I got an email the other day from South Africa that contained a question so basic and simple, I was
shocked to realize I had never written more than a few words on the topic. What is a Creative Services Director and what are the CSD responsibilities? The writer, Mxolisi Gulubele (“my friends call me Blaq”) had just been given the position at Radio 2000 with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and he was anxious about doing things right. Two rather large emails later, I decided that I need to spend some time to describe a Creative Services Director’s job with some detail in an ideal situation. I have to qualify it that way because MOST of the time, these jobs exist in anything but ideal situations. Hopefully, along the way, I can give you some ideas to help boost the creativity in your situation.
I’ll begin by telling you that a CSD is NOT a Producer, Imaging Director or Production Director. While a Creative Services Director could also be any one of those things, it would be in addition to being the CSD. A producer is anyone who brings materials together, assembles and publishes a finished product, generally according to the dictates of a supervisor, and hopefully with some artistic skill. An Imaging Director works with the Program Director to create an audio brand that fits the marketing model, designed to hit the target demo with some precision. The Imaging Director has only one client…the radio station itself. The Production Director has a much broader responsibility to ALL the production that happens in a radio station, commercial, image and internet, which today includes video production. (Yes, I said it.)
I know some of you are thinking, “Gosh Dave, isn’t that what a Creative Services Director is?” Umm…that would be no. Like I said, the CSD might ALSO be the Production Director or Imaging Director, but the CSD position actually supervises ALL of these positions, but it’s not about the production, per se. The most important aspect of a Creative Service Director’s job is that of teaching, mentoring and coaching all of the in-house producers.
Let’s say we have a cluster of 5 radio stations. Each has a different format, PD and Imaging Director. Plus, there are 3 producers working directly under the Production Director who do all of the commercial work for all 5 stations. A few of the shows at each station have a producer or two who work directly on the show, producing bits and montages for the deejay. The Creative Services Director is a cluster position, that serves as a resource more than anything else. The CSD never comes between the various producers and their PDs or deejays. In an ideal situation, the PD and Imaging Director think of themselves as partners. Together they develop the audio brand, the audio strategy they will use to hit the target demo for their particular station. The Creative Services Director can assist in sussing out the strategies, but in the end, it’s really the PD and Imaging Director who do the real leg work.
The same thing holds true for all the producers in the cluster. The CSD can assist the various teams if they need it, but the place where the CSD works his or her REAL magic is in the training and continuing education of the production staff. The CSD helps them discover their own creativity and guides the producers to their maximum creative energy.
A really great CSD will insure that the producers get out of their studios to experience life in their community. THAT is the source of the creativity they need. It never comes from the internet, it seldom comes from television or books, although they are great alternate sources. The real magic happens when the producer goes to his or her local High School play or football game. Magic explodes when they go to museums or zoos, aquaria or festivals. Cruising the local mall is an absolute gold mine of creativity. Popular night spots and restaurants are a ‘must try’ for every producer…and the great CSD makes sure that ALL that happens.
If you’ve ever done imaging or commercial production at a station, you know that the hours are typically brutal. A lot of producers feel lucky if they get home by 8pm for dinner. If the Creative Services Director is firing on all 8 cylinders, he or she will insure that a producer’s in-studio time never exceeds 5 hours in a day. (You PDs reading this, chill a minute while I explain.) The CSD will then assign the producer to go to the museum, park or wherever and spend a couple of hours relaxing with friends or family. The good CSD will even go so far as to secure tickets if required. If there’s a local amusement park with roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and such, every producer in the station needs to go at least once every season. Producers need to go to baseball, football, basketball or soccer games at whatever level exists locally, a few times a year. Dinner on the station’s dime (c’mon, it’s probably trade anyway) should happen once a month. Passes to the local driving range or miniature golf course make a great outing for a producer and his or her kids. Anything that immerses him or her in what is going on locally totally works.
If you’re a manager trying to NOT spew your dew, understand that the three hours you give up in production time every day is usually pretty worthless to begin with. I don’t think I’ve ever known a producer who could churn quality out for more than 5 hours. The creativity level you will gain, almost immediately, in ALL the station’s production will absolutely soar. The ratings will follow pretty quickly, every time. I’m not making this up. I’ve seen it work over and over again in markets large and small.
The really excellent Creative Service Director’s job does not end there. The CSD needs to foster an excellent atmosphere in the radio station for creativity as well. Want to come up with an absolute killer Summer promotion? Don’t leave it up to one or two people. Get EVERYBODY involved. Have the entire staff get together in a room with a giant pad of paper and markers, designate someone to scribe and go around the room 3 times quickly getting ideas, no matter how stupid or even non-sensical from every staff member and write them down in big letters on the pad of paper. When you fill a sheet, tear it off and tack it up on the wall. Once you have 10 or 15 pieces of paper tacked up, stop and then start going through every idea, discussing it with everyone. If it’s totally stupid and doesn’t have any kind of practical application, cross it off. Once you’ve eliminated the impossible or even impractical, you’ll be left with a dozen or more ideas that spawn NEW ideas.
If you leave it all up to managers, you will tend to get a few tried and true ideas…or more precisely, tired and ‘done-to-death’ ideas. If you get everyone involved, you’ll start coming up with really innovative ideas that will be the envy of the competition and something stations in other markets will try to emulate. And all because the CSD called a fun 20-30 minute meeting that involved everyone at the station. I know this works. I’ve seen it a LOT and it works like an absolute charm. The reason it works is because the CSD has created a place where there is no such thing as a dumb idea. ALL ideas are welcome, no matter how impractical, because ideas beget other ideas that start a whole chain of ideas. THAT is true brain-storming!
If it’s not too far away, you managers really need to consider sending your CSD with at least one producer
to any summit, conference or workshop that deals with creativity. If it’s an annual event, send a different producer with the CSD every year. Many managers are loathe to send anyone to conferences because they are generally not cheap and managers who’ve been to big radio conferences know that those conferences tend to break down into big drunken brawls. Having attended dozens of production summits and such, I can assure you that while there certainly IS some drinking going on, the bulk of the time is almost always beneficial, paying big dividends to your station’s bottom line in the form of super-creative or sometimes very efficient production from your entire staff.
A really creative CSD (and no, that’s not redundant) will have dozens of plans like this that charge the atmosphere of the station or cluster with ‘outside-the-box-what-box’ thinking. I’ll share one more idea here that I recently saw at work at Radio 538 in Holland.
Several years ago, I wrote a rather long column about “The BIG Picture.” It’s a simple concept that allows everyone in the station to contribute to the promotional and creative well-being of the station. It’s a spreadsheet, Excel or Numbers depending on your platform, with a column for every day of the year with a few rows for promotions, giveaways, liners, sweepers and promos. Every day of the year, Monday through Sunday, January 1 through December 31, with every event, holiday, festival, birthday and concert happening on each and every day all in one place. It’s easy to set up. Once you create the columns for each day of the year, you start filling in the holidays…even the greeting card holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Then, you start filling in events like scheduled concerts or festivals, community celebrations and such. Then, you can start planning promotions you want to do. Once the BIG Picture is up and running, you make it available to everyone at the station to read. If anyone has an idea that should be put on the BP, they give it to someone with writing privileges, like the PD, Marketing manager or Creative Services Director who can then add it (or not) to the spreadsheet. It makes planning promotions a breeze. You can simply scan ahead once a week and decide how the promotional jigsaw will fit together in terms of liners, sweepers and promos.
Jeroen van Doorn at Radio 538 has taken that concept to a whole new level. He and Dave Minneboo (the Program Director), have put the BIG Picture up on giant flatscreen TVs in every room and studio in the station. Liner and sweeper priorities are up on the screen for everyone to see, including the deejays and producers. Deejays don’t have to think twice about station topics because they’re all laid out. If anyone has a brilliant idea about the promotion coming up on the weekend, it is ridiculously simple to let someone know ahead of time. You can feel the creativity flowing up and down the wide open staircase at Radio 538. It’s no wonder to me why Radio 538 has been so successful. Dave and Jeroen feed the crew a steady diet of creativity.
So Blaq…THAT is what a Creative Services Director is and does. A mentor, guide, teacher and cheerleader for all things creative in the radio station. Chances are good that in most situations the CSD is also an Imaging Director or Production Director as well, as was my situation at Z100/New York. I wish you well in your new position. Just remember to keep everyone focussed on creativity and your ratings will never falter.