There’s two ways of interpreting Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s decision to
promote up to half a dozen senior creatives to support John O’Keeffe,
its newly appointed executive creative director.
One is that the agency is unsure about whether O’Keeffe is capable of
doing the job unaided, a question that’s bound to be asked given the
time it spent considering prospects in Europe and the US before opting
for one of its own. Not likely, though, since O’Keeffe is not only of
proven creative pedigree but has shadowed the job well enough for the
past two years.
The other is that BBH has recognised what is already apparent to those
in its agency peer group, namely that the demands on large creative
departments are now so great that they are too much for one individual
The latter is almost certainly the case. John Hegarty, BBH’s group
chairman and worldwide creative director, acknowledges that the
pressures being put on Bruce Crouch, O’Keeffe’s predecessor, had become
intolerable and that his departure has presented an opportunity to take
stock and make changes.
In doing so, BBH is recognising how much the balance of power is
swinging towards clients and how creative departments of the future will
have to spread responsibilities if they are to remain responsive.
Clients who pay the piper quite naturally want to call the tune and all
want a piece of the executive creative director. One day he’s flying to
Brussels for a European group meeting, the next it’s a train trip to
Demands for fully integrated creative solutions from above the line to
direct marketing and new media only add to the burden.
Small wonder that some creative chiefs are either choosing to get out
from under, or stepping to one side, before they become burned out.
Witness Mike Court’s decision last year to cede control of
McCann-Erickson’s creative department to a trio of creative directors
and Peter Souter’s hiring of the veteran Tony Cox alongside him at
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
These situations are bound to involve tricky management decisions.
Devolving responsibility mustn’t be allowed to dilute an agency’s
creative focus, and brilliant creatives don’t necessarily make great
managers. Put dedicated creatives on a single account and the work
threatens to become stale.
But the biggest hurdle creative chiefs may have to surmount is their own
egos. Loosening the reins may be vital - but it’s never easy.