EDITORIAL: Collaboration can help sell creativity

One of the most depressing shortcomings of Britain's ad industry has been its failure to translate fine words into action on too many fundamental issues. For years, its most enlightened voices have spoken out about how badly the odds are stacked against women trying to rise through the creative department ranks. Indeed, Peter Souter put the matter at the top of his agenda during his recent D&AD presidency.

Now new IPA census figures show how righting such scandalous wrong is like pushing water uphill. For all the good intentions, 87 per cent of art directors and 80 per cent of copywriters are men. It doesn't auger well for the declared intent of D&AD's president-elect, Nick Bell, to commit the organisation to a programme of educating young clients on how to buy creativity.

That's not to say Bell's initiative doesn't deserve to succeed. Far from it. Years of under-investment in education and training has not only resulted in a growing number of nervous young marketers but agency staff who don't inspire the confidence to help them make their decisions. Hardly surprising that creative ideas get strangled at birth, research results become an unhealthy prop and the instinct to play it safe is overwhelming.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that clients can call on all sorts of outside advice when buying other marketing services, such as media. But, when it comes to creative work, they're often left to make a leap of faith. Other causes are more historic. Gone are the days when agency and client staff learned each other's ways through regular job swaps. A brutal economic climate and fewer numbers of long-term relationships between agencies and clients scuppered that. And what happened to the practice of agency staff meeting monthly to watch and discuss a reel of the latest TV work?

Bell will be only too aware that his initiative must not be interpreted by clients as ad industry arrogance. For the truth is that the best creative work will always be a collaboration between agencies and clients. At present, the shortcomings of both sides mean not enough such work is being produced.

For their part, clients need to be weaned off their over-reliance on research.

But that cannot happen until the industry rediscovers a collective passion for its creative product. If agencies don't show it, how can they expect their clients to do so - or to have the confidence to buy?