of who you are — and authenticity is really important when it comes to your personal brand.

Nolin LeChasseur, CMO at Brainrider and member of the Forbes Agency Council, suggests focusing on one superpower. He says too many job seekers promote too many skills. “That usually backfires and can come off as inexperienced or indecisive. Focus on one thing you're genuinely great at and build your brand around that.”

Marketing thought leader slash guru Simon Sinek puts it as “start with your why.” His advice is to go beyond what you do (e.g., art direct) and how you do it (with open communication and humor) to why you do it (hmmmm, need more time?). The why, Sinek explains, isn't a statement about who we aspire to be; it expresses who we are when we are at our natural best.”

We've even done a lot of the work for you — check out our top five rules for personal branding here!

Okay, now you are officially ready to prove your creative value! We look forward to hanging out further up the ladder soon.