CREATIVES: DINOSAURS OR DIVINERS?

In the first of a series of IPA debates about creativity, major ad agency figures and clients discuss how creatives will have to adopt new ways of thinking to survive.

It's taken a while, but the ad industry is coming to recognise that creativity isn't (or shouldn't be) the preserve of people in creative departments. The definition of creativity is being thrown wide open.

But is the industry really ready to work with the broader creative demands of media fragmentation, of clients looking for business partners rather than 30-second-ad machines and the blurring lines between the marketing services sectors?

The IPA's revamped Creative Forum, led by Robert Campbell, the executive creative director of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, has launched a series of debates to address the new challenges. Campaign will be covering these debates - here is an account of the first.

RC "This debate is about the future of creatives, how we can get them to understand that they have a very powerful potential to effect change and get out of their rut of conventional creative solutions and the victim position they're in.

"What I find extraordinary is that, as consumers, younger creative people have an instinctive understanding of the way media habits are changing. But they come into work every day and hang up their entire knowledge of how media works in the real world and they settle down in their offices and, certainly in an above-the-line agency, they start writing 30-second commercials and they start writing press ads. What a waste of their ambition and knowledge."

Mandy Pooler, the chief executive of WPP's The Channel: "Well, I don't think it's fair, Robert, just to blame the young creatives, because I think there is a conservative complacency that works across creatives, media and clients. At the end of the day, the client who's paying the bills is still buying 30-second television commercials. If they've got the money they've also got the power to say something should be changing here. But I think the clients are complicit."

Jeremy Bullmore, a non-executive director of WPP: "I think that the problem is most evident in London and New York-based, large above-the-line agencies. If you go to these countries we like to call less developed, they are bewildered when we talk about integration because they've never stopped integrating ... that's all they do in a small-ish agency, in that climate.

"They do it instinctively and creative people are never bewildered about what it is they are meant to be good at; they know they're supposed to have good ideas that help clients be more successful and they're not limited by media or by anything else. If I were looking for an influx of new talent I'd go to what are tediously called below-the-line agencies."

Rory Sutherland, the executive creative director of OgilvyOne: "Or below the equator ..."

JB "Or below any line. There's a snobbery that's taken over our business that says this is the only proper way of operating and I think the young people coming in, it's not their fault. They have been misled, they are bewildered, they do not know what they're there for. And if you do not know what you're there for, life is very complicated. You don't know who's going to judge you."

RS "But actually, if you're in a London agency and you want to make it big ... which probably means a mixture of famous and rich ... to do that you need to gain the approval of the awards establishment and to gain the approval of the awards establishment you probably are better off pursuing conventional forms."

Peter Bazalgette, the chairman of Endemol: "Both our jobs are to grab eyeballs and that's an interesting criteria to concentrate on. It's much more difficult to grab eyeballs now than it ever has been before in our professional careers."

RS "But if you look at the way our business uses creativity, it's the only business where creativity is actually crammed to the end of the process. Most businesses start with a creative idea and move on to execute it. Actually, we've probably gone through the majority of our process before anyone with the job title 'creative' gets to look at the thing. So the problem that a creative in London is faced with is not: 'This is my client's problem, this is what they need to do, this is the audience they need to attract.' By the time it gets to anyone creative, it's been redefined as a problem of 'please fill these 30 seconds as charmingly, entertainingly and relevantly as possible'.

"The process starts in the clients' minds ... the business of presumption and assumption - and it is actually the job of the creative person to challenge and overturn those things - starts very early on. Indeed, the media might have been bought before anyone has had any kind of idea."

PB "Are you telling me, because I don't know, that on the whole the medium is prescribed and then the creatives are asked to fill the space. Surely deciding where the money goes is partly a creative decision?"

RS "The definition of the target audience usually happens way before creative gets involved and, generally, target audiences are defined in terms of making it easier for you to buy television. So actually the question of what the audience is and how it should be defined is one of those questions that answers itself. A 'who wrote Handel's Water Music' kind of question."

RC "It is possible to break out of the cycle and good agencies do. But I think clients tend to think in silos. And there is an established process at many agencies that serves that."

Steve Henry, the creative director of HHCL/Red Cell: "Creatives should work very closely with the account director and the planner right at the beginning of the process. But I think you can't expect creatives to take on board all the client's business concerns and then do something surprising and interesting."

JB "I think the large, well-established agencies have totally forgotten what it is clients are looking for. Clients are looking for a group of complementary people who can do things that they can't do. No client has ever hired a department. And yet departments rule. I was in Europe a few weeks ago, talking to an account planning department in JWT and they have to get permission to go in to the creative department. Isn't that absurd?"

RC "There is still a view - and I think it's got worse - of a 'not in front of the children' way of treating creatives. They are kept like mushrooms in the dark and they have shit thrown at them and they churn out 30-second commercials ..."

JB "And some of them have chosen that way of life ..."

RC "Absolutely. But if we're asking ourselves the question 'adapt or die', some of the things creative people could start thinking about now is: do I understand the media that exists now? Do I understand how it works? Do I understand how clients work? Have I ever met a bloody client? Have I ever made an attempt to have a wisdom beyond my 30-second ad skills? I don't think they should become management consultants, but I think a little knowledge goes a long way."

SH "What I say to our guys is try to meet the clients at least once or twice, try to get a real sense of what they're about personally, what their ambitions are. But I don't think you can blame individual creatives for the way they work. It's about agency cultures. The industry is incredibly conservative, it works on the basis of if it's not broke, don't fix it, whereas what you've got to do is go 'keep changing it if it looks broken or not'."

RC "I'm not blaming creative people. Personally, I think that creatives have become marginalised from the centre of this business, wherever that may be now. I also think they have a bit of a victim mentality and they don't really understand their own power. Creative people are the golden geese in this business."

JB "That reminds me painfully of how respected the word 'creative' has become. I think it's absurd that a few people in one department should be the only people licensed to have ideas.

The agencies in non-sophisticated - I use that phrase ironically - countries have hugely imaginative managements. So a potential client can walk into the managing director's office and ideas start happening from that first meeting. Creativity should certainly not be jealously guarded by a few copywriters and art directors down the line.

"More people should be capable of saying to Johnson & Johnson: 'Don't you think your baby products could be of enormous interest to women as well?' A thought like that that can revolutionise an entire company does not have to come from someone who's been at Watford."

SH "Yes, that sort of strategic creativity should be increasingly the domain of anyone on the team."

JB "What most clients want is to have an association with a company that is, top-to-bottom, infinitely more experimental, imaginative, lateral, dotty, fun than they are. Clients find it deeply disappointing when they come into agencies and find people not unlike their own people."

SH "The point I keep coming back to is this is such a conservative industry."

MP "And there's a definite conspiracy in the media to keep the status quo. It is absolutely in the interests of ITV and Channel 4 and everyone else to keep us in our little box."

RC "I believe that good old-fashioned art directors and copywriters and creative directors in advertising agencies, which the lion's share of the money is still being channelled through, somehow they can and should be more powerful in breaking this vicious circle of traditional solutions than they are at the moment."

JB "But they will need to know that there is fame and reward at the end of it."

RC "That poses the question how can young creatives challenge the status quo and make it to the top of the pile?"

RS "I'd get them to spend a few hours each month in a frequent-flier lounge. I think you can come into this business and assume there are creative people dotted throughout business life. But in an airport business lounge you suddenly realise what a staggeringly soulless universe most of the business world is ... people on mobiles talking about spreadsheets. And then you realise we are often the only creative organisations with whom our clients come into contact."

JB "I think we should look at how creative organisations who provide money-making ideas for clients should be paid. If we could answer this, then people would not be bewildered about what they're expected to do. The creative people who I think we should be encouraging and training and rewarding are those who look for ideas that make money for clients. Leo Burnett in the 30s came up with the Jolly Green Giant character. I don't know what the Jolly Green Giant did for the sweetcorn company, but it's in the zillions of dollars. Leo Burnett has had nothing for it whatsoever. Until it is clear that such an idea is worth loads of money, how are we going to direct people's attention to thinking about them?"

RC "My issue is that it's unlikely creatives will be invited to break down the barriers, so they're going to have to force their way through."

SH "You're asking young creatives to do too much. You're right, they are the golden-egg layers and therefore we need to cherish them. Some creatives are going to have that degree of extroversion that leads them to shake up the rest of the industry and some aren't, but they aren't necessarily worse creatives for that."

RC "Well, I wonder if the future for those two types of creatives lies in different directions. One type will have the talent to shake things up, to get to the top of the food chain and the other type will be the crafty type who just execute commercials but execute them beautifully."

PB "The word 'creative' is a very blunt instrument, isn't it? There are plenty of creatives in my business who are creative because they can design a set or get a good camera angle. But the creative people who really interest me are the people who can take a blank sheet of paper and come up with creative concepts that later become pieces of intellectual property that my company can make money from. Lots of other people who are creative in a different sense enhance that concept, but they're not prime creatives. They're not the people who drive the money."

RC "So let's focus back on the creatives who don't know what to do to break out of their rut. What are the key messages for them?"

SH "I'd say to creatives: 'Get out of your offices, go and talk to the account directors, the planners, demand to be involved in pre-briefing sessions, demand to be involved before the media is decided, demand to meet the client. Learn new skills such as writing film scripts. Get out of the box, don't let your agency keep you in a box. And boycott all the awards schemes.'"

THE CREATIVE CONUNDRUM

'I think creatives have become marginalised ... I also think they have a bit of a victim mentality' - Robert Campbell, RKCR/Y&R

'At the end of the day, the client who's paying the bills is still buying 30-second TV ads' - Mandy Pooler, The Channel

'There's a snobbery that has taken over our business that says this is the only proper way of operating ... the young people coming in, it's not their fault' - Jeremy Bullmore, WPP

'Most businesses start with a creative idea ... We've probably gone through the majority of our process before anyone with the job title creative looks at it' - Rory Sutherland, OgilvyOne

'The creative people who interest me are the people who can take a blank sheet of paper and come up with concepts that make money' - Peter Bazalgette, Endemol

'You can't expect creatives to take on board all the client's business concerns and then do something surprising' - Steve Henry, HHCL/Red Cell.

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