EDITORIAL: Creative transplant a risk for both sides

It's always a risky operation when an agency opts for a new creative heart in an attempt to stop itself being left behind in an ever more competitive business environment. The big danger is the body rejects the transplant, usually because of over-expectation by both parties. The agency deludes itself into thinking that a little creative alchemy alone will have prospects rushing through the door; the creative "star" unsettles existing clients.

Hopefully, none of this will happen with Al Young's arrival from HHCL/Red Cell to take over the creative directorship at Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB. Nevertheless, the risks are palpable. Young honed his reputation on edgy and mould-breaking work for open-minded clients willing to embrace change. BHO's business has been built on a bedrock of internationally aligned business from clients rarely associated with radical creative solutions. Moreover, examples of creative catalysts producing long-lasting change are rare indeed.

More common are the stories of what happened to agencies such as McCann-Erickson in 1993, when it deluded itself into believing it could shed its "advertising factory" reputation by packing its creative department with young Turks such as Jeremy Clarke and Dave Horry. Ground down by a roster of unadventurous clients, the Turks quickly left and normality returned.

The obvious lesson from such experiences is that the desire for change must run across the entire agency. No creative can make a difference without the support of planners, account people and a united senior management.

What's more, the temptation to get a few quick runs on the board is best avoided. Producing some good work on a couple of tiny accounts billing peanuts may impress awards juries but not many hard-nosed clients. Better, perhaps, to remember Andrew Cracknell, who inspired the creative renaissance at the then Dorlands in the late 80s by gaining the confidence of all the agency's clients and leading them gently towards better work.

Above all, it has to be accepted that creative revolutions take time.

John Banks, BHO's shrewd and highly experienced chairman, knows this.

But he knows also that middle-ranking agencies such as his can't sit back while the new breed of start-ups steal their lunch.

In BHO's favour is the fact that even the biggest clients are having to buy cut-through work as their markets are saturated and consumers are besieged by promotional messages.Young's task is formidable, but not impossible.


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