The Creative Crusaders

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 31 July 2009 12:00AM

If BBDO, the top Gunn-ranked network, doesn't have one, what's the point of the global creative director? John Tylee picks Campaign's top ten and examines what some say is an outdated, thankless role.

If the cynics are right, then there's no job more pointless, destructive and with no greater power to demotivate underlings than that of the global executive creative director. Like a seagull, he flies in, craps over everything, and flies out.

Global creative chiefs have provoked similar vituperation for some time. And a lot of it may not be unconnected to the bonuses a significant number can expect to receive should their networks rise up the rankings of The Gunn Report, which awards points linked to success at key competitions across the world.

However, some of the ill-feeling is probably rooted in a period when, according to David Jones, Euro RSCG's worldwide chief executive: "The global creative director was an old-timer nearing the end of his career." That changed as more clients became global and networks had to mirror them. Suddenly, the delivery of creative excellence across a diverse range of markets became essential.

John Hunt, the TBWA\ worldwide creative director, says: "Clients were telling us that while they were global businesses and we were global networks, global campaigns were usually created out of New York or London. There was no work that was organically global. That's where people like me came in."

"In our business, it's about the work and the business," Kevin Roberts, the Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive, declares. "And the two should be connected at the top."

Global creative directors, in the modern sense, began emerging about 25 years ago, although their origins can be traced back much further. Some argue that David Ogilvy pioneered the discipline back in the 60s.

The Ogilvy & Mather founder may have hated flying, but that didn't stop him keeping a close eye on the network's worldwide creative product. And it wasn't unusual for a creative director in some far-flung O&M outpost to be phoned by Ogilvy saying he couldn't read the typeface on a new print ad so how were consumers expected to do so?

Fast-forward to the 80s. O&M had built an impressive network through a series of shrewd acquisitions and had an enviable list of clients - Nestle, Shell, Unilever and Kraft among them - as well as strong support systems.

What it didn't have was somebody who - according to a senior manager of the time - could be the creative manifestation of all this at the most senior level of its international client companies where top executives had previously dealt only with suits.

Norman Berry, the man O&M chose to fill the role, was never comfortable with the job and remained in it little more than two years. "O&M really wanted him to be its worldwide creative leader," one of Berry's contemporaries recalls. "He just thought it was a toothless role."

Fast-forward once again to the present and you find that some things haven't changed. "It's always going to be a difficult job because you're reliant on local executive creative directors to supply you with talent," Patrick Collister, the former creative chief of O&M in London, says. "And pretty often, you're not influential either in hiring or firing people."

Nor will the global chief creative officer have the satisfaction of having a job that automatically marks him out as the network's star performer. Richard Pinder, the chief operating officer of the Publicis network and a former EMEA president at Leo Burnett, cites the example of Michael Conrad, who moved from his native Germany in 1986 to be the chief creative officer of Leo Burnett International and was the catalyst for a significant improvement in creative quality across the network.

And while there has been a number of top creatives who have set the style and tone of campaigns for major global advertisers - the late Phil Dusenberry of BBDO and Pepsi is a perfect example - the job of global chief creative officer remains a tough challenge. "It's a role that's becoming more and more difficult to fulfil," Bob Jeffrey, the JWT Worldwide chief executive, acknowledges.

It's certainly hard to imagine another remarkable reign such as that of Bob Isherwood, who quit Saatchis last November after 22 years, the last 12 as the network's global creative chief. Roberts always insisted he'd never make a move without first talking to Isherwood and it may be significant that the network hasn't replaced him but has established a worldwide creative board, which Roberts chairs.

Why have global creative hotseats become so hard to fill? Partly because the job sets the best creative chiefs apart from what they enjoy doing best. Dave Droga quit the global creative directorship at Publicis because he missed the day-to-day ad-making; Lee Clow, regarded as the keeper of TBWA\'s creative soul, is happy to leave the global creative director's task to Hunt, the creative founding partner of South Africa's TBWA\Hunt Lascaris.

Moreover, global creative chiefs must be comfortable out of the limelight. "You have to be able to inspire people because you're not going to be there to appraise their work all the time," Bob Scarpelli, DDB Worldwide's chief creative officer, says. "You have to get people to play over their heads and do better than they ever thought possible."

All this may go some way to explaining why global executive creative directors aren't permanent fixtures everywhere. BBDO, which currently tops The Gunn Report network rankings by a country mile, has never had one, preferring instead to spread responsibilities across a global creative committee comprising creative chiefs from key regions.

"In our network, global creative leadership is about just that - leadership, not direction," Andrew Robertson, the BBDO Worldwide chief executive, says. "You lead by example."

Whether or not networks will gradually phase out global chief creative officers in favour of creative boards is an open question. Some believe events are actually being dictated by a tough economic climate in which a global creative supremo with a no-hands-on role has become an expensive luxury. "There's no perfect regime for a network," Olivier Altmann, the chairman of the Publicis worldwide creative board, says. "What's needed at one time may not be needed at another and circumstances change. If your network is in a healthy condition, you may not need a global chief creative officer. It may be different if you need to build a creative culture."

For his part, Pinder thinks the creative board system works for Publicis, a view underscored by the fact that the network has just picked up 22 Cannes Lions - five more than in 2008.

"We're making good progress and I'm not looking to make a change at the moment," he says. "But if I want a higher Gunn Report ranking, and I do, I may want to rethink to make sure we attract the best creative talent."

Tellingly, JWT chose not to replace Craig Davis when he quit as its global creative chief - he's now in creative command at Publicis Mojo in his native Australia. Instead, creative co-ordination is carried out by a five-strong global creative council led by Ty Montague, the North America executive creative director.

Jeffrey says: "When I appointed Craig, it was categorically the right thing to do. I wanted to demonstrate the need for strong advertising and high creative standards worldwide."

So what's changed? According to Jeffrey, it was partly because of his reluctance to give somebody the job for the sake of it, but also of an evolving environment in which it was more relevant to have a creative council whose members were close to the businesses of the network's major clients. Montague, for example, is closely linked to JWT's Microsoft account.

Some leading agency figures believe that creativity now has so many facets that the job has outgrown any single individual.

McCann Erickson chose not to appoint a new global creative chief after Jonathan Cranin's departure in April 2007. Instead, John Dooner, the McCann boss, established the McCann Worldgroup global creative directive chaired by Joyce King Thomas, the chief creative officer of the New York agency.

The group meets three or four times a year in key cities across the world and its membership includes not just mainstream creatives, but representatives of other disciplines including digital, media and PR. "The job is now too big for one person," King Thomas argues. "The role is no longer geographical but multi-disciplinary."

Others, though, believe global creative quality controllers always have a place. "Of course, you can't know everything but you can be the symbol of creative standards and of the need to uphold them," Scarpelli says.

Matthew Bull, Lowe Worldwide's chief creative officer, is equally emphatic. "Nobody questions the need for a chief financial officer," he says. "So why would you question the need to have somebody in charge of the global creative product?"

Tim Mellors, Grey's worldwide chief creative director, believes creative boards have their limitations. Grey has a 16-strong creative council that meets twice a year like a Cannes jury to scrutinise work and whose judgments form the basis of who should be getting bonuses - and, sometimes, who might be better employed elsewhere.

Mellors believes the system works - but only to an extent. "In the end, you've got to have one person who draws the conclusions and decides what's to be done."

Hunt says: "I think global creative councils can easily become bureaucratic and I'm doubtful that good ideas naturally flow out of them. Then there's the issue of who has a place on the council and who doesn't."

Jonathan Harries, his DraftFCB counterpart, thinks creative council meetings get members fired up with an enthusiasm, which "vanishes like mist in the sun" when they return to their day jobs.

So what are the attributes of a successful global chief creative officer? You need to have lots of experience as well as a good awards tally, according to Mellors. Without those, you'll not command the respect of your people or be a magnet for talent, he points out. After that comes the task of ensuring that the network's internationally aligned clients are being properly serviced and that creativity remains high on their agendas.

Meanwhile, there's the ongoing job of sustaining a rapport with the local creative chiefs and establishing clear lines of demarcation. "If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's knowing when you need to get involved and when to keep your mouth shut," Scarpelli says. "Rarely have I had to impose my authority."

"The system won't work with a distant global chief creative officer criticising the local creative directors," Mellors contends. "At Grey, our creative directors have day-to-day charge of their departments and I don't interfere. If you don't have their trust, they won't respect you."

Collister warns against the temptation to intimidate small and less creatively potent network offices. "It's very easy to castigate them but the fact is nobody sets out to do crap work," he says. "Good global chief creative officers will work more with the smaller offices than the big ones and be supportive of them."

Above all, the appearance of the global creative chief shouldn't be a cue to run for cover. "I don't want the reaction to my arrival to be 'oh shit, here he comes again'," Hunt says. In other words, don't be a seagull.

1. MARK TUTSSEL

chief creative officer, Leo Burnett Worldwide

When Mark Tutssel took over as Leo Burnett's global creative chief three years ago, Tom Bernadin, the network's worldwide chairman, promised that the two of them would be "relentless in our drive to return Leo Burnett to its status as the top creative network in the industry".

Today, with Burnett occupying second spot in The Gunn Report network rankings, it would seem Bernadin's faith in the Welshman was well placed. Indeed, those who know Tutssel say there's nobody better equipped to do what he does.

For one thing, he's a product of the Burnett system and was profoundly influenced by Michael Conrad, a key figure in giving the network a creative focus and direction.

For another, he retains an eagerness for what he does despite having spent more than two decades at Burnett.

"He has the highest creative standards and will never compromise," an associate says.

Career-defining ad: John West "salmon"

Gunn network ranking: 2nd (128 pts)

2. BOB SCARPELLI

chief creative officer, DDB Worldwide

Having a global creative chief is a constant reminder to DDB of its heritage, Bob Scarpelli, the present incumbent, declares.

Working out of an office purportedly once used by Bill Bernbach and with the respected Keith Reinhard (now DDB Worldwide's chairman emeritus) as his predecessor, Scarpelli must feel that history's hand is upon him.

"Without a creative leader there would be a void," he says. "It's how we've always operated. It's in our DNA."

Scarpelli's aim is for DDB's agencies to achieve top three creative status within every marker in which it operates."My job is constant," he says. "You never get to where you want to be. But I do have a 13,000-strong creative department I can tap into at any time."

Career-defining ad: Budweiser "whassup"

Gunn network ranking: 3rd (126 pts)

3. THAM KHAI MENG

global creative director, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

The immaculately groomed Singaporean was the first person from the Asia-Pacific region to become the chief creative officer of a major network when he succeeded Robyn Putter at O&M at the start of the year. Industry onlookers believe he won't be the last.

This is because of the nature of the region where Tham spent seven years honing Ogilvy's creative product to such an extent that its domination of awards shows was almost embarrassing.

"Asia-Pacific is lots of small markets where network agencies are always talking to each other," Patrick Collister, the former executive creative director of O&M in London, explains. "Doing the regional job is an ideal preparation for the global role."

Tham has a reputation for being brutal in his pursuit of perfection. His critics claim he owes his success to the people under him. But, as Neil French, his predecessor in the region, points out: "That's his job - to make other people's work better."

Career-defining ad: Motorola

Gunn network ranking: =5th (104 pts)

4. JOHN HUNT

worldwide creative director, TBWA\

Every year, John Hunt puts the brief for a global campaign up for competition among creatives across the TBWA\ network. Its purpose is to inspire.

Another way of doing that is through SWAT teams that Hunt pulls together to meet specific briefs. This, he explains, keeps egos in check and avoids a "not invented here" syndrome. Meanwhile, he is relaxed about the presence of Lee Clow, the TBWA\Worldwide chairman and embodiment of its creative culture. "We've always got on well because we think the same," Hunt says.

Career-defining ad: The Zimbabwean

Gunn network ranking: =5th (104 pts)

5. MATTHEW BULL

chief creative officer, Lowe Worldwide

Lowe: a network now in need of a global creative product that mirrors the radical overhaul and restructuring that's been taking place across the network in recent years.

The founder of Lowe Bull in Johannesburg involves himself in all key creative hirings, as well as maintaining strong relationships with network clients and retaining a close involvement in its major campaigns. "Unless you do that, your position is pointless," he says.

Career-defining ad: Stella Artois "ice-skating priests"

Gunn network ranking: 9th (67 pts)

6. OLIVIER ALTMANN

chairman, worldwide creative board, Publicis

As the ambassador for the Publicis network's creative ambition, Olivier Altmann is expected to lead by example. "I'm too busy to be a godfather," he says. "And I don't want to be a king without a kingdom."

Altmann's main role is as ruler of the creative department at Publicis Conseil in Paris, the network's flagship agency. It is his task to ensure it will always be perceived as the creative benchmark against which all other Publicis offices measure themselves.

Not surprisingly, Publicis Conseil is his preoccupation with only about 10 per cent of his time devoted to his chairmanship of the worldwide creative board.

"The system works because our network has been built on local entrepreneurial agencies that are quite different from each other," he explains.

"We're not like Omnicom. We have a very different culture in which we try to give each other confidence."

Career-defining ad: Orange "rewind city"

Gunn network ranking: 11th (52 pts)

8. TONY GRANGER

global chief creative officer, Young & Rubicam

Hire Tony Granger to get your global creative product humming - as Young & Rubicam did last year - and you'd better be prepared for a white-knuckle ride.

Possessing passion and high energy in equal proportion, Granger once said of himself: "I like things done yesterday, not tomorrow."

"He can certainly give you a profile, " an associate says. "But he has his own system and he does it his way." The South African is clearly a catalyst. As the creative chief of Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, which he joined from Saatchis in London in 2004, he oversaw a creative renaissance that saw the agency fly up The Gunn Report rankings.

Can he do the same for the Y&R network? He's only been in the job for little more than a year. However, Hamish McLennan, the chief executive, says: "The depth of his experience and his passion for new channels of communication are a great fit with the direction we're going."

Career-defining ad: Schweppes "burst"

Gunn network ranking: 12th (40 pts)

7. SIR JOHN HEGARTY

worldwide creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

As one of the industry's most passionate advocates, as well as having won every creative award of note, Sir John Hegarty's credentials as BBH's worldwide creative director couldn't be more impeccable. Senior creatives across the globe give him the time and respect that few other global creative chiefs could command. In return, he fires them up with an enthusiasm that belies his sixty something years.

Hegarty calls himself a "creative coach". Others say this barely begins to describe what he does. "He's great at educating people without patronising them," a former associate says.

Although never one of those worldwide creative directors always in possession of an air ticket to somewhere, Hegarty remains a frequent visitor to network offices."John never imposes his views and will happily work with the local team," an ex-BBH senior creative says. "But he'll always be working out how he can strengthen it."

Career-defining ad: Levi's "launderette"

Gunn network ranking: 15th (25 pts)

9. REMI BABINET

global chief creative officer, Euro RSCG Worldwide

Evian's rollerskating babies - now an internet phenomenon - are a powerful example of Remi Babinet's determination to provide inspirational leadership to the Euro RSCG network.

Babinet was deeply involved in the development of the work at BETC Euro RSCG in Paris. "My job is to be a role-model for others," he says. "And if I'm going to be that, then my own agency must be seen to be doing good work."

He works with regional creative committees across the network, but he's clear about where the buck stops. "Are there times when I impose my authority? Of course. It's part of the job."

David Jones, Euro RSCG's worldwide chief executive, says: "Not only does Remi constantly come up with great ideas, he's also good at spotting them. What's more, he never lets his ego get in the way."

Career-defining ad: Evian "rollerbabies"

Gunn network ranking: 17th (23 pts)

10. JONATHAN HARRIES

worldwide creative officer, DraftFCB

Jonathan Harries sees himself as a facilitator bringing help and guidance to what's really a confederation of agencies.

Harries, South African-born but based in Chicago, stays close to the network's multinational clients and oversees major creative hirings. But the seven months of the year he spends travelling between network offices is devoted to finding out what can be done to improve creativity and whether one agency can benefit from another's ideas or talent. He professes to be unfazed about whether his efforts will translate into progress up The Gunn Report rankings. "I don't see it as a measure of our success," he says.

Career-defining ad: Taco Bell "the speed of love"

Gunn network ranking: 20th (20 pts)

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

X

You must log in to use Clip & Save

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Additional Information

Campaign Jobs