CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/PAY LINKED TO CREATIVITY; Is JWT right to relate chiefs’ pay to creative work?

Agencies are divided over JWT’s plans to pay bosses by results, Janet Izatt says

Agencies are divided over JWT’s plans to pay bosses by results, Janet

Izatt says

When J. Walter Thompson announced last week that 30 per cent of the pay-

packets of its top people around the world would be linked to their

offices’ creative output, other agencies were slightly puzzled.

After all, they asked, shouldn’t that happen already?

At first glance, it looked as though the world’s second-largest ad

agency was admitting that creativity had taken second place to running

the business or that it was trying to score points with clients.

The reaction of Grey London’s managing director, Nigel Sharrocks, was

indicative of industry sentiment: ‘It sounds like it could have merit,

especially if it goes all the way to the top. It’s an interesting idea

but putting it into practice is a very different thing.’

Adam Crozier, joint chief executive of Saatchi and Saatchi, also

believes it is a good idea, but he points out that it should be an

automatic priority for senior managers. ‘Very little creative work

leaves this agency without me seeing it first,’ Crozier says.

JWT’s chairman and chief executive, Burt Manning, has more in mind than

producing a comfort blanket for clients and formalising existing

practices. In fact, Manning admits that some managers and clients will

be ‘uncomfortable’ with the development.

His initiative is aimed at turning the tide on what he sees as declining

creative standards, not just at JWT but throughout the advertising

industry worldwide.

Far from believing that the creatives themselves are at fault, Manning

says that today’s creatives are smarter, younger and more creative, and

that he wants to give them back some power.

Manning argues that the fault lies with managers and account people who

pander to clients by giving them work which they feel comfortable with,

rather than work they need.

‘If the office managers and account managers begin to reflect what

clients want, that message will get into the creative department and

they will begin to believe it. Instinctively, creatives think ‘what does

the client need?’, but they will be double-thinking ‘what does the

client want?’ if that is the message coming back from the account and

agency managers,’ Manning says.

Indeed, managers who have become used to bowing to clients’ whims could

be ousted if Manning and his small assessment team - which includes the

joint worldwide creative directors, Allen Thomas and Jim Patterson, and

the agency’s two co-presidents, Peter Schweitzer and Chris Jones - agree

that the quality of an office’s creative output has shown no improvement

on the previous year.

Agency chief executives, creative directors and heads of planning will

all find their pay linked to their office’s creative work.

The initiative has largely been sparked by Manning and Jones’s

frustration with what they regard as a dearth of powerful ad campaigns.

They fear that clients will turn to ‘small creative boutiques, or

Michael Ovitz, when they start asking themselves why they are not

getting the market-busting campaigns they had in the past’.

Manning is not the first to realise that creativity has slipped down the

ad industry’s list of priorities. Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, for

example, differentiated itself from other agencies from the outset by

announcing that it would be remunerated on the quality of its ideas.

Rainey Kelly’s managing partner, Jim Kelly, comments: ‘My feeling is

that JWT’s initiative is sensible if it is applied across all management

functions. But it is symptomatic of a problem because it shows that

JWT’s staff have to be given incentives in what is a creative business.

A system like JWT’s is not relevant to us because our status is

leveraged by our creativity in the market.’

Manning rejects suggestions that creativity is too subjective to be

benchmarked. He says that JWT campaigns will be judged purely for their

creativity, in the same way as top advertising awards.

‘The intensity of the response is the measure of the creativity - how

deeply the advertising moves the audience towards the brand.’ Manning

adds: ‘We will be looking at it purely from the point of view of

creative directors - not on the basis of a product’s market share. None

of us work in a vacuum, so we are not measuring work against what it

could be, only whether it is better than last year.’

Manning believes clients will see the benefits of the creativity-linked

pay in the form of stronger ads: ‘We want managers to go back to their

creative departments saying ‘what do I have to do to get the best work

out of you?’.’

JWT’s UK office has reacted positively. ‘I’m going to be even richer,’

quipped Stephen Carter, the managing director of JWT in London. ‘It is

formalising something that has been happening for a while. For someone

doing my job, it is legitimate to look at how I am doing my job based on

three factors: financial, the reputation of the agency and its


JWT’s UK chief executive, Dominic Proctor, sees it as the key to the

agency’s long-term growth: ‘This will touch all departments. I believe

it’s the first time an agency has formerly made creative assessment

implicit in remuneration - it is a model for agencies that want to take

a long-term view.’

But Manning doesn’t expect clients to share his enthusiasm: ‘Some

clients will read this and say these creative flakes are taking over the

agency. If we hit a few home runs, you’ll see how quickly they change

their minds.’