LIFE ACROSS THE ATLANTIC: The advertising industries of the US and the UK are regarded as the best in the world. Two Englishmen, Rooney Carruthers and Carl Johnson, report on life across the pond



More than six months have passed and I am still here at FCB, San Francisco. Everything is still new: new friends, new culture, new clients and a new agency. And I think I have settled in rather well, but it is still early days. So, what is the difference between a creative department in the UK and one in the US?

Not a great deal. When I first sat down and met my creative department, I could have been back home. There are the eager young faces of the junior teams all trying to please, there are the middle-weight teams trying to make the jump to the senior ranks and the salary and responsibility that goes with it. And, of course, there are the heavy hitters. One thing they all have in common is that they all want to do better work.

So how are they different? As the weeks went by and I went to numerous creative reviews, my first impression was how good they are at presenting work, they seem to have far more confidence, even at the junior level, at getting across their ideas. The reason soon became apparent. In the United States, the clients have far more access to creative teams - mainly because of geography. To see them, you have to hop on a plane. Some of our biggest clients are in New York, Seattle and Houston.

If a client has a problem or wants to change a concept, they do not think twice about firing off an e-mail directly to the creatives or phoning them and going straight to the source.

The benefits are enormous. Take, for example, The creative directors on that business take full responsibility for how it runs internally. And with their group account director and client, they iron out creative problems that may occur, quickly and directly. I cannot remember a single account back home where the client could call me directly and get his or her point across. Not even on Orange, when it was going well, would this ever occur. A pity. We really could have achieved far more with fewer meetings. I encourage direct contact with clients: it's more productive.

Where it fails is when a creative team gives in to client pressure and changes the idea from good to bad. We just have to build a safety net to uphold the creative idea. The agency has to learn to fight for good work, not just the creatives.

The other difference is taking the work through the line. In my several months, we have pitched and won AVAYA, an offshoot of Lucent Technologies.

Not a bad start of dollars 80 million, but what amazed me was the amount of work done on that creative pitch. The creatives not only did the TV and print, but also the interactive design and direct marketing. Admittedly, we have separate departments to take on a task this big; it was the creative idea that carried on through the line. I was stunned. Never have I seen such a slick, 'you name it, we got it' presentation.

When a piece of business comes to an agency here, it is like we put together a whole army of creatives in such an organized manner. The whole ad mix of TV, print and interactive is fuelled to fire almost immediately. In the UK, it is as if one area comes first, then the other. The fervour and excitement generated is second to none.

And I am learning new disciplines. Interactive was scratching the surface when I left London. Now it is part and parcel of my life every day. Admittedly, I do not know all of it yet, but I know a good website when I am presented with one. Especially when it is the same creative brief my department has been working on.

So how is FCB, San Francisco? It is in good shape. We are in transition, which is always exciting. We put on some good new business; we won AVAYA, Taco Bell, Ultimate TV and the Major League Baseball, to name just a few.

Amazon keeps getting better and Dockers is blossoming. So, all in all, we are raising the bar. We are looking for consistency over a broader range of clients.

Good work travels across the pond and is rewarded with creative awards.

Look at Cannes this year, D&AD last year, it's full of good ads from the United States. America has its creative satellite, Goodby, Weiden, Chiat, Fallon and Cliff Freeman. They turn it on, year in, year out, and that is where I want FCB (SF) to be, fighting our corner with the best of them. We just need to be harder on ourselves over what we let out of the door.

I don't think it is too much to ask for. We have a great spirit and the management floor wants us to get there. Most important, we have a talented creative department who wants to do it. We are in production on about four big television campaigns and expectation is very high.

As for me, I have just been on my first production with Tarsem. Funny that when I was home, I always seemed to be on location in Los Angeles.

At least coming to London gives me time to see my mum and catch up with Leon and Larry. Anyone else fancy a beer next time I'm in town?


The dual-national American-British prime minister Winston Churchill once said that Britain and America are two great nations separated by the same language. Some 60-something years on and the sentiment is no less apt when it comes to advertising.

British agencies have a lot to learn from their American cousins, but the points of reference are not where you would think to find them. Contrary to what Cannes might have indicated, there is not a creative renaissance happening in America. The best over here have always created award-winning work.

To learn from what the Americans do, you have to understand the climate in which they do it. Primarily its scale. In the US, the campaign stakes are like their steaks - bigger than most. Billings in the UK are fees in the US. So the Americans are very mindful of their clients, and they need to be. When a behemoth American company executes a campaign, it's not only the success or failure of the product that is riding on it, but also the share price.

Accounts move each week here with billings of dollars 40, dollars 50 or dollars 60 million and they appear as bylines or lost in 'other news'. A similar account in the UK would be guaranteed the front page but, that said, the impact on individuals is the same - there are still people, with jobs and hopes of careers attached to these accounts, and these people are dictating the end product.

There was a saying: 'No-one ever got fired for buying IBM.' This attitude pervades American corporate culture to the extent that people are frequently more concerned with not getting it wrong than they are with getting it right.

And scale also has an effect on talent. If the world is a stage, then America is its multiplex. There is such a quantity of work out here that the talent and the work can't help but be diluted. In the UK, the stage is smaller, the talent is more concentrated and the average quality appears higher. However, like the never-ending election, the end result between the nations is closer to a tie. The best of British is actually the same as the best of American work.

So what is there to be learned? I'd start with creative teams and how they work with clients - and it is something America could learn from the UK. Here creatives are overexposed to clients. Forced into meetings with fast-talking marketers, a team can quickly find itself cornered into concessions or feeling the need to be reasonable. Some of the greatest work comes from being unreasonable: agencies have to create an environment where creatives, when appropriate, can be. As George Bernard Shaw would put it: 'Progress is in the hands of unreasonable men.'

In comparison, British creatives enjoy the buffer of their account teams.

In the UK, creatives should be grateful for the amount of work done by the planning and account handling departments in developing creative strategies.

The inventiveness of 'the fourth emergency service' and 'chuck out the chintz' came from collaboration across all the disciplines but in no small part from creative planning.

In comparison, the burden of developing creative strategies in many agencies in the US still lies at the door of over-stretched creatives. To be fair, many are exceptional at it - the likes of Weiden, Fallon and Goodby - but many others could benefit from what is added by a genuinely creative creative brief and time to execute against it.

But the British should not be dislocating their shoulders patting themselves on their creative backs. In possibly the most important area, the US is way ahead. Maybe it's a symptom of scale, more likely it is the by-product of space - but here ideas are bigger than just advertising.

For too long, too many British agencies have remained snobbish about anything other than traditional advertising. It is one thing to talk the talk. Believing in it and acting on it is another issue.

Creatives here increasingly and genuinely embrace media neutrality and want to forward a view on the entire brand experience. Thinking creatively about the packaging, the mailer and the shop window is becoming second nature. Ideas such as Apple's 'think different' are as much a design brief as they are an endline.

We now happily talk about the movie, the book, the event and, yes, even the T-shirt. But it doesn't stop there. This country embraces the new and champions it, and none more so than the young.

The next generation of agency employees here live and breathe the technological revolution we are still going through. They fear nothing and will try anything and don't try and reconstruct the discipline barriers we happily helped build over the past few decades. Interactive television, Palm applications and how your mobile phone interacts with vending machines now come up in conversation as much as the latest directors' reels.

There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in British advertising but there is definitely something to be learned. True, we may have invented the language, but there is no harm at all in enjoying the different accents.


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