CLOSE-UP: Live Issue/Vacancies

Francesca Newland looks into why nobody wants to run a creative department.

Grey, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, and now Saatchi & Saatchi.

Four of the UK's biggest agencies are entering the new year without a creative director.

News that Saatchis' executive creative director, Dave Droga, was moving onwards and upwards within Publicis - to become the worldwide creative director of the French network - was a terrible blow to the agency and its chief executive, James Hall.

Droga has been with Saatchis since 1998 and during that time, with the support of Hall, has turned the agency's creative image from stuffy to smart. This culminated last summer with its being named Cannes' Agency of the Year and taking the Grand Prix in the print category for its Club 18-30 work.

So with Saatchis on the kind of creative high that it has not enjoyed for some years, Hall had better act fast to replace the ascendant Droga; an unenviable task.

O&M has been looking for a creative director since Steve Dunn was removed from the helm in September. It's unclear how long JWT has been hunting, but the need for a replacement for Jaspar Shelbourne (who is moving to an international role within the network) is becoming acute. Grey's hunt for a creative director began with the appointment of Garry Lace as its chief executive in October. He is looking to turn around the drab image of Grey, a task he will not be able to achieve without a credible face at Grey's creative helm (the current creative director, Tim Mellors, is leaving this year).

Lace says: "I always knew it would be difficult, but not this difficult. Premiership-quality creative directors are hard to come by."

So why the dearth of creative directors? After all, it is a fantastically well-paid, high-profile job.

The obvious answer, and the one bandied about most frequently, is that creatives fear they will no longer be able to create ads once they get involved in the inevitable politics of running a creative department.

Trevor Beattie, the chairman and executive creative director at TBWA/London, says this is true, but says it is only part of the problem.

He believes adland is suffering from a generation gap in terms of creative directors.

"The role of creative director has skipped a generation," he says. He names David Abbott, John Hegarty and Tim Delaney as members of the first generation, then includes himself, Leon Jaume and Peter Souter in the second generation. But, somewhat damningly, can only come up with Fallon's Richard Flintham and Andy McLeod as the third generation.

Beattie's solution is a risky one: "I would like to see some 25-year-old creative directors. I don't know why it's perceived as an old man's job."

His theory pivots on the belief that winning repeated awards does not qualify you for a creative directorship - that it's about people management. Therefore, Beattie argues, an unproven 25-year-old can be as qualified as an award-winning senior creative.

Lace adds: "The business hasn't recognised that people have got to be trained up. Good ads in your portfolio is one criterion, but there are lots of others."

There is, however, one other important factor dissuading able creatives from aspiring to be heads of departments and that is the work/life balance. Beattie states there is no life, only work, but adds: "It's still the best job in the world."

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