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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  ECD: What’s the “E” Really Stand For?

ECD: What’s the “E” Really Stand For?

Posted on September 24, 2012 and read 7,313 times

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troy scarlott ECD:  Whats the E Really Stand For?Troy Scarlott

I have been on the creative side of the agency business for my entire career. I have worked for some great agencies: creatively-driven agencies (BBDO), account-driven agencies (McCann) and digitally-driven agencies (iCrossing). Along the way, I was fortunate to work for a number of very talented Creative Directors, a host of stellar account folks and my share of forward-thinking clients. I have also worked for the stereotypical, yet very real, egomaniacal Executive Creative Director who “sold” only their own work – campaign after campaign, year after year.

I toiled under the very talented ECD who was great at doing the work yet terrible at managing the client, the project or their respective creative teams. I also have worked with the “yes-man” account person who took orders and forwarded emails. And of course, I attempted to partner with the indecisive client who did not trust anyone, especially themselves, and then readily blamed the agency for every issue.

We all have advertising stories that would make for great Mad Men television.

Just for fun…here’s a few.

Have you heard the one where the ECD dumped our campaign storyboards in a closet and then sold their own work to the clients? How about the one where the ECD got in a fist fight with the Account Director, in the office, because they didn’t get their way? Have you witnessed the one where the ECD ripped up a fellow creative team’s script and then threw foam storyboards across the room because the work, in their eloquent words… sucked! What about the ECD who fired an art director for not coming to work on a Saturday, even though it was their sister’s wedding day? Did I mention it was their sister’s wedding!? Remember the one where the ECD collected a shelf of ad awards while failing to share credit with the lowly creative team that created the campaign idea, all in the name of ‘paying your dues.’

These stories certainly prove to be great conversation yet they don’t make for exemplary creative leadership. I figured that one day I would just say, “enough is enough” and run screaming right out of the ad business. Fortunately, I did run. I ran around and around New York City’s Central Park reservoir. And believe me, those runs gave me the time and reflection I needed. I realized that if I wanted any chance of being a respected ECD in the future, I was going to have to figure out a way to learn from the very ECD’s who were hell-bent on teaching me absolutely nothing. I was going to have to learn what to do from observing what not to do.

So I watched, listened, and observed what was going on in the conference rooms, the hallways, the internal presentations and in the late night work sessions. I listened to every creative, account person and client I worked with. And I made mental notes on what they loved about the business, and what frustrated them. What they needed in an ECD, and what they didn’t.

That was the most enlightening time of my career. It was a period where I accepted that I knew absolutely nothing about being a creative leader. I spoke less, and listened more. I tried to learn from everyone and every situation – even from the ECD who wielded fear and competition as the catalyst for greatness. Because through it all, I absorbed so many insights on what it would take to not only be a successful ECD, but more importantly, to be an ECD that creatives would actually want to work for.

I learned that the role of Executive Creative Director requires much more than just being the executive with the right to make the final creative decision. I learned that I need a new perspective on the very title, ECD. So grab some more Scrabble tiles, because to be a successful ECD today, it’s going to take a lot more “E’s.”

For me, ECD now stands for:

Ego-less Creative Director

Make the work better, not do the work. Our goal is to build a group with the best and brightest across all departments – creative, production, social, media and technology and then empower each person with the responsibility of owning their projects. It’s truly amazing to see the ideas and solutions they develop.

Expanding Creative Director

Accept that advertising is a business, not my personal creative sandbox. I need to expand my role to contribute to the growth of my agency; to develop marketing programs that makes our clients successful; and focus on mentoring the next generation of agency leaders.

Educating Creative Director

Become a digital educator. Obviously, the digital and social world we participate in has dramatically changed the way we approach marketing. My role is to share my digital knowledge with both the agency and our clients, help the teams understand the challenges and opportunities of the new digital landscape and guide them through the process.

Effective Creative Director

Roll up my sleeves and get involved on a day-to-day basis. Dive into the research phase, participate in the stakeholder interviews, build a pipeline of trust with our clients, write the decks… all with the goal to provide purposeful direction and effective feedback to our teams.

Emboldening Creative Director

Inspire and motivate our agency and our clients to think of things that have never been done and then figure out how to do it. Regardless of timing, objectives or budget. At Ignited, we call it setting the world on fire.

Exercising Creative Director

Be a creative leader by exercising both sides of my brain and remembering to use my backbone… selectively. There are a lot of battles in the agency world. My role is to figure out which ones are worth fighting for.

eCreative Director

Embrace the little ‘e’ and look beyond big budget, brand building TV spots. Open up the immense marketing arsenal that is at our disposal and strive for the best solution. It may well be producing a TV campaign yet it could just as easily be an immersive web experience, or an app to grow a social community, or a content strategy of low budget web films or dare I say, an A/B test of paid search ads. Advertising has changed dramatically and my role is to be an eCD… everyday.

Exemplary Creative Director

Remember that our actions speak volumes. I need to realize my fancy Aeron chair is made to be ergonomically correct. Not to be a throne. My role is to set the example of what it means to maintain personal responsibility, a process of intense collaboration and a passion for innovative creativity.

And I always have to remember one important thing… our creatives our probably watching me just like I watched my former ECD’s. It’s obvious that I have some capital “E’s” to live up to.

Which means one more “E” for you.

Excited Creative Director.


  • John Sparks

    You describe just one ECD personality. I would contend that there are different management styles as unique as personalities. I’ve worked for the decisive ECD who sees it, instantly knows it’s great or sucks (no in between), and demands new ideas by tomorrow. Then they, yes, occasionally sell their own work if you fail to please. I never minded someone that demanding, and I’d offer that I could name (if I was going to name names) several exceptionally successful, admired and One Club Hall of Fame ECD’s with that type of driven personality. One in Richmond who I consider more a father to me than my own Dad in some ways. I don’t think you need to be as much of a people person as you contend, although that’s an ideal for sure and I’m not saying it’s bad to have human sensitivities. The incompetent characteristics are, of course, unacceptable. However, different personalities can be extraordinary albeit well outside your ECD ideal. Eisenhower was a great general, and perhaps a lot like the ECD you describe. But can we say that Patton was a failure as a general? Were the people who did their jobs under Patton any less effective? Were some perhaps more effective? Sure, working under Patton might not have been laugh a minute, relax, kick your feet up and talk ideas. But if your book gets better by the day. If you study Patton. If you learn from him and become a stronger creative in the process. Then working under Patton could actually be more rewarding for you as a creative and for your career long term than serving under Eisenhower. Depends on whether or not you have a thick skin and can you perform under pressure. I’m not advocating one ECD personality type over another. I suppose I just think your article paints a picture too narrow. There’s actually NOT just one ideal ECD. Nor is every creative person the right fit for the ECD’s personality. That’s perhaps the biggest variable missing in your article. Hiring the right people for the type of ECD in place is (to me) the key. Or, if you’re hiring an ECD to work in your shop, one needs to profile the personalities of key staff as well as the ECD in order to make sure it’s a good fit. I love a world with a spectrum of people and styles. If every ECD was exactly alike, there’d be just a little less of a spectrum in the world of advertising. That would be sad.

  • Ernest Burden

    Very well said.

    Ernie, Creative Director.

  • Cat Sautter

    Love this.  As a long time Independent Producer I have been privy to or witnessed many of the samples above. Very happy you and I know others strive to be just that “Excited.”

  • za rose

    Thanks Troy Scarlott..!!Here;s my 2 Eeeezz fer ya.
    Enticing Explanation.

  • Troy Scarlott

    very good points john. i agree that we need all types of ECD’s. My main point was that the role of the ECD has expanded dramatically in the last 10 years. thanks for the comments.




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