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
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.