Panel ponders difference between a creative and content director

Josh Grace, Lizi Hamer and Henry Adams

Josh Grace, Lizi Hamer and Henry Adams

The traditional role of the ad agency creative director and the newer content director function are coming closer together as the mindset of agencies is pushed towards thinking less about campaigns and more about platforms that last, a creative director at ad agency Arcade proposed last night.

Talking on a panel discussion titled ‘Is content director the new creative director’, Lizi Hamer, who is a year into her role as CD of Arcade in Singapore, said that there is not much difference between the roles, adding that modern creative directors can no longer work “in a bubble”.

Ad agencies increasingly need to bring in specialists from other sectors to answer ever more diverse briefs, said Hamer, who was sitting on a panel with Abbott regional CMO Josh Grace, the former boss of Leo Burnett Singapore, and Contented co-founder Henry Adams. “A brave creative director will say it’s never just me and my ego, it’s the best team at the right time.”

“Ad agencies can’t make anything in isolation,” she said later on in the talk. “You can’t make a TV spot and hope that the world falls in love with you. You need to think about the complete world that that piece goes in to,” she said.

Anthony Hearne, the regional boss of content discovery platform Outbrain, the company hosting the event, suggested that ad agencies were “asleep at the wheel” in the content marketing space, and media and PR agencies had taken the lead.

“They’re [ad agencies] still very focused on what they do very well – and that’s advertising,” he said. He then asked Adams why she thinks agencies are holding back on content.

Adams, who has worked at ad agencies including Ogilvy and DDB in the past, said that there should be nothing standing in their way, since there is little to separate good advertising from content anyway.

“It boils down to what it’s always boiled down to. People have to want to see your stuff,” she said, referring to Super Bowl ads as examples of content that people seek out.

“Anything really good becomes content inherently. People must actively want to see it,” she said, using last year’s The Lego Movie as an example.

“What I’m talking about is quality. If it’s good enough, you can call it what you like. The key thing is adding value,” she said.

Adams proposed that the industry has ventured “up our own bottoms” and was in danger of forgetting its reason for being – to shift “stuff off shelves”.

“However beautifully we do it, that’s why we’re here. We tend to get overexcited by the beauty of what we can do,” she said.

Neal Moore, co-founder of content agency Click2View, who was co-hosting the session, said that he has yet to meet a client that has hired a creative director for an internal role, but has noticed brand owners bringing in content directors from backgrounds such as journalism and videography.

Moore wondered if the role of the creative director is still to produce a big idea, and a content director’s job to “come up with smaller ideas around the big idea,” adding to Adams’ earlier observation that the content role was more of a technical information solutions job rather than that of a traditional creative director. 

Simon Cholmeley, CEO of content marketing firm Novus, suggested that ad agencies are not accustomed to the nature of content production, and the content director role requires a lot of unglamorous work that a creative director is not used to.

“I talk a lot with clients about the role [content director]. A lot of it is dull stuff, timelines and so on. It’s a publishing mindset. It’s a process,” he said.

Content marketing is about getting things done and creating multiple articles over a longer period of time, he added. “Ad agencies are not used to that,” he said.

Miguel Bernas, the former Singtel head of digital marketing who now runs the digital marketing function for PayPal, said that it was important for brands to get their priorities right with content.

“We’re looking at different directions as we’re not sure how to approach it [content marketing],” he said.

“It’s less about creating a piece of content. That comes after you’ve put together a framework. You have to think long term about how one story fits into another, rather than a single piece of creative or idea,” he said.

The panel debate comes three weeks after five differing view points on what content marketing is prompted a heated debate on Mumbrella.


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