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.