CLOSE-UP: Newsmaker/Simon Dicketts - No rod of iron for M&C Saatchi’s sole-creative chief. Simon Dicketts wants the shop to nurture its creative talent, Lisa Campbell says

Excepting the fact that he’s doodling on a large white sketch pad, you would never guess that Simon Dicketts is a creative. With his smart attire, polished accent and charming manner he seems more like a managing director than a creative director. This is reinforced by the flattering way he ascribes the reshuffle of M&C Saatchi’s creative department to Campaign’s influence.

Excepting the fact that he’s doodling on a large white sketch pad,

you would never guess that Simon Dicketts is a creative. With his smart

attire, polished accent and charming manner he seems more like a

managing director than a creative director. This is reinforced by the

flattering way he ascribes the reshuffle of M&C Saatchi’s creative

department to Campaign’s influence.



In last week’s restructure, Dicketts took sole control of the creative

department while fellow joint creative director James Lowther became

chairman.



It is the first management change in the agency’s five-year history.



’We’ve taken the award of Campaign’s agency of the year as a landmark.

There is the belief that the award can be a curse, but we don’t see it

as that. We see it as a blessing. It has allowed us to look at what we

do now, how we do it and how we can make it even better,’ Dicketts

says.



Maintaining a healthy cynicism, I question whether the move does not

have more to do with the fact that M&C needs to improve its creative

output.



After all, it isn’t well-known for its Pencil collection.



And it’s not that the agency doesn’t have the pedigree. Dicketts himself

produced scores of award-winning campaigns while at Saatchi & Saatchi,

as did his former partner Lowther, including historic work for British

Airways, The Samaritans, Conservative Central Office and Silk Cut.



If anything, Campaign’s agency of the year award put M&C’s creative

output under a harsh spotlight. The runner-up, TBWA GGT Simons Palmer,

was not the only agency to express its outrage, asking: ’But where’s the

work?’



Many creatives would stomp, shout or sulk if you dared to criticise

their babies. Not Dicketts. His feathers are firmly in place as he

calmly delivers his defence. ’I think the creative work is good. I’m

extremely proud of what we’ve achieved in five years.’



He concedes, however, that it could be better. ’Yes, it can be improved,

but no agency in London can say that their work cannot be improved. One

of the main criticisms is that the work isn’t as consistent as it might

be. I would say it is consistent but we need to get the little extra

special ones to the forefront.’



Dicketts has tried to analyse the reasons why the work isn’t always

good.



One of them, which is going to change, is problems caused by having two

creative chiefs.



’Obviously you can make decisions much more quickly if you’re on your

own and things have to happen much more swiftly in the industry now. The

new system will be much easier for people. But,’ he adds quickly, ’it’s

not that the old system failed - it patently wasn’t a complete balls

up.’



Dicketts also believes that the agency’s creative profile - and it could

be said his own profile - is lower than it could be because it is famous

for other things: most notably, its flamboyant founders Maurice and

Charles.



’We’re famous for our famous pair, for a very public and acrimonious

split from Saatchis and for generally having an air of drama around what

we do. Maybe this has eclipsed the creative work we’ve done. But I want

us to be famous for our advertising, not for being famous.’



A third problem Dicketts has identified is losing control of ideas. ’The

way forward is to nurture ideas more and to get the whole agency behind

them, not just the creative department. The most upsetting thing is

having an idea that doesn’t come out intact.’



He believes that having four new deputies in place - head of art Tiger

Savage, her writing partner Mark Goodwin; and Paul Hodgkinson and

Malcolm Poynton - will ensure there is greater attention to detail.



Another new initiative is a ’death certificate’ for ideas that should be

killed. The ’baby’ is given a cause and time of death and then buried.

Its aim is to help creatives understand why things go wrong.



The ritual sounds humiliating and probably would be were anyone else in

charge. But Dicketts’ calm demeanour and air of sensitivity suggest he’s

unlikely to rule by terror. Comments by agency staff and clients bear

this out. ’He has a light touch - he gives his teams a lot of space.

He’s played a major part in British Airways’ advertising heritage, but

despite what he’s done he’s not a prima donna, which is very

refreshing,’ Derek Dear, general manager marketing services at BA,

says.



Savage echoes these sentiments: ’In some other creative departments

there’s more angst, it’s more extreme. It’s just as busy here but

there’s an air of calmness about the place, partly because of people

like Simon. I’ve never heard him shout or raise his voice. That’s one of

his strengths.’



Dicketts began his ad career at J. Walter Thompson as a ’humble

runaround’ after leaving school. He then managed to worm his way into

JWT’s creative department before moving to Saatchis. Finding inspiration

from people like Charles Saatchi, Paul Arden and Fergus Flemming he says

that he began to ’trouble juries’ scooping awards year after year. He

became joint creative director and went on to pen the agency’s motto,

’Nothing is impossible’.



’I coined the phrase myself at a Charlotte Street awayday. After arguing

for years that we shouldn’t have a motto I went into a corner and wrote

one.’



Dicketts’ creativity is not confined to the office. He also excels in

the kitchen. A true gastronome, he loves good food and wine.



’He knows how to enjoy himself. But doesn’t everyone at M&C? It’s part

of the brand,’ Dear says.



Indeed, it is not impossible to imagine Dicketts plunging his nose into

a large wine glass, quaffing, swilling and uttering something about oaky

overtones.



But what is hard to believe is that this man hails from a working-class

family in Newcastle. ’It’s true, he’s dead common,’ Savage says.



It seems Dicketts has been more creative than we could possibly have

imagined.



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