M&M Global spoke to Maxus’ newly-appointed global creative director Jen Smith about why advertising creativity means more than just art direction.
“It’s a weird first day in the job,” jokes Jen Smith, the newly-appointed global creative director at GroupM agency Maxus.
Formerly head of strategy and planning for Maxus UK, Smith is starting life in her new role at home, juggling client requests with the travails of the school run.
The role she is taking on is not the average media agency job, either. News of her appointment was greeted with some confusion, including the mistaken supposition that Maxus is getting into the business of shooting ads.
“I was surprised by how many people immediately emailed me and said, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re setting up a production department?’ It made me smile a little bit, because it made me feel there is a need for this role,” says Smith, speaking on the phone to M&M Global.
The rise of digital media and advertising technology has revolutionised the way agencies operate, and these new ‘toys’ in the ‘toy-kit’ have widened the range of opportunities for advertisers, but there is a growing debate over whether the industry has lost sight of the importance of creativity.
Rather than apply for a role, Smith approached Maxus global chief executive Lindsay Pattison over the need to represent creativity at a senior level within the organisation. “My observation was that creativity is still really important; it’s still a massive reason why people want to work in this industry. That was my pitch to the business – to take on that opportunity. It could be a golden age to really drive this through and push Maxus again to the next level,” says Smith.
A different view
So what does a creative director do at a media agency?
A good place to start would be Smith’s definition of creativity, namely, “the ability to look at a problem with a different view, and to come up with a solution that is not the default option.”
This, she argues, is central to the challenge facing media agencies like Maxus. How best to use data to inform a communications plan? How to influence clients’ supply chains, as well as their ads? And then how to implement this globally, taking into account local nuances – something she experienced as a strategy director on the Unilever global communications planning team at PHD?
“It might not work – in which case we’ll try something else. But it is important that we are continually trying to do better work”
“Creativity is still seen in our industry in such tight confines as to what it means to be creative, and what creativity looks like as an output. We still default to it being a 30-second TV ad, and the creative director is somebody that oversees the art direction. I just think it is so much bigger than that,” says Smith.
“I think it’s in data, it’s in technology, and it’s in old-fashioned media partnerships. I still love media, and I still love the things we can do with those brilliant media partners. And it’s about working with our creative partners as well, because they can’t see half the people we see. Perhaps we can pass on exciting things up the chain to those who are writing scripts and organising art direction.”
Smith says she felt emboldened to approach Maxus’ global management as a direct result of her training within the agency’s ‘Walk the Talk’ diversity programme. As well as becoming aware of the need to take control of her own career, she also claims to have become comfortable with the idea of failure.
“[The training] made me realise that nobody else is interested in your career in the way that you are. It sounds bloody obvious, but it was quite a revelation to me – I thought that all I had to do is turn up and be good at my job, and then you move along to the next rung,” says Smith.
“When you realise everyone is busy with their own careers, it made me think, ‘Actually it’s in my hands, I can see an opportunity, it’s up to me to do it.’
“It might not work – in which case we’ll try something else. But it is important that we are continually trying to do better work for our clients. I describe Maxus as like a rocket ship and, to be comfortable, you’ve just got to be comfortable with clinging on and seeing where it goes.
“As an organisation, we’re prepared to try new things, to adapt and change,” she adds.