EDITORIAL: Keep the baby, but lose the bathwater

Gerry Moira raised a hugely important issue in last week's Campaign Essay. Is the UK ad industry clinging on to an outdated and inefficient system by continuing to entrust its creative output to pairings of copywriters and art directors?

While film, TV and fashion have all embraced change in order to sustain their creative potency, advertising has often seemed hidebound by comparison.

It's not that the business isn't rethinking how it can deliver creative work more effectively. The blurring of the lines between writers and art directors is accelerating this process and it's becoming common for agencies to put together bespoke teams of people from a range of disciplines to meet the requirements of a creative brief.

The danger is that, in the rush to reform, it's easy to overlook the strengths of the creative pair system.

Nor should it be forgotten how the pairing system came into being. Once upon a time, agency writers worked in isolation, producing copy that was handed over to so-called "visualisers" who worked on the layouts.

It wasn't until Bill Bernbach thought to bring the disciplines together that the concept of writer and art director pairings became established practice.

Not only does it provide support for young creatives in a highly competitive and brutal environment but enables them to protect and champion their ideas. That's as important as ever while research groups, nervous clients and the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre still threaten to neuter some of the edgiest ideas.

It must also be remembered that, down the years, creative directors have experimented by mixing and matching their people - with only varying degrees of success. In the end, creatives seem to function best in a stable professional relationship, bouncing ideas off a trusted partner.

Nor is it necessarily true that creative problem-solving would become easier if the ad industry copied what happens in the US where the best TV sitcoms are scripted by huge teams of writers. OK, if you require a high volume of work, but less relevant in advertising where the need is often for a single gem of an idea.

Full marks to the Publicis chairman for challenging the status quo. But while the pair system should no longer be regarded as the automatic way of doing things, experience suggests it will survive for a long time to come.

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