Can you imagine the emotion Tony Cox must have felt when he hired
Larry Barker a year ago from WCRS as creative director and paid him a
strato-spheric salary to run BMP DDB’s creative department?
On one hand, he would have congratulated himself on securing creative
succession at the agency which, under John Webster’s and then his
creative direction, had churned out work of outstanding originality,
visibility and effectiveness.
On the other hand, Cox may have felt marginalised. When Barker arrived
he was obliged to take a step back, return to copywriting, tag
’executive’ onto his creative director’s title and take a pay cut. And
thus the seeds were sown for his move to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,
coincidentally another Omnicom-owned shop (Campaign, last week).
The appointment of Cox to support AMV’s executive creative director,
Peter Souter, will signal to some a confirmation of the rumoured
misgivings about Souter’s ability to succeed David Abbott. But while the
veneration in which AMV’s creative founding father was held was a factor
in spurring the creative department to greater heights, it is also a
fact that no-one - especially one as inexperienced and self-deprecating
as Souter - could step into Abbott’s shoes.
I’d argue that Cox’s appointment is also an acknowledgment that, while
the definition of the creative director’s job at a top ten agency has
remained unchanged, the requirements have altered beyond recognition.
Thirty years ago good work came from fewer shops, the others just gave
clients what they wanted.
Thirty years ago it was (almost) acceptable for creative directors to
fake an interest in wider business issues, now they need to hold their
own with the MBA boys. Thirty years ago the world of direct marketing
was unknown to advertising creatives; now they have to understand and
embrace it to survive.
What’s more, with BT and Sainsbury’s forming the bedrock of its client
list, AMV is churning out more than 300 commercials a year. Too many for
a single creative director to control, especially one like Souter whose
inclination, like Abbott’s before him, is to continue to do the work and
lead by example. Cox, meanwhile, is the other sort of creative director
- the one who wins awards until he takes over a department, and then,
thanks to his astute hirings, watches it clean up.
So it makes sense to divvy up AMV’s creative leadership into the
intellect and the energy. The sage creative businessman with a more
outward-facing role - Cox - coupled with the internally focused creative
director charged with hiring and firing, quality control, budgeting,
directing work, nicking the best briefs (perk of the job, after all) and
so on. And if that combination (brief-nicking aside) isn’t motivation
for the others who work there, I don’t know what is.