Creative Leaders Retreat: The People. The Process. The Work.

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the Creative Leaders Retreat in New Orleans, put on by the One Club for Creativity. I attended sessions led by some icons of the advertising industry. The sessions covered a wide range of topics, but looking back, three common threads emerged: the people, the process, and the work. 

The People 

Of course, a conference focused on leadership had to talk about people, right? 

First there are the leaders themselves. Ari Weiss, Founder & Creative Chairman at Quality Experience and former Global Chief Creative Officer at DDB Worldwide, had a couple pieces of wisdom for leaders. One is that listening is infinitely more valuable than talking. Another is that being nice doesn't build teams—providing value does. Delivering the honest truth in a kind manner builds trust. And when sharing constructive criticism, reinforcing that it's for the growth development of that team member is key. 

Then there are the creative teams. Hiring talented people is a given. But Chris Breen, Partner and Chief Creative Officer at the acclaimed independent agency Chemistry, had an interesting perspective on how to create the most effective Copywriter/Art Director creative team pairings. Chris puts what he calls process-driven creatives and free-form creatives together. Process-driven creatives dive deep into the brief and creative strategy, while free-form creatives go wild with creative possibilities. Together, they make each other's thinking and work better, leading to breakthrough work that gets results.  

The other people who came up time and time again are the clients. Multiple presenters said trusting relationships with clients are essential, not just for account people, but for creative leaders as well. From that comes active involvement throughout the process. The days of the grand reveal are over. Clients should be part of early thinking so when concepts are discussed they're not a surprise—they're the logical expression of the work put in together by the agency and the clients. 

The Process 

When Chris Breen was starting Chemistry, he sought advice from his first two mentors: Chuck Porter and Alex Bogusky. He had back-to-back lunches with them, talking about People vs Process. Chuck Porter told him "It's all about the people. The people are what matter.” An hour later, Alex Bogusky said, "It's the process. Without a repeatable process, you have nothing. People come and go." Of course, they were both right. It's the people AND the process that create great work. 

Every agency’s process is a little different. The best ones are baked right into the culture—it's THE WAY. 

The most interesting process discussed at Creative Leaders Retreat came from Mischief: Ad Age's 2024 Creative Agency of the year and #1 A-List Agency of the Year. Executive Creative Directors Kevin Mulroy & Bianca Guimaraes explained that their first step is a strategic process that's treated like creative process. They bring 4–6 strategic approaches to their clients and before any creative ideas are shared. Once they've narrowed it down to 1 or 2 strategies, they go wide not deep with creative. Up to 12 quick ideas are shared. Once clients are in love with an idea, then it gets fully built out and crafted. Based on their accolades, I'd say the process is working. 

The Work 

Clients aren't buying people or processes. They're buying the work. Work that will build their brands and grow their business.  

Danielle Hawley, Global Executive Creative Director at Uber, shared her philosophy that great creative isn't actually subjective. At Uber, they've developed a 10-point creative rating scale to evaluate their ideas. For them, great work is brave, persuasive, timely, and finds tension. Here’s their very on-brand scale:  

10. Otherworldly
9. Blast off
8. Flying
7. Speeding
6. Cruising
5. Hitting the hills
4. On the road
3. Empty tank
2. Blowout
1. Crash

This scale isn't just used by creative directors. It's used by the creative team members, their creative peers, and the internal client teams. This opens up constructive discussions that helps push the work to new levels. 

Another perspective on the work came from FCB's Global Chief Creative Officer Susan Credle. She had an insightful view about the danger of chasing advertising awards. Too often she has seen incredible award-winning ideas, with the potential to build brands for years to come, get abandoned after a year or two in search of the next new campaign award. She told us, "Don't just be creators, be builders." In her career, Susan helped create decades-long campaigns like the M&Ms family of characters and Allstate’s Mayhem, so she has practiced what she preaches. 

The Gratitude

I feel super grateful to have attended the Creative Leaders Retreat. The One Club for Creativity did a fabulous job putting it together. New Orleans was an inspiring location, with incredible food, music, and vibes. The attendees all left their egos at the door too, so connecting with talented creatives from across North America was easy. Maybe I’ll see you there next year. 


Want to chat more? Reach out to Ryan Kenny, ZGM's Copy Director, at


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