Feature

Opinion: Perspective - Is adland too boring to hold on to maverick talent?

Campaign's headline-writing skills were put to the test last week when we had to come up with four front-page headlines about people quitting their jobs. We opted for a "bows out" for Harrison Troughton Wunderman's Steve Harrison, "exits" for Fallon's Michael Wall, while "to quit" accompanied news of Jon Claydon's resignation from Claydon Heeley. In the case of Tim Lindsay, we were able to say he'd been "lured" by TBWA\London.

Now, although the minutiae of magazine production - headline writing included - are ours to worry about, and of questionable interest to our readers, in this case, the process exposed something of a trend (and a negative trend at that). Top-level talent appears to be abandoning senior jobs in the industry.

The timing couldn't be worse. These days, finding a new chief executive or creative director is a very tricky business. It's a subject covered frequently in this title, but to summarise, the good ones tend to start their own agencies and have no desire to take the helm of a network shop in need of a relaunch.

But this does not appear to be what is motivating Harrison, Claydon and Wall. There's no sniff of a start- up to speak of (although Wall's name is being linked with plans by Carl Johnson to set up Anomoly in the UK). Sadly, what seems to be guiding them is a sense of being fed up with their existing roles.

Claydon is planning to relax for a few months before investing his hard-earned millions into growth industries such as mobile and digital. He's tired, he's been running an agency for 16 years, and he feels it's time for a change. Harrison's not forthcoming about his motivation, but it seems his quirky nature and passion for creative perfection does not sit comfortably with a corporate network such as Wunderman.

Wall, meanwhile, has been living on planes and in airports, but now wants to spend time with his family in Portugal. He's planning to make a return after the summer, but an "agency" like Anomoly is a much more likely destination than a traditional ad agency.

Advertising as a business has matured of necessity. In servicing its clients' needs properly, it has lost some of its entrepreneurial spirit, particularly at the network agencies. It seems this is causing a lot of the industry's most maverick talent to bale. Wall, Claydon and Harrison demonstrate that it's happening in advertising and DM agencies, but the trend is also strong at media shops. PHD's David Pattison quit for i-level and Tess Alps resigned to take the helm of Thinkbox. Christine Walker is plotting her return, but will only say that it won't be to join another media agency.

The likes of WPP, Omnicom et al should be alarmed. Identifying talent at any level has been difficult for some time, but now retaining it is of as grave concern. The holding companies have to devise a way of re-introducing the entrepreneurial spirit to their large network outposts, or they'll keep losing their most talented individuals to the more exciting shops, operating at the fringes of adland.

Big Brother is back, but it has a problem. Having had its knuckles rapped by Ofcom for the racist content in Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year, it has to play it safe this time round. But safe is not a word that will attract audience figures in their millions. Neither does it seem likely that Virgin Media signed up to sponsor safe television.

With regulators already keeping an eye on Channel 4's content, it seems strange that the channel's chief executive, Andy Duncan, is hell bent on showing the controversial footage of Princess Diana's final moments. As a former marketer, he's well aware of the power of branding, and clearly he believes edgy programming is integral to what Channel 4 stands for. But his critics are gathering and this seems a dangerous time for him to be sticking his neck out.

Claire Beale is away. francesca.newland@haymarket.com.

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