As SVP and creative director at DEFINITION 6, Crystal Hall is an award-winning creative executive specialising in branding, advertising, and cross-platform marketing in the media and entertainment industry. Having worked for brands like FX, truTV, Showtime, Smithsonian Channel and The Movie Channel, Crystal describes herself as a passionate leader with the ability to assemble, inspire and advise cross-functional teams.
And whether she’s developing innovative strategies to drive brand awareness or utilising next generation storytelling, design and technology initiatives to create impactful digital marketing experiences, Crystal is always looking for the next opportunity to “make magic.”
I consider myself a very empathetic person. I love people. I like making people laugh and I love laughing. I also love dogs. That’s kind of my thing - being compassionate, approachable, and canine-friendly. So how does that translate into my creative persona? I’m not sure, but it seems valuable to be a people-person and to be able to slip into the audience or customer’s mind and understand what they want.
I also see the value in all forms of creativity; however when you're the creative director, you have to pick and choose. I’m supposed to be the arbiter of taste. The decider. When people take the time to write something or make something, especially at my request, being ‘the decider’ can suck. This is where tenacity and stubbornness comes in - both very human traits that I happen to have. In order to be the arbiter of the creative, you must also be the expert. You have to tenaciously research and dig for any nugget that will drive the idea and make everyone smile and say, “I get it.” I am also stubborn enough to wait until I feel like I’ve found that ‘a-ha’ moment before moving forward.
So, to recap, I'm an empathetic yet persistent person who loves people, dogs and jokes, and is lucky enough to work with other exemplary humans in a field that makes people feel good.
When I’m judging a piece of commercial work, I’m looking at how effective the communication was at meeting a goal. All other indicators of how it made me feel - such as who I shared it with, and if people are talking about it - are secondary. When I’m looking at a piece of art, I go strictly by how it viscerally affects me in that moment. I may glean more from the artist’s statement on why they made it, but I am always going to remember the first response I felt.
Of course commercial work has a different purpose than fine art, and like most creatives, I really enjoy when the two come close to overlapping. I like getting lost in the storytelling of a cinematic commercial. I like the craft that goes into compelling photography. I admire all advertising that feels like art no matter how effective it might be.
Today, the creativity of a piece is also dependent on the platform where the audience engages with it. Campaigns can feel diluted because of diverse distribution platforms. It takes a deft hand to guide a 360 campaign so that all of the pieces work together in a way that is unique and not repetitive.
Though I primarily work with entertainment brands such as Discovery, HBO and FX, one project I’m proud of is a PSA campaign to encourage vaccination from The GreenShoots Foundation. The ‘a-ha’ moment came when we learned our target demo was very resistant to any type of directives or condescension. That shaped our approach and, ultimately, the campaign was successful because we focused our message on personal choice.
Every project is different, but I find that if I follow these steps, I have a much better chance of success.
1. Research, research, research: Always do deep digging into the industry or problem. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your client. You can’t skimp here. You have to immerse yourself in that world before solutions become apparent.
2. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: The second most important thing you can do is gather thinking from a wide and diverse cross-section of smart people.
3. Zig when others zag: Now that you have steeped yourself and your team in the challenge, turn it upside down and go in another direction. Make unexpected analogies. Take the scenic route or take the shortcut. In other words, zig when others zag. It's the only way to break through any of the clutter.
A few things I can’t live without when I’m thinking about creative are the Notes app on my iPhone, a place to stash random thoughts and links; the Dropmark.com app for sharing image references and visual organisation; thesaurus.com for going down the word rabbit hole; French-press coffee with real half and half; Designinspiration.com
, which sorts by subject, type and colour; and an honourable mention goes to Pinterest, which is a reference for everything else.
I’m lucky that I grew up in a family of creatives. Dad was a scenic designer at a theatre, Mom was a librarian and writer and my grandmother was a painter. Going to live performances of theatre, ballet and music were mandatory. The only wrinkle was that we lived in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. I worked summers at a theatre painting scenery, making props and learning the lyrics to every modern musical. As I got older, I didn’t know exactly what type of creative I wanted to be, but I was really interested in video design. So, I moved East and found jobs working as a freelance designer and took night classes in digital design. Ultimately, I met a friend who hired me as a designer at a network and that’s really when my career took off.
As for the elements that make or break a project, I believe transparency relating to budget, timing and deliverables will make the project. Conversely, lack clarity relating to goals and challenges can break it. My advice to clients working with creative teams is to share and collaborate with the team as early as possible in the timeline. Working together to identify an achievable goal and understanding all the data can help shape the creative and make it relevant. We can help you make magic and move mountains when we have all the information.