Want to see evidence that life exists elsewhere in the universe?
One cynic suggests you should be in London’s Belgravia when the cream of
the UK’s creative directors face the financial facts of life.
’If I were a client I would be asking what planet these guys have been
living on,’ commented one creative director not among the chosen
’This is 1997, not 1992, which is when these discussions ought to have
A tad churlish perhaps. But better late than never that creatives are
posing pertinent questions about how much commercials should cost, why
headhunters’ margins seem out of touch with reality and why some awards
festivals are merely money-making machines (Campaign, last week).
Indeed, it is a measure of the new financial probity gripping senior
creatives that one was moved to remark after last week’s meeting that he
was no longer prepared to pay through the nose to subsidise ’some
commercials director’s second farmhouse in Tuscany’.
Another is no less scathing. ’It’s true to say that production companies
have got away with murder,’ he claims.
How different from the mid-80s when agency creative departments and
production houses vied with each other to spend like pools’ winners.
Today, attitudes have taken an about-turn as advertisers draw on their
increasing knowledge of the ad world to put the thumbscrews on agencies.
’I’m under more and more pressure from clients saying that production
costs must come down and asking where the money is going,’ the executive
creative director of one Top 20 agency says.
’This matter is only being leveraged now because there’s a reason to do
so,’ Jeremy Pemberton, DMB&B’s executive creative director, says.
’Clients’ awareness of production costs and the need to control them is
a constant and so is the pressure being exerted on us.’
Contrast that with the hedonism of the mid-80s when creative directors
ordered their secretaries to ’fix Cannes’ for themselves and a dozen
agency cronies. Or the financial shambles that used to pass for the
In part, the Creative Directors Forum, headed by the vociferous Leagas
Delaney chairman, Tim Delaney, is doing no more than respond to the
rising levels of cost consciousness apparent right across British
Keith Holloway, who, as Grand Metropolitan’s commercial affairs
director, was one of the UK’s most powerful clients, says: ’What’s
happening is very healthy and further evidence of agencies identifying
themselves with clients’ aims. But it’s also just the way of the
More specifically, it stems from a lingering mistrust of production
costs which remain alien to many clients. John Hooper, director general
of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, notes: ’Production
costs are constantly under discussion. A typical marketing person
doesn’t make many ads and is easily bamboozled by the creative
Others suggest the initiative is no more than enlightened self-interest
on the part of senior creatives as financial indiscipline crashes
head-on into creative freedom. And if it has taken longer than it should
for creatives to get real it may be because their departments were
protected more than most from the recession’s worst affects.
’Creatives are tired of being told by clients that ’it’s a nice idea but
I can’t afford it’,’ declares Jerry Green, the former executive creative
director of McCann-Erickson and now its deputy chairman. ’If it’s
starting to affect their output it’s inevitable they’ll put pressure on
Nor is it a coincidence that the charge towards greater accountability
among suppliers is being led by creative directors who are also
commercially literate. ’Most creative directors are either owners,
partners or shareholders in their agencies,’ Frank Lieberman, the Abbott
Mead Vickers BBDO head of TV, says. ’They know what it’s like to battle
with clients over commission levels.’
Some, however, ascribe baser motives to the creatives’ collective call
’Peer-group jealousy has certainly got something to do with it,’ Gerry
Moira, Publicis’s creative director, claims. ’With so many ex-agency
people becoming directors, quite a few salaried creatives are resentful
of former workmates earning up to pounds 500,000 a year.’
While that may be true, it’s clear that creative directors have been
emboldened by the changing demands of agencies on production
Ken Mullen, Leopard’s creative chief, recalls the days when top
directors would almost hold unfashionable agencies to ransom before
agreeing to shoot their scripts. Not any more.
’There’s a ’back to basics’ move among commercials makers,’ Moira points
out. ’A home video advertising Swedish condoms is as likely to take a
gong at Cannes as something by Paul Weiland. And it might well have been
made by a kid fresh out of film school.’
What’s more, creative directors can expect to exert even greater
financial muscle with suppliers as cost pressures lead to the
exploration of creative routes that wouldn’t previously have been
’In the halcyon days creative directors made commercials by hiring the
best people and paying them accordingly,’ Mullen says. ’Now they’re
under pressure not only to make it good, but to make it for