CAMPAIGN CRAFT: THE CREATIVE ISSUE; How essential is the role of a worldwide creative director?

Michele Martin considers the difficulties of directing creatives from a distance

Michele Martin considers the difficulties of directing creatives from a


Few people willingly swap a grandiose title for something humbler, but

Andrew Cracknell was delighted last September to be named as chairman

and executive creative director of Ammirati Puris Lintas London after

his unhappy stint as the worldwide creative director of Bates Dorland.

His explanation for the move was simple: ‘Ask anyone if they’d prefer to

be leader of their country or Secretary General of the United Nations

and they’d go for leader of their country every time. Those jobs with

apparently greater status often have less.’

Cracknell’s views echo the traditional opinion that international

creative jobs are often just rewards for people at the end of their

working lives. With no department, no power base and resistance from

local creative chiefs, the international creative director is an

irrelevance, Cracknell argues, adding for good measure: ‘You’re just

there for ceremonial occasions and the giving of gold watches.’

Yet the very fact that people of Cracknell’s calibre are increasingly

picked for such jobs indicates that something is changing. And for every

Cracknell-esque experiment there are others that have worked - for

example, Jeremy Sinclair, now a founding partner of M&C Saatchi and the

former worldwide creative director and chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi

Advertising Worldwide, and Allen Thomas, who assumed the same title at

J. Walter Thompson 18 months ago, albeit jointly.

The main single factor raising the status of international creatives is

undoubtedly the changing expectations of clients who, having forced

networks to mirror their own marketing structures on global account

handling, expect similar changes creatively. Thomas says: ‘A worldwide

creative director’s role replicates that other recent phenomenon, the

worldwide director in charge of an account.’

Yet what makes a worldwide creative successful is still obscured by the

fact that there are as many job descriptions as there are networks.

Groups such as JWT and Saatchis have one person in charge of everything

while others, such as Ogilvy and Mather, have a team of executive

creative directors overseeing individual global brands.

However, there are an emerging number of ‘do’s and don’ts’ despite this

high degree of customisation. Top of the list is a warning to anyone who

fancies a bit of lone troubleshooting. As Sinclair remembers: ‘When I

first took on the job I’d go to different agencies around the world and

make the best comments I could, but when I came back six months later

the work would be exactly the same.’

Instead, today’s global creatives seem to work best when they are

supported by systems that formalise their jobs, have direct access to

working teams and can boast years of experience in their chosen


When it comes to formalising their roles, internal awards schemes and

regular creative reviews both become useful weapons in the armoury of

the international creative.

Sinclair introduced a similar initiative at Saatchis when his ad hoc

globetrotting failed, with each office judged by a 40-page annual client

satisfaction survey. And Thomas has recently introduced a similar

performance-related annual review at JWT. ‘I think this is the single

biggest thing you can do to improve creativity of work apart from having

the right creatives,’ he says.

Just as important is access to creative product, even though in practice

most creative heads can only concentrate on a few key accounts.

Cracknell’s complaint that ‘without a real department you can’t be a

real creative director’, strikes a chord with many, and those who feel

most comfortable with international responsibilities appear to be those

who still command resources.

But the final key to making it as an international creative is having a

long track record with your network and general management clout.

Perhaps it is no co-incidence that Cracknell had only been at Bates

seven years when he was asked to take the worldwide job, while Sinclair

was a founder and chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising Worldwide

and Thomas is one of only ten people on JWT’s powerful worldwide

executive group.

As Sinclair says: ‘I came to the conclusion you can’t do the job in

isolation. You need clout or you need a good friend who’s got clout.’ It

says a great deal about the importance of international creatives today

that many now rely on their own resources rather than those of a patron

to get what they want.