Originally posted in Ikon London Magazine
Art and commerce go hand-in-hand in any creative business, and not always without conflicts. In any creative company, the two departments can hardly agree to compromise. The Artistic Directors often complain that the commercial department is almost solely responsible for stagnation and slow progress. It is not a secret that lack of funds and cut backs are almost always responsible for ‘quality compromises’ and more ‘cost-effective’ solutions. But, at the same time, executives may feel the creatives don’t understand the realities of business. The larger the business the greater is the abyss between these two departments.
But does it always have to be a ‘quality compromise’?
Differences aside, there are a few thing successful CEO’s see eye to eye. Managing creatives, as told by most successful CEO’s, provide a valuable insights.
Beyond being one of fashion’s most revered brands, Christian Dior Couture is known for being a very profitable enterprise. “The company has been growing for the last twenty years almost every quarter,”Sidney Toledano, the label’s president and CEO, noted at WWD’s Apparel & Retail CEO Summit in New York. Dior is currently a $2 billion business, roughly ten times larger than when Toledano became president and CEO almost twenty years ago.
“Both sides need to share the same clear goal.” Toledado noted. “You have to have in mind the business objectives and make sure the creative person has the same objectives in terms of the company. If your creative talent wants to remain a niche business, for instance, but the business wants a broad audience, you have a problem,”he said.
Tomas Maier, creative director of luxury brand Bottega Veneta, gave a creative’s perspective at the WWD event, and said his success has been driven by agreement between him and executives on long-term goals.“There was always a long-term vision,”he said. “When I started I wrote a letter to the company: “What is my vision for the brand” That’s the vision I stick to today.”
His track records speaks louder than the words. Maier was recruited by Tom Ford to take creative control of the brand in 2001, and turned a small, floundering business into a fashion label with €1.3 billion in sales in 2015.
Along with pursuing the same goals, sharing the same values within the company is imperative for the success of a business. To replace Simons after he stepped down last year, Dior House chose Maria Grazia Chiuri, who led Valentino’s resurgence. She understood Dior’s values and business and convinced her bosses that she is the right person for the role. She doesn’t just design and look from a distance. She tries pieces on. I can put my bet that Chiuri will stay with Dior for a while.
True, the brand should make label’s values clearly defined and understood for someone to share them. The values that go beyond the constantly changing corporate slogans lasting a few years just to be replaced with something more trendy. The continuity and persistence is the key, especially in the time when every brand is no longer selling just products but lifestyle choices.
Freedom to create within set boundaries
Another thing that successful CEO’s agree on is that creatives should know they have support and financial backing but have the freedom to work within set boundaries.
“At Dior, designers are briefed on what they need to create, such as jackets or bags, and their price points. But within those bounds they’re free to do what they were hired for,” commented Toledado. He continued, “But the creative person has to respect the financial constraints of the business.”
This practice has proven successful in other creative industries too. HBO, for instance, trusts writers to pen the network’s hit shows as they deem best for the story. The FX network has also built a slate of successful programming by giving shows the financial backing and freedom they need to realized their visions.
Maier, the man behind Tom Ford success, has also admitted: “I leave a lot of freedom. When you trust people you get the most.”
The list is of course by no means exhaustive but these three cornerstones should not be overlooked when managing creatives. And if one wants to make company a success, one should learn from the best and the greatest.
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