SparkChoice: Navigating Creative Leadership

Elissa Kevrekian
April 30, 2024

At Sparkloft, we understand that professional growth isn't one-size-fits-all. With our Spark Choice program, Sparks can pursue development aligned with their passions, even if they fall outside the scope of their current role, and we cover fees or tuition. Recently, Elissa had the opportunity to attend the One Club's Creative Leaders Retreat in New Orleans. Discover why she chose this conference and how it has impacted her role as a Creative Director:

The skills that get you into a creative leadership role, such as Creative Director—innovative creative ideas and executions, an understanding of the client's vision, and awareness of current trends—aren’t necessarily the ones you need to lead and manage others in their creative pursuits. And there isn’t really a handbook that helps you make that transition, let alone a lot of specialized training opportunities to help you stay sharp and relevant in that position once you’ve made it. 

Over the years, I've attended many large conferences—both in-person and virtual—that primarily covered design-focused tools and techniques. This time around, for my Spark Choice, I was looking for an opportunity to engage with and glean insights from fellow creative leaders. In-person was a must, ideally in a city I hadn't been to before.

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The Creative Leaders Retreat hit everything on my wishlist and, without question, delivered on its promise to push the boundaries of traditional advertising conferences. Every detail of the conference was crafted to cultivate connection and knowledge-sharing. The format included daily small group sessions with rockstar speakers who were candid and conversational in their approach, which facilitated lots of two-way conversations and lowered the barrier to asking questions. The group meals and happy hours also provided ample opportunities for meaningful discussions with peers nationwide. 

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Photography by Brandt Vicnair

We also had the chance to soak up the vibrant culture of New Orleans. I started each day with a walk around the neighborhood in search of local coffee (I’m from Portland after all) and to take in the incredible architecture and morning sights and sounds of the city being put back together from the night before. I dined with some new creative friends and experienced the freedom of my first to-go cocktail 💅. On the final evening of the retreat, The One Club took us to dinner and a show. Dinner at the historic Dooky Chase's Restaurant was divine. Not only did we have a chance to try what felt like just about everything on their menu, we also took in some fabulous storytelling from the Chase family matriarch, Stella. After dinner, we headed to Preservation Hall, an intimate jazz venue in the heart of the French Quarter for some acoustic New Orleans Jazz. 

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The New Orleans backdrop was inspiring on its own. When it comes to the retreat programming, during the two-day event, I attended six sessions covering a wide range of topics. Themes included the balance between people and processes and strategies for building strong client relationships, presented by creative leaders from top agencies and in-house teams. 

I returned home with a Moleskine full of notes, a head full of inspiration, and a newfound obsession with beignets. Within a day or two of reflecting on what I learned, I noticed a few common themes that have shifted and influenced my approach to leading creative teams, nurturing client relationships, and fostering company culture. Here are the few that stood out the most:

The Concept of Unlearning

The concept of unlearning is a powerful way to challenge ingrained industry practices. At Sparkloft we run a lot of social-first video and photo productions. In this kind of work, we’re continuously redefining best practices due to platform updates, algorithm shifts, and trend waves, but I'd never thought of it as “unlearning”. Year over year, and sometimes month over month, I find my teams adapting processes to serve the ever-evolving nature of the advertising industry and, more specifically, content creation for social. The term unlearning is the perfect way to help clients and teams absorb that part of the process.

The Importance of Creating with Clients

While our account partners are more traditionally in the role of client BFF, the retreat emphasized the importance of creative leaders building client connections to become trusted collaborators in achieving creative excellence. Early collaboration between creatives and clients enables us to unlock valuable insights, identify new approaches, and ultimately create the best work as a team. The practical advice for getting started? Find something to connect with your clients on — it could be your shared love/hate relationship with DIY home improvement or mutual adoration of an obscure TikTok account. Find something, anything, to personally connect on and build from there.

Be the Reason Good Ideas Happen (without it needing to be your idea)

Championing a culture of inclusivity and empowerment, where good ideas thrive organically regardless of their source, was a recurring theme. As creative leaders, it’s not our job to come up with the idea. We need only to cultivate safe environments for sharing, where every voice is valued and no one holds back their wonky or wild idea. 

All in all, the One Club's Creative Leadership Retreat gave me a fresh sense of possibility. Sure, applying the fundamentals of creative leadership will always be critical to the role, but it’s the ability to evolve with twists and turns that come with creative work that enables strong teams and great work. No two creative leaders lead the same way and that’s the beauty of getting a glimpse into so many brilliant perspectives, I have a whole new bank of approaches to try out on the next twist or turn that comes my way. BRB, I’m off to find the best beignets in Portland. 😉

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Elissa brings over two decades of agency and in-house experience to Sparkloft’s creative team. She is a creative generalist with a passion for strategy and a keen sense of curiosity. Her love of travel and storytelling led her to Sparkloft, where she is a Creative Director in the Portland office. She’s driven by insights, trends, and often espresso.


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