CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CREATIVE TEAMS; Do advertisers get the creative team they want?

Favouritism once played a part in allocating work. Is it still true?

Favouritism once played a part in allocating work. Is it still true?

If Adam Singer was expecting a spectacular display of pyrotechnics when

he lit the blue touch-paper under the debate about second-rate creatives

he won’t have been disappointed.

‘Tosh’ and ‘total crap’ are some of the kinder reactions to the comments

made by the president and chief operating officer of the cable operator,

Telecommunications International Inc, who told a London conference last

week that ‘pounds 10 million will only buy you a B-team creative in an

advertising agency’ (Campaign, 18 October).

True, Singer’s primary target was the UK cable industry, not the agency

that created its generic advertising, J. Walter Thompson. But from his

office in Denver, Colorado, Singer says clients are becoming

increasingly frustrated at the way briefs are shunted among creatives -

a process they feel they have no control over. ‘I firmly believe that my

view is one that is shared by other clients,’ he adds.

So, how do agencies allocate work? Do they cynically award the briefs

from the biggest accounts to the highest-paid creatives, and give the

tiddlers to the new boys? Or do creative heads dole out the best briefs

to their mates, a practice that was particularly prevalent during the


Most agencies claim to allocate work simply on the basis of who is

available in the creative department and what experience they have,

rather than how much they cost and how big the client is. Yes, they say,

in the past, there were a number of prima donna creatives, but that era

is now over.

Perhaps the most blatant example was at Saatchi and Saatchi before the

schism. ‘Favouritism ruled there,’ one of its former staffers recalls.

‘The head of traffic held sway and a lot of work went to time-servers

who really weren’t that good. It was very difficult for newcomers to get

off the mark, no matter how talented they were.’

At Charlotte Street, as elsewhere, higher levels of egalitarianism now

prevail. John O’Donnell, the former Collett Dickenson Pearce creative

director, traces the source of the change in London’s advertising

community to the arrival of GGT. In particular, to Dave Trott’s habit of

throwing a brief open to the entire creative department if a team

couldn’t crack it in three days.

John Kelley, the former Publicis creative director now at TBWA, agrees,

although he says some creatives continue to be indulged because they

provide the gongs that are important to agencies. ‘With that sort of

power,’ he says, ‘it’s not difficult to turn down a brief by pretending

you’re too busy.’

Ken Mullen, Leopard’s creative director, remembers encountering JWT

creatives in the late 70s who refused to do press work but confined

themselves to TV because it was easier. ‘That attitude still persists

because of human nature being what it is,’ he says. ‘But it’s less

evident as people have to work hard to keep their jobs.’

So much so that the harder climate of the 90s have witnessed the rise of

a new force - freelancing - which influences who works on what brief.

Rob Morris, the former Euro RSCG joint creative director now working as

a creative independent, says many creative departments have been

stripped of those middleweight teams usually relied upon to do a

competent job of the donkey work. Instead, briefs have to be split

between a small group of highly experienced seniors and junior placement


Few agencies will reveal how many mundane jobs they currently have to

outsource to freelancers because in-house creatives won’t touch them.

But at least one major shop with an impeccable reputation is known to

farm out a large proportion of its creative work for a multinational

because of the client’s formulaic approach.

‘The agency has a large creative department but few of its people are

interested in working on the business,’ one of the anonymous outside

creatives now handling the work says.

‘We not only provide quality work but we’re free of creative department

politics,’ he adds.

Certainly, though, creatives are still picky about the briefs on which

they want to work. Sportswear accounts such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok

are perennially popular. Soft drinks and beers also remain in demand.

Car accounts are waning in popularity as technical advances make it

difficult to tell one model from another, and the market becomes more

crowded. Creatives also try to shun the cliche of perfume advertising

and large multinational clients - particularly where the central

creative idea has been devised elsewhere.

In contrast, retail advertising has become a more sought-after brief

after high-profile work for such clients as Safeway and Tesco. A greater

degree of innovation now permitted by advertisers like Kellogg’s and

Whiskas has given fmcg advertising a new lease of life.

What’s more, creative directors are showing greater willingness to lead

by example. During a long stint at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Kelley

recalls that even David Abbott did his share of Comet promotional ads

‘so there was no excuse for everybody else not to do their bit as well’.

But the final word on how work is allocated, and whether Singer has a

legitimate grumble, should go to John Hegarty, chairman and creative

director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. He was only partly joking this week

when he said that any client with ten million quid in his pocket could

be assured of his undivided attention.

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