Close-Up: Are creative chiefs losing their voice?

Steve Henry wants to know what role an ECD plays in an agency today, Francesca Fisher writes.

There's no spontaneity, no colour, no passion, no originality. Qualities that were once prized in a creative are now seen as flaws. We've turned into an industry of androids. Controlled by the powers that be, the men with the fat wallets."

So one disillusioned creative blogger under the pseudonym Just Creative writes.

He or she is responding to a blog by Steve Henry (, in which Henry posed the question: "When was the last time your creative director made a decision that carried any real weight?"

Indeed, there is a well of support for Henry's view. Disgruntled creatives, particularly in agencies with lower creative standards, feel disenfranchised. Take the revealing tale of one freelance creative - he explains how, in the agency he's currently working at, he feels like a character from a Matt Beaumont book. He says meetings will have 25 opinions flying around, but not one of them creative.

Another testifies that they often complain of the balance of power shifting away from their department over to the planning department. Add to this the fact that an agency the size of Ogilvy has dispensed with the role of executive creative director altogether, and you'll see why Henry feels that the creative's power is on the wane.

However, closer inspection reveals not that creatives have less power than they used to, but rather that they are expected to use that power very differently.

Gone are the days when a high wall was erected between the creative department and the agency's clients. Today, marketers want access to the creatives working on their business. Speaking to them directly ensures that they understand a brief from the client's perspective; that it doesn't get lost in translation.

Additionally, as Bartle Bogle Hegarty's managing director, Charlie Rudd, points out below, it's more time-efficient to speak to the creative directly, when today a brief has the potential to be executed in a wide range of different media. JWT's executive creative director, Russell Ramsey, adds: "The old system of creative filling in the spaces bought by the media company are long gone. These days the media is the idea as much as the positioning and the execution."

Creatives are expected to make creative judgments based on the knowledge of what their clients want from them. If market research has revealed a route to market that the client wants, creatives are expected to take on board the findings and either work with them, or come up with something more compelling. Ramsey insists: "The creative director is still the person who should listen to everything and everyone, and then decide what will make the best work."

The necessarily direct links between creative directors and their clients mean the agency has no choice but to value its creative talent, but, as a result, the days of throwing plant pots out of the window in a fit of creative pique have become something of a thing of the past. Creative directors are not feared and revered in the way they used to be. The Mother founder Robert Saville recalls those doyens of advertising, who used to make those around them quake with fear. "Those don't exist any more," Saville says, "you have to keep your employees happy."

Grey's chief executive, David Patton, summarises: "The days of putting a brief into a department and patiently waiting two weeks for white smoke from the creative director's office are over. You need to involve the client much more."

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CREATIVE - Paul Silburn, creative partner, Saatchi & Saatchi

"At Saatchis, it's all about the work, we (executive creative directors) tend to have the final say. There may be a discussion, but I can't think of times when we've been overruled.

"The creative's role has changed over the past decade, though. We're more and more client-facing. You get asked to go to every meeting, whether it's important or not. Clients want the executive creative director on every shoot, even if they've got a senior creative director there.

"We've definitely had to become more business-like; there's no room for tantrums if you don't like the client's idea."

CREATIVE - Russell Ramsey, executive creative director, JWT

"The demarcation between disciplines has never been more blurred. The modern creative director is an account man, planner, media director, accountant and creative.

"Not all businesses are the same. The creative influence depends on the client structure. If the process is set up for 30-second TV scripts to be tested in all parts of the world under strict guidelines as laid out by years of research and marketing theory, then there is little room for creatives to manoeuvre.

"If, however, you have an open-minded client who is interested in new media solutions and is willing to experiment with new ideas, then creatives can have a huge influence."

MD - Charlie Rudd, managing director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"I think our experience is the reverse to what Henry describes. In a world where things need to happen faster across several different media channels, our customers, the clients, want more access to creatives than ever before.

"The creatives are front and centre. What clients are looking for these days is creatives' time.

"The creatives are having to spend more and more time away from their desks and with clients, but that's just something they've had to accept."

CHIEF EXECUTIVE - David Patton, chief executive, Grey

"I'm not so sympathetic to Henry's views. The primary role of a creative is not small talk with potential clients, that's totally unfair. Clients desperately want to work with creative directors that get their business and share their aspirations.

"My experience is that the opportunity for creatives to delve into a client's business has become greater. Those that roll up their sleeves and create change beyond advertising will thrive.

"Those that sit back in their offices and wait for a nice brief and dislike interference are, frankly, disappearing."


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