Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... With JB

Q: An agency MD writes: "Nine months ago, my creative director hired an ostensibly 'hot' youngish team on the strength of a brace of good ads and a couple of honourable mentions in the D&AD Annual.

So far, all they have done is moan about how their previous agency was better than ours and turn their noses up at most of the briefs we've handed them. They didn't come cheap and they're not earning their keep - should we get rid, or wait for inspiration to strike?"

I'll come to your question in half-an-hour. Meanwhile, here's a Short History of Creative Management.

Chapter One: 1864-1958. Creative people were treated like everyone else in the agency. They weren't even called creative: they were copywriters and visualisers and they inhabited their own cells. Prudently, the copy department would be located a safe two floors away from the art department.

There were no creative directors and no creative teams. The primary agency unit was the account group and the account director (or Director-in-Charge) was the acknowledged king penguin.

Then, triggered mainly by the remorseless march of television, something called creativity became paramount. For creative people, this wasn't all good news. There you were, faced with that blank sheet of paper, surrounded by dozens of account people, planning people, media people and traffic people: all waiting for you to think of something. There could be no client meeting until you'd thought of something. Your ability to think of something was what justified the entire agency's existence. On your ability to think of something, the whole agency's new-business record hinged. And the blank sheet of paper stayed obstinately blank. No wonder that creative people began to buckle a bit; to flounce a bit; to tip over the table shouting "It's just not fair!" before shutting themselves in the stationery cupboard and bursting into tears. Some took to drink.

So it slowly dawned on agencies that creative people weren't like everyone else in the agency. The pressure on them to deliver - to come up with something - was different in intensity from anything faced by anyone else.

And so, surely, they should be treated differently.

Chapter Two: 1959-1973. Art directors and copywriters got together as creative teams. This was partly because television advertising is best created that way but at least as much for comfort. The blank sheet of paper is much less intimidating when it's confronting two people rather than one. Agency managements became more tolerant of creative eccentricities.

Timekeeping, and timesheet keeping, became optional activities. Tantrums were understood and forgiven. Creative directors were accorded equivalent status to CEOs though never expected to shoulder equivalent responsibility. The work was good and most people were happy. Chapter Two is a nice chapter though a bit on the short side.

Chapter Three: 1974-. This is when it began to go wrong. It was widely observed that brilliant creative people, however stroppy, self-obsessed, and socially ill-favoured, were indulged, honoured and astronomically well-rewarded. So far, so good. Brilliant creative people deserved every bit of it. But then, under cover of darkness, with no-one to note or record this subtle shift, a false syllogism began to beguile the agency village. It went like this.

Brilliant creative people are outrageously wayward. It therefore follows that outrageously wayward people are creatively brilliant.

Instead of creative people being indulged in their waywardness because they were brilliant, creative people's waywardness became proof of their brilliance. The more wayward they were, the more brilliant they were known to be. Suddenly, acquiring a reputation for brilliance became a great deal easier. No longer did you need to produce creatively brilliant advertising; you simply had to behave appallingly.

This was bad enough - but one false syllogism led to another. It stood to reason that creative people who didn't behave appallingly couldn't be creatively brilliant. Thus it was that dozens of well-mannered and inventive art directors and copywriters were assigned to accounts that had been spurned by the creative elite. Here, they produced excellent advertising that was insultingly dismissed as workmanlike.

And so, at last, we return to your question and to 2006. There are hugely encouraging signs, often led by the more rigorous disciplines such as direct marketing, of a return to sanity. Whether these early shoots of hope continue to develop or are nipped in the bud will largely depend on what you decide to do about your moody duo.

I'm sure you take my meaning.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.

Telephone 020 8267 4683, Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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