PERSPECTIVE: Top creative’s role now a task for two at major agencies

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?

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.



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