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