A view from Magnus Djaba

Awards success masks our creative shortcomings

This has been a great year for all of us in the UK, right? A more buoyant industry and lots of fantastic work, not to mention a better performance in the awards shows. Wrong. It’s not all good news – at least, not in my view.

This year has felt to me a bit like going back in time. When I started in advertising, the industry was dominated by big agencies.

And a lot of those agencies had a tendency to hide the work on their major accounts, while proudly displaying their creative gems (almost always for clients with small or nonexistent budgets) in the shop window.

Look back at some of the work from 2014 that the industry is so proud of. Is it for those brands that we expect to do good work? Is it purely tactical or does it build long-term value for the brand? Does it genuinely break new ground creatively and strategically? Does it surprise and delight you?

Of course, there are campaigns that do. I never expected Argos to be my favourite Christmas ad of 2014, but CHI & Partners has proved it’s still possible to get the nation to look at a brand through different eyes.

It worries me, though, that this kind of work is becoming the exception to the rule: that once again, there are too many agencies focusing on their shop-window clients while doing their best to hide the skeletons in their closets.

Focusing on easy creative wins is an understandable approach, in a way. It keeps your people happy (at least the ones who work on those accounts). It’s a banker when it comes to awards. The problem, however, with always going for the low-hanging fruit is that you never get to the top of the tree.

There are too many agencies focusing on their shop-window clients while hiding the skeletons in their closets

It’s also an unfortunate truth that your "skeleton" clients will end up paying for your "gem" accounts – certainly in creative and strategic terms, and often in monetary terms too.

I believe that established agencies can learn from start-ups when it comes to this topic – and I speak from experience, having spent my formative years at Fallon. From the beginning, Fallon refused to have skeleton clients: our core principle was that, whoever you are, you pay – and whoever you are, we give you our best.

It’s a principle we’re also working towards here at Saatchi & Saatchi. It’s not an easy approach, and it takes longer to build a good reel. But you sleep better at night. More importantly, it’s the only way we can move forward as an industry – by pushing every single one of our clients to embrace what might be possible for their brands.

I hope, in 2015, we really get our nerve back as a business. That we start seeing more work (from different clients) that surprises us, that goes beyond the limits of what we expect. That’s when we’ll know that we’ve really had a year to be proud of.

Magnus Djaba is the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi

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