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Why Does a (Retired) Creative Director Make a Good Santa?

Most creative directors never really retire, they just move into jobs that interest them more. As a creative director, I spent over four decades in marketing and advertising. I designed, wrote and presented marketing concepts that are being used to this day by Fortune 500 companies. I never thought I would find a job more creative. But I have as a Real Bearded Santa.

A couple of years ago I started letting my natural, very white beard grow longer. In October of that year, while waiting on a repair at a local Warehouse Store tire center, a 3-year-old girl entered the reception area with her mother, who was pushing a very full shopping cart. The child’s eyes grew wide as she grabbed a large package of cookies from her mother’s cart (as we all know, those places sell everything), opened them while racing over to where I was sitting, and jumped into my lap. She looked into my eyes and said, “I know you love chocolate-chip.” Laughing, the mother retrieved her daughter and said, “Catherine knows a real Santa when she sees him.”  She was the first to “recognize” the Santa I was about to become. You see, it is children that decide you are a “real Santa.”

Over time I have discovered being a Real Bearded Santa requires many of the same abilities that I used in my long career.

1) Knowledge Is Golden

As a Santa, you have to know answers to just about everything. Not only the names of all eight reindeer, but tricky questions like “What do reindeer eat to make them fly?,” “Who is your favorite elf?,” “How fast do you go on Christmas Eve?,” and “What exactly does ho-ho-ho mean?” This requires continual immersion in knowledge of all things Santa and oftentimes improvisational skills. Just as a creative director should know all aspects of the brands he or she is selling, Santa has to know the expectations of his customers: kids of all ages. And so much more. So you learn all you can from history, your peers in the industry, Santa University, and you watch lots of children’s television programs so you can name all of the pups on Paw Patrol. Needless to say, you never stop studying.

2) “On the Fly” People Management Skills 

When we say “on the fly” we are not really talking about the sleigh or reindeer.

Creative directors are uniquely qualified for a Santa role because they work with other creative individuals — writers, art directors, designers, photographers and producers — to create a finished product in an environment of rapidly changing conditions and emotions. Being Santa puts you in just about the same pressure cooker. Conditions and emotions do not change more rapidly than when you are reading a book or handing out presents to a dozen — or a hundred — children with short attention spans. (Just like working with writers and artists.) You have to keep everyone on task, settle differences, provide counseling, make judgments and decide what is best for the brand.

3) Presentation Is Everything

Just like being a creative director, when you are a “real Santa,” you are the brand. Every detail of your “campaign” counts, and you must make sure that not one has been overlooked. You must be the person — and the brand — that your “customers” have had fixed in their minds by books, photos, movies and more. From the tone of your voice and your demeanor to your messages, your suit, and your complexion, it all must match up.

4) Making People Believe

Just as a creative director must build a program to help people believe that a product or service is worth a try or becoming one of choice, your job is to keep alive the belief and enthusiasm that children of all ages have for the “Santa brand.” Santa is the embodiment of a folkloric character popularized by a literary scholar in the 1820s, and you have to use every resource you have to keep everyone believing in that idea.

There is a lot of negativity in the world today. As a creative director turned year-round Santa, I know I represent the spirit of Saint Nicholas and the joy that secret giving can bring. Through the brand of Santa, I have the privilege of spreading that joy every day of the holiday season and throughout the year!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!


George Campbell is North Texas Santa, a former executive creative director with some of the world’s largest ad agencies, who now brings joy to thousands of children across Texas. He is a graduate of International Santa University, a member of the International Society of Real Bearded Santas and a board member of Lone Star Santas, an organization that brings toys and joy to children who have been the victims of natural disasters.

Follow him on Facebook at North Texas Santa.