Close-Up: Live Issue - Is adland myopic in its talent search?

Fred and Farid are proof positive creative talent exists outside of college courses, John Tylee writes.

Rory Sutherland didn't mention the names of Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart in his recent Campaign Essay, in which he accused adland of encouraging creative conformity by not casting its talent net widely enough.

But the pair's record provides powerful testimony for his case that agencies perpetually fail to find the best creatives because they don't look in the right places.

Raillard and Mokart have been described as two of the best things that ever happened to Bartle Bogle Hegarty. During just 18 months at the agency, they captured a gold Lion at Cannes for their Xbox "mosquito" commercial and produced acclaimed work for Levi's.

Yet the pair's route to UK creative stardom was far from conventional.

For one thing, they're French. For another, they made their names on the Rock DJ promo they produced for Robbie Williams, which was named as the best video at the 2001 Brit Awards.

So why then, in a business where creativity is the lifeblood, are creative directors not seeking out more Freds and Farids? Why do they instead prefer to put their faith in tyro creatives who have come through the college system?

The answer is largely economic. Agencies have endured a long and brutal recession, creating a risk-averse culture. "Creative directors are frightened to make mistakes," Bruce Crouch, the Soul creative partner, says. "Financial constraints have become very inhibiting."

Greg Delaney, the chairman of Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, believes the pressure on agencies to be risk-averse forces them to look for tangible proof of talent before making hirings. "When somebody approaches you from a completely different industry, your instinct is not to take the risk," he says. "You want to see evidence of talent. Would-be creatives know this, which is why they go to college to produce work which looks good and that creative directors will buy."

Many believe it is this system that is perpetuating formulaic advertising.

Crouch says: "College can teach you what the rules are but you don't learn how to break them."

It's all a far cry from the way it was 30 years ago, when the business was awash with former journalists and aspiring novelists who provided creative departments with lots of fresh thinking but whose often dilettante approach caused them to be first out of the door when recession struck.

Gerry Moira, the newly appointed Euro RSCG executive creative director, believes it's all very well seeking out talent from other walks of life but quite another to persuade it to make the change. He claims advertising is now perceived as a tawdry business in which to work and well down the pecking order when creative minds make their career choices.

"We don't look up from the page often enough," he says. "We have become so self-regarding and insular that it's not surprising the field of reference for young creatives doesn't extend beyond other commercials and MTV."

Some believe the industry can only find creative refreshment from within.

Why, they ask, shouldn't creative talent be tracked down in TV production or even in an agency's finance department? "Many could have worked elsewhere but chose advertising," Delaney says. "If they have creative aspirations, it's in our best interests to encourage them."

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CREATIVE - Dave Alberts, chairman and executive creative director, Grey London

"We're a conservative industry that has done things in a certain way for a long time. However, young creative people leaving college now have so many different choices when it comes to expressing that creativity.

"What's exciting is that young people coming into advertising are aware they're being asked to sell something, while consumers understand they are being sold to. Once that's understood, we can involve designers, typographers and open ourselves up to all kinds of different cultures and media. Good creative people will always have ideas in common.

"Cross-pollination is the way of the communications world."

COURSE DIRECTOR - Tony Cullingham, course director, West Herts College

"We get all sorts of diverse people at Watford College. I'm doing what Rory (Sutherland) is espousing. About 15 per cent of my course is made up of people working in agencies. But why isn't the industry picking them up? Creative directors don't have the time or money to be able to take risks.

"Another reason agencies might have trouble recruiting is because they're crap. There are creatives turning down jobs because they can smell an agency where their role isn't going to be fulfilling.

"Agencies should be making their product more creative and attracting more people. There are hundreds of talented people out there who are worthy of a job."

- Diary, p27

COLLEGE LEAVERS - Helen Lumby (pictured) and Charlotte Smalley, on placement at Clemmow Hornby Inge

"As well as giving us a head start creatively, Bucks College gave us an understanding of the industry.

"We don't think we would have coped as well in the real world without our qualifications. Although our creative talent would still have existed, university helped us refine our ideas into ads.

"The workload on our course was fast-paced, which mirrored the way creatives work in agencies. However, we felt more insight into the importance of directors and production companies when creating TV ads would have been useful. It's important to pick a director to complement the style of your ad."

MARKETING DIRECTOR - Andrew Marsden, marketing director, Britvic

"In hiring people who are trained, agencies are safe in the knowledge they are interested in the industry and have survived and passed a course.

But they come with views and ideas from an arts background. Sometimes, you really want to establish a connection with real consumers, so in my view, advertising is art produced for a commercial purpose.

"It's a conundrum. There's no monopoly that says people from art colleges have the given right to go be the only people in ad agencies. People within an agency who have great ideas might not have the craft skills."