Book with Mission on it

Conscious creative leadership

Conscious business practices can be described as the focus on the well being of the people, the well being of the system, the well being of the partners (clients and suppliers), the quality of the products and services, the well being of the greater community and the well being of the bottom line all at once. So, it IS possible to work this way, and to get sound bottom line results.

These are the elements of a conscious business, and for those of us in advertising the added ingredient is the success of the creative and the standard of the creative execution.

More and more corporates are learning that there is a link between conscious business practices and business growth*.  My experience is that this also translates into profit for advertising industry businesses. We need to up-skill our industry with a more well-rounded approach to business leadership in order to remain relevant in a competitive market.

Purpose & Perspective?

Conscious Creativity starts with an understanding of WHY you are in business. What is it that you want to achieve that is at a higher level than simply making the sales, and what is it that drives you every day to do what you do? What’s the bigger purpose of the services you provide?

This understanding leads you to the unique position that you hold in your market, and defines you from everyone else. The real magic in this is by aligning it with something that your market actually wants!

I know many creative people that are passionate about making great creative executions and making big ideas above all else and see this as their ultimate purpose. That’s important, don’t get me wrong, but it is as misguided and incomplete if that is all it is about; equally as desiring a better bottom line is on its own too. I believe it is an outdated thought process and ultimately limits creative opportunity. Let’s face it – if the business is not financially viable and the work isn’t talking to the right clients in the right way then you’re on the fast track to having little or no work, or the wrong types of work in the door.

Signs of an unbalance are:

1. When you’ll find the business is spending far too much internal resources on work that may look great for the individual artists’ folios but there’s no connection to whether it has any commercial value for the direction the business is heading. Looking at each individual piece of work alone without context to where your business or the client’s is heading, is naive
2. Not enough care and attention is put into the creative execution, and the cheapest possible solution is the only thing considered
3. The client’s brief hasn’t been met
4. The client’s brief has been met, but only in a superficial way
5. Suppliers are being screwed and suffering on your behalf
6. The artwork or the creative direction is so amazing, but no one remembers who it is for or what you are trying to communicate
7. No one can tell the difference between a simple execution and a complex one – they can’t discern the value

Sound business practice is to make what I call ‘conscious decisions’ around what gets the investment of resources.  I mean that ambiguously – both as deliberate (with purpose) and in a holistic way. (By the way, ‘holistic’ is the whole picture, not the purple velvet wearing, fluffy kind).


I’m passionate about sound creative process for a variety of reasons – ensuring that the best work is getting made and any wastage on process is filtered out. Mainly so the profit is in the business’ pocket or on the screen/in print rather than lost in poor practices.

There’s a fine line where process supports the creative process and where it hinders it. Signs that your creative process is not working:

1. Your clients insist on revision after revision and you feel you have to give it to them
2. You spend too much getting projects completed, relative to the approved budget
3. You spend too much on pitching and barely cover costs in the awarded budget
4. People are arguing and disagreeing more than they need to
5. People are resisting doing what is asked of them – both passively (not doing anything, asking for more information, avoiding it, saying they are too busy) and actively (complaining, fighting you, bullying, back-stabbing, leaving the company, refusing to comply )
6. You have no clue what your creative process actually costs you day to day – how much does it actually cost for each person per hour to be employed? (Cost Per Chair)
7. You are not measuring your project profitability and using the P&L only to judge your business profitability (it is too slow and you’ll come a cropper later on when it is too late if you do)
8. You are leaving it to the end of a project to know if it is on budget or not
9. The person with the loudest voice seems to get their way regardless of processes
10. Individuals do their own thing and do not follow a consistent process throughout the business


Conscious business practices both protect the people and the business. There’s much to say on this topic but the biggest challenge is to get people aligned with the bigger business purpose and vision in order for them to feel they have meaning and direction.  From here the processes and the business success is the outcome of everything else, and it naturally aligns.

My experience is that the performance of the people is a direct reflection of management. It does all come from the top.  This doesn’t mean that the people don’t have the power to manage UP, as I call it, but ultimately a company will only ever perform as well as the manager does.

The biggest problems I see in advertising industry businesses is when people don’t know where they sit in the organisation and there is a lack of understanding about their roles and who they report to. If you are fearful of organisation charts and lines of authority then I can assure you that there will be under-performing staff. If you are making decisions that don’t respect these lines of command then you will be disempowering your people and creating conflict. If the authority of the individuals is not established and upheld by the manager then they will have no power to do their job to the fullest, or to do it with ease and without resistance. Yes, there may be some ruffled feathers to put organisation into a company that hasn’t had it before, but once the pain is over and everyone settles into place (some may leave), then the business can grow with more clarity in the future. This is a hurdle smaller businesses need to make at some point in order to grow.

Having a clear chain of command is essential, not just for each individual staff to know where they sit in the company and who they report to, but also in terms of project and workflow authority. This is a different chain of command, as it is based on an individual project. For creative work,  for example – decisions are the ultimate responsibility of the creative lead and creative director, project budget issues are the responsibility of the producer, client profitability the responsibility of the account director or GM (whatever it is for you). The key is in being clear about these and differentiating it from the org chart chain of command.

I’ve seen businesses where the project chain of command is mistaken for staff internal lines of authority (eg. the producer thinks they are in charge of creative staff hiring and firing, or the account director thinks they can change the copy or the layout on their own, or the creative director can put charges against the producer’s budget without consultation) and likewise that the MD can come in and force a change to the creative without consultation with the creative director. All recipes for disaster.

Taking these into account here are my observations of the key things people need to be happy at work:

1. To understand why they are doing what is asked of them – what’s the greater purpose?
2. To be making progress
3. To be taken seriously and respected (includes feeling like you have a say and involved in anything that directly affects you, and treated relative to your authority)
4. To understand their place in the business/team
5. To connect with others and feel part of a wider community
6. To feel of value and to be making a difference
7. To be rewarded appropriately for what we do (payment is not the main driver here although it is a basic need)
8. To feel in control/secure (including being able to predict the actions and decisions of others)
9. To be learning something
10. To be having fun

* Firms of Endearment by Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe and Jag Sheth and Conscious Capitalism movement.