'For the most part, I don't think anyone has taken the job by the
scruff of the neck and made something of it,' Trevor Beattie, the newly
appointed chairman of TBWA/London, says of his fellow creatives' track
record in the post. 'I think it's almost an antiquated position that
needs modernising. I want to dust it off.'
This is pretty bombastic stuff from someone who's yet to get to grips
with the job himself, but on the face of it, it's hard to disagree with
It's something of a challenge to name any creative chairmen of London
agencies - some no longer spring to mind as creative forces, others have
never made a particularly loud noise as chairmen. On the whole they can
cut rather a tragic advertising figure - a fading creature separated
from his core skill and allowed to gather dust in a corner office while
younger, snappier creative directors take over their old department and
chief executives and managing directors become the public face of the
'You have to be very careful of your own career and get the agency to
define exactly what they want you to do,' Andrew Cracknell, a former
chairman at Ammirati Puris Lintas, now returned to Bates as executive
creative director, says. 'It's easier at an owner-operated agency where
you can make up your own rules and slip in and out of position, but
otherwise you can get separated from your creative role.'
John Hegarty may have the owner-operator advantage at Bartle Bogle
Hegarty, but still seems very aware of the dangers. 'As soon as you stop
working on a piece of business, your creative relevance to the agency
diminishes,' he says. 'You feel cut off from the thing that makes you
good and you can wake up one morning when someone says you're not a very
good chairman and you're not able to go back to where you came
Hegarty's own safeguard against such a decline has been to retain a
significant degree of direct creative responsibility. He sees himself as
a titular chairman and he is by no means ashamed of it.
'I think it's about making public statements about where an agency's
heart lies and ultimately at BBH we believe in the power of creativity,'
he says. 'The danger is always that you get dragged into the running of
the agency as opposed to the creative. Trevor should become a symbol of
what the agency is about and that's very important. We should know that,
working in advertising.'
On paper Beattie seems perfectly placed to follow this type of advice.
Like Hegarty, he will be retaining his creative director role - and the
range of key accounts, such as French Connection and Sony PlayStation,
that he currently works on directly. His personal profile is the highest
of any creative director in London today and, as a symbol of effective
yet adventurous advertising, he's very well cast. He's also got a chief
executive, in Garry Lace, who has the enthusiasm and energy to handle
the day-to-day organisation of the agency. But it seems unlikely that
Beattie will be content to be a chairman in name.
'Stephen Marks is the best chairman I know,' he says. 'He represents
French Connection. He's everywhere and he's the spirit of the place. He
spends one day a year talking to the City of London and the rest of the
time talking to me and his staff.
'I want people to look at their chairman and ask what they're
contributing. What are they doing for the reputation of the agency?'
Beattie talks of managing the entire agency as a creative department and
of remaining the new-business face of TBWA - he's very proud of his
involvement in pitches and his close relationships with clients. But,
according to Cracknell, he may find himself compromised in the new
'I don't think you can be a champion of the creative department and
chairman at the same time,' he says. 'Because as chairman you have to
see all sides of the picture. You need a creative director who will
occasionally provide tension with that.'
'At some point you have to decide whether you're a creative director or
a chairman for most of your time,' adds Greg Delaney, the chairman of
Delany Lund Knox Warren, who decided to concentrate on the latter. 'It's
very difficult to run your department at the same time as doing work and
leading the agency.'
Once again Beattie's chances of overcoming the difficulty may be better
than most. He's split the TBWA creative department between a raft of
group heads who run their accounts with a similar level of authority as
he does his own. 'You've got to hire people who are creatively more
talented than you are and you've got to be big enough to admit that,' he
says of the appointment strategy.
Beattie claims he's never wanted his own name above a door, which rules
out the ownership safety net enjoyed by both Hegarty and Delaney. He
remains ultimately vulnerable to the judgment of his parent network, but
he's also better positioned than most to prove that taking on a creative
chairmanship is worth the risk.