Creatives can still win war with number-crunchers
A view from Ian Darby

Creatives can still win war with number-crunchers

Campaign’s front page last week carried the following dispiriting phrase: "triggered by staff changes in the procurement team at Mercedes’ headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany".

A fragment calculated to dim the joy in even that zaniest of toothsome cheesters, Alan Carr.

It conjures images of forced handshakes and polite farewells as one beige-fringed Saxon number-cruncher replaces another to the soundtrack of Kraftwerk’s The Robots.

At the risk of spiking the spine-tingling enthusiasm building within the media networks pitching for Mercedes’ business, let’s imagine those agency/pitch consultant conversations ahead of the contest:

"So, old Alex has gone, but what’s the new chap, Max, all about then?"

"He’s apparently quite efficient."

It’s tempting to locate this pitch story within a narrative that describes the escalation of mechanical forces within advertising and media. Forces that contributed, perhaps, to last week’s reports that Procter & Gamble is moving towards 75-day payment terms from the current 45.

But are the systems people and the technocrats really taking over? Accenture’s recent capture of a global BMW digital marketing brief would suggest so. Agencies claim that they understand brands and people better than these wonks, but for how long? Clients are increasingly looking for organisational ability and razor-sharp cost delivery that is, let’s face it, right up the flow chart of the management consultant.

Don’t get too gloomy, though. Advertising has two factors in its favour. First, people. On both the creative and media side, big agencies seem to have talent and strong succession management programmes in place. Just look at the way Mindshare, and now Havas Media, have promoted from within. Over a longer period, the likes of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Bartle Bogle Hegarty have replaced departing leaders with men and women more than fit to fill their boots.

Second, marketers. There are signs that clients are sticking out their jobs for longer. The average chief marketer in the US is staying for 45 months compared with 23 months back in 2006, according to the headhunter Spencer Stuart. It’s too early for this change to translate into more stable agency relationships, but at least it offers the potential for knowledgeable clients to fight their corner with procurement.

With the agency talent pool bubbling with life and with clients, in theory at least, more immersed in their roles, we’re not necessarily falling into a commoditised trap. A world where "we are the robots". A closer look at Mercedes will tell us that: it deserves a raised stein for signing off some rather brave creative work from AMV. Just hope that Max from procurement isn’t at the bar.