4 Things I Learned From Executive Creative Director John Roberts

  • Categories:

    Creative, Inspiration

  • Date:

    July 7, 2022

4 Things I Learned From Executive Creative Director John Roberts

Creative Inspiration

Last month, I joined dozens of other Wray Ward employees who flocked to the office’s largest conference room to sit in on a special lunchtime meeting. With pizza lining the counters and extra chairs rolled in from the hallway, my co-workers and I made ourselves comfortable for a deep dive into Executive Creative Director John Roberts’ life story.

This wasn’t the first time an agency executive laid it all out there in front of a packed house. Throughout 2022, members of the Wray Ward Management team have hosted Lunch With Leaders sessions to share their professional background and personal interests, answer questions and provide inspiration.

Maybe it’s the fancy title, the recent Silver Medal award (a prestigious honor from the American Advertising Federation) or the golden reputation that contributed to a killer turnout for John’s session. As for me, a young communications professional with my whole career ahead of me, I leaped at the opportunity to hear a seasoned pro’s advice on finding success in the creative world.

Here’s what I learned.

1. Rejection is part of the job.

    According to John, when you work in a creative field, you have to get extremely comfortable with being told “no.” After waiting hours for inspiration to strike, and then spending weeks fleshing out the perfect idea, some of those rejections can feel incredibly personal.

    I understand this because I’ve felt it a number of times myself. When a story idea gets scrapped or the first draft of an article comes back covered in red, it can be difficult to separate the work from the emotion.

    To help illustrate the lofty expectations that run rampant in this business, John advised us to use this line if a friend or family member ever insists on telling us their fabulous idea for a new ad: “Great. Now bring me 50 more versions by tomorrow at 9 a.m.”

    While this may be a slight exaggeration of most of the deadlines in our industry, it does speak to the importance of bringing multiple ideas to the table. By not settling for a single idea, you reduce the chance that all the time, creative energy and passion you put into a proposal can be killed with a simple, “I don’t get it.”

    2. When creativity fails, it’s time to shake things up.

    OK, so you know you’ve got to bring multiple ideas to the table, but what can you do if the ideas just aren’t flowing? According to John, a creative drought could be the opportune time to channel outside-of-the-box inspiration.

    In his Lunch With Leaders session, John explained that while there is no secret formula for conjuring ideas, inspiration often flows because we welcome a simple shift in perspective. Finding a different approach to your task may be as simple as asking a different question or changing a single word in a brief. In the example he shared with our group, after the simple act of rotating a photo 90 degrees, John had a eureka moment that launched an entire VELUX skylights campaign.

    You can read more about the campaign in his recent blog post detailing the origins of some of his favorite ideas.

    Here are a few of the tips John gave for sparking dormant creative genius:

    • Travel often

    • Switch up your work environment

    • Take a break

    • Hold an ideation session or ask your co-workers

    • Phone a friend

    Basically, try to get outside of your regular routine as much as possible. This will help you break free from your typical thinking patterns. Once you learn how to guide when inspiration strikes, your career as a creative will soar.

    3. Know when to take the lead.

      According to John, at one point early in his career, he received a piece of advice that has affected him to this day:

      “Ninety percent of people in this world want to be told what to do. That means you only have to compete against the other 10%.”

      John said this means there are fewer people standing in the way of your success than you think. All it takes is a conscious decision to be part of the competitive 10% and thoughtful consideration of the unique qualities that make you a capable leader, either in name or by example.

      I respect John’s perspective on leadership. Increasingly in my own career, I’ve found opportunities to take charge and put my own stamp on a project. For example, in early 2022, I attended the AHR Expo, supporting a Wray Ward client’s public relations and social media deliverables from the middle of the action — the trade show floor.

      The ability to step up to a challenge is what I admire most about my Wray Ward teammates. I like to think that special talent is at least partially responsible for transforming them from kids who like to write or draw into experts our clients can trust.

      4. Good co-workers are priceless.

      If you don’t work in a creative field, you may be a bit envious of the John Robertses of the world. After all, on top of everything else he does as Wray Ward’s vice president and executive creative director, John gets to travel to shoots and help create magic on-set.

      Well, according to John, it’s not just about the job you’re doing or the clients you’re doing it for. In fact, one of his biggest takeaways from more than 30 years in the industry is that the people surrounding you in the office and on-set really make or break a role.

      One of the last stories John told in his session described the scene of a recent photo shoot for Moen, where the team was charged with capturing photography for the upcoming product catalog. According to John, any team could have shown up and simply shot smiling models sipping water for a faucet manufacturer. Instead, he challenged his creatives, as always, to think outside the box.

      Within minutes, the group was throwing props into a pool, building makeshift sets and capturing the models from new angles in real time, as they imagined them. John stepped back and admired the creative process in action, thinking that working with these folks was something he was truly lucky to do.

      I work on the communications side of the business, so I didn’t expect a creative director to have so much career advice for me. However, at Wray Ward, anybody can flex their creative muscles and be a leader on their team. Like John, I feel truly lucky to be here.

      Ready to step into your next role with our anything-but-boring team? Check out our open positions.

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