Claire Beale: Time creativity returns as the agency's master

By Claire Beale, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 30 August 2012 08:00AM

TBWA used to be the second-best agency in London. When it was great, it had a chairman who was also a creative - Trevor Beattie. Now it's got another - Peter Souter.

Claire Beale: Time creativity returns as the agency's master

It's rare now to find a creative chief who actually runs an agency, setting its culture, its entire approach to business - unless they happen to have founded the agency themselves. Plenty of creative chiefs sit alongside their fellow agency managers at the head of the company but, in truth, have little influence over the fundamental principles of the business, what it stands for and what sort of work it's prepared to do (though I can think of quite a few local agency chief executives who are similarly limited). Creative leaders are left to lead their department, not their agency.

Steve Henry has written something shocking in his latest blog (page 23). He says: "I went to a discussion about the IPA Excellence Diploma recently, and there was a very strong feeling that creative talent was being marginalised in our industry. In many agencies these days, the creatives feel as welcome as a loud fart in a meditation class." If Henry's even half right, how damning is that?

Back at TBWA, the decision to hand control of the agency to Souter is significant. This creative empowerment recognises that when creativity is the agency's servant, not its master, an agency becomes a bland commodity, indistinguishable from the pack. But when creativity sits at the very top of the agency, it can create an environment where difference can flourish and interesting risks embraced. It's great to see a creative taking a wounded agency by the scruff and doing something dramatic and surprising.

Souter has already blasted his mark on his new agency with the appointment of two of the ad industry's most brilliant and inspiring creatives. Walter Campbell and Sean Doyle produced some of the best UK work of the past decade or two, from Guinness "surfer" to The Economist's "E=IQ2". It's true that they haven't been doing great advertising for a while now - and neither has Souter. And none of them are young. And they're not digital. But assuming their talents and energy remain intact, they will make a dazzling team with a wonderful creative depth that also embraces writing for film, theatre, television and radio.

I love the idea that this sort of creative richness and years of experience can still find a home in advertising and can (cross fingers) start to reshape and revive an entire ad agency. It's too early to say whether this could be the start of TBWA's renaissance, particularly since the roots of its decline spread far wider than the London creative department; the appointment of a new chief executive and the support of the network will be crucial. But there's no doubt where the power at the agency now lies and I hope Souter proves how potent real creative leadership can be.

claire.beale@haymarket.com

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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