Opinion: Perspective - It's time to debunk the digital creative talent myth

Whenever I talk to "traditional" agency chief executives about digital creative talent, there's a tangible reverence that implies these rare creatures have surfaced in adland with hitherto non-existent, alchemic skills.

Our feature on page 30 helps debunk this persistent myth. We sent Andrew Cracknell - a creative of quite some experience (for which read, too, years) - into one of the hottest digital agencies in London: Lean Mean Fighting Machine. We chose Cracknell as much for his metaphorical long teeth as for his enquiring mind. And while we were quite sure that he would be inspired by the experience, we also harboured a quiet suspicion that he might hold up the naked emperor.

Well, it turns out the emperor is nattily dressed and digital creatives are as normal as the rest of us.

A few years ago, it was probably fair to say that many digital creatives had a design background and didn't always have, say, the writing skills that could transfer them to an offline agency. That's all changing: creatives are creatives are creatives, wherever they work.

The fact is that the best of the digital creatives are as good at coming up with great brand-building creative ideas as anyone else with the word "creative" on their business card. The basic creative sensibilities are the same in a digital agency as in any other sort of creative agency.

Where there is a difference, perhaps, it is in the speed with which they are used to creating their advertising, and responding to the response. As Cracknell says of traditional agencies: "Creative teams could work conscientiously for two or three years, get good annual reviews and regular rises and have not a single significant piece of published work to show for their time." That's a shocking, demotivating and utterly ineffective way to run a creative department. As any journalist who starts every week with 40-plus blank pages to fill will tell you, agencies tend to work at a somnolent pace. Which wouldn't be so bad if every ad was a gem ... Anyway, hopefully the current digital talent migration will help instil a new sense of creative urgency across the board.

The real problem with the mystique that has grown up around the digital creative is that it is leading to some startling levels of wage inflation. The big, traditional agencies know they can't afford to lose the digital game, so they're offering over-generous packages to anyone perceived to be a trophy digital hire. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests many digital creatives going into traditional agencies spend their time fighting for the big offline briefs. The converse is that some smart offline creatives are moving to digital agencies to sex-up their CVs and explore the digital challenges.

Of course, we are in a time of transition. Does anyone doubt that the traditional/digital agency division will have disappeared within five years or so? So the battle for talent is well underway. And for all of us - creative or otherwise - there's an urgent need to future-proof our CVs by ensuring we're as comfortable working online as offline. If that comes with a nice pay rise, all the better. But before you think about hiring from, or moving over to, the other side of the fence, please read the first Dear Jeremy letter below. So cynical, but I have a sneaky feeling so true.

Talking of transferable skills, it's interesting to note that Crispin Porter & Bogusky is the world's most-awarded digital agency, according to the CyberWon Report (page 5). Would Crispin Porter describe itself as a digital agency? Actually, it describes itself as a factory, "a factory that makes advertising and branded creative content. But there is no assembly line. All the work is custom-designed and assembled by hand."

As a model for how "traditional" agencies have to adapt, there are few (if any) better. Look out for our feature in a couple of weeks' time from inside Crispin Porter, on the secret of its success.

claire.beale@haymarket.com.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).