A view from Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: Time's right to embrace the new breed of ECDs

In my job, acting as an unofficial and unpaid talent-spotter comes with the territory. But, in recent years, the most frequently asked question - and perhaps the one most crucial to an agency's success - has also become the hardest to answer: "Who should we get as our new creative director?"

Perhaps it's a question that's simply asked too often. Rewind a decade or two and chief creatives often had their name over the agency door and didn't move around town quicker than you could say "salary inflation". These days, there's much less creative stability (and therefore less-defined creative cultures) and the industry has found itself in a damaging game of ECD musical chairs.

Still, the underlying fact remains that whichever way you cut the pack, there is not a healthy supply of standout candidates for these roles. At least, not homegrown ones. That's partly because media fragmentation has made it harder for budding star creatives to consistently create work that makes them famous. And the breadth of skills now required of creatives makes it harder to excel in the round.

Yet agencies still recognise the power of a star creative hire to force a reappraisal of their offering and to attract new creative talent. And to improve their creative output too. So it's not surprising that, in recent weeks, McCann Erickson, TBWA and now Ogilvy have resorted to bringing in creative talent from overseas to fill their top creative roles.

Possibly all three agencies had little option but to throw the recruiting net as wide as possible: few UK ECDs would be prepared to gamble their career and status on the challenges inherent at each of these agencies, even for significant salary hikes. But it seems a good moment to inject some new creative talent and fresh perspective into the mix.

Cynics will reel off a long list of foreign creatives who came here to conquer and failed miserably. London has not been a very welcoming place for senior creatives from other markets. There remains the persistent belief that the UK should be producing a ready supply of world-beating creatives and that we do it best. The reality - despite some Brits taking top creative jobs in the US in recent years - is increasingly rather different. There's no better time to be an outsider in a UK advertising industry desperately in need of new blood and new creative thinking. Creativity remains the alchemy at the heart of the business and we need to take it from wherever we can get it.

The real question is not whether overseas creatives can match British standards, but whether the world's best creative talent still sees a top job in the UK as a great addition to their CV. I think that's still the case, but without some fresh creative impetus, it might not always be so.

Topics