A view from Staff

Do marketers want shops led by creatives?

Will Who Wot Why's all-creative line-up inspire better work, or is it merely a cost-saving measure?

The newest agency in town is called Who Wot Why.

The who are a trio of senior creatives called Matt Gooden, Ben Walker and Sean Thompson.

Wot they are doing is to launch with an all-creative line-up rather than following convention by having a creative, a planner and an account director running the show.

Why are they doing it? Walker couldn’t be blunter: "Because so much of the work out there at the moment is absolute crap."

Walker and Gooden, former Crispin Porter & Bogusky executive creative directors, and Thompson, Dare’s former chief creative officer, share a philosophy that has been defined by some none too pleasant industry experiences in recent years.

Slimming down creative departments is an easy but short-sighted way of cutting costs by cashstrapped agencies, Walker argues. The result, he adds, is more agencies dipping into the same pool of creative freelancers with little insight into the briefs they are given.

"This is one of the reasons why creativity is at such a low ebb," Walker contends. Not that Who Wot Why is a pioneering answer to the problem. Big Al’s Creative Emporium, established in 2003, Gravity Road (2011) and Sunshine (2012) all launched as creative consultancies but broadened their management as they have matured.

Who Wot Why’s founders have made no similar promise. They say they will broaden their offering if and when their business grows. Walker says the only stipulation is that future hires must be "creative" in the broadest sense and show passion for the work.

Some have suggested the agency’s arrival may be apposite. A new report by Kingston Smith points to an increasing emphasis by marketers on shorter term, project-based work. Could this mean more of them want only to pay for the creative ideas and not for the facilitators? Perhaps.

Who Wot Why has picked up the assignment for the £2m-plus launch of Sky Sports Fantasy Football for the new season, renewing Walker and Gooden’s relationship with Michael Afflick, head of brands at Sky Betting and Gaming, who was previously the duo’s client at Paddy Power.

The consensus, though, is that the agency will appeal mostly to small entrepreneurial clients. "Of course, Procter & Gamble isn’t going to walk in with its business," Walker acknowledges. "But we could catch the eye of a P&G marketer with a brand needing a kick up the arse. We’re not interested in little charity jobs. We want to create famous work."

How often those opportunities arise remains to be seen. "Clients are looking for fitter and less hierarchical agencies and they like working directly with creatives," Debbie Morrison, ISBA’s director of consultancy and best practice, says. "But they also want to see an ability to project manage. At some point, the agency will need to be offering those skills."

Marketer

Jan Gooding, group brand director, AvivaJan Gooding, group brand director, Aviva

"This is a bold way of establishing an agency and it isn’t necessarily wrong. Clients are aching to get closer to content creativity and ideas as they are to media owners. They are always in danger of being too far from the coalface.

"But, as an ex-agency suit, I also know the importance of general management skills because clients also need good strategic advice.

"Maybe some small business start-ups looking for exciting work might like the idea of an all-creative line-up. Perhaps it might also appeal to a company wanting to explore a new market segment. Personally, I wouldn’t want to disturb my existing roster."

Intermediary

Martin Jones, managing partner, AARMartin Jones, managing partner, AAR

"Creative consultancies have been around a long time and the concept lends itself to clients who are strategy-free. It’s possible to make a living in this market but it’s the planners who are the rock stars of pitches. Most clients can’t do strategy themselves, which is why they’ll pay a premium for it. The creative work simply backs it up.

"Also, a lot of industry people don’t realise what the new world is like. Today, not even the biggest agencies prevent clients talking directly to creatives. It’s possible to think you’ve found a gap in the market when there isn’t one."

Marketer

Keith Moor, chief marketing officer, SantanderKeith Moor, chief marketing officer, Santander

"Some clients – and I’m one of them – like having lots of contact with creatives. And dealing with an all-creative agency line-up may be right for some types of clients. But it wouldn’t be for a 52-weeks-a-year advertiser like us and other big corporates, which have a lot of process.

"Is dealing with three creatives going to give you three times as many ideas? "Ideas are just part of the equation. The account and planning teams are an equally important part of the mix. That said, clients are demanding that agencies become flexible and fluid enough to solve their business problems."

Marketer

April Redmond, chief marketing officer, Kerry FoodsApril Redmond, chief marketing officer, Kerry Foods

"I can see why working without account handling might have some appeal but I struggle to see how clients could work without strategy. In our business, we build from a strong strategic planning foundation well before we get to the creative work.

"If all-creative line-ups are going to appeal to anybody, it’s likely to be small, agile and entrepreneurial companies that have a strong sense of their target audience.

"If you want an agency just for some project-based work, then it’s probably OK. But you wouldn’t want to use it for long-term brand-building."

"They’ve all realised that if they’re going to compete, they have to offer the full set," a leading consultant says. As long ago as 1979, Robin Wight set up WCRS with a pledge not to hire account people. "After six months, I realised that was a mistake," he recalls. "Our early ads weren’t very good because the creatives were focusing on being account men."

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