Opinion: Perspective - Creatives must be nurtured in new agency model

A long time ago I saw Graham Fink give a presentation about the things that inspire him. It was wonderfully fascinating and entertaining and thought-provoking.

It was a presentation that, in turn, inspired the series of features we've been running this year (called, unsurprisingly, if prosaically, "My Inspiration"). We've had Fink and Nick Gill and Damon Collins and Ringan Ledwidge, and Mark Denton and they've all been brilliantly readable, funny and compelling.

What Fink's original demonstrated more than anything else is that truly creative people look at the world through a tilted lens that exposes amazing things the rest of us rarely notice or appreciate.

And one of the real pleasures about working on a magazine such as Campaign is the privilege of spending time with creative people who open your eyes to the special hidden within the everyday.

So it was interesting to have a lunch recently with a chief executive struggling with attempts to decentralise his creative department and persuade them they needed to be more client-focused and friendly.

At this agency, and others, the idea is to break the creative department into smaller groupings that then become part of integrated teams with strategists, planners, account handlers. My chief executive was meeting with some resistance from some of his creatives: the ones, he felt, that were a little too old-fashioned, stuck in their ways, behind the times and all those other cliches applied to people who might, simply, genuinely feel that the tried-and-tested way is still the best, even in these modern digital times.

It's extremely hard to argue against the logic of greater integration of agency disciplines. And it's equally hard to argue against the idea that creatives should have a better dialogue with and understanding of their clients' business issues. There has never been a greater requirement for agencies to act quickly and efficiently and any notion that creativity can sit in an ivory tower polishing its output, shielded from even the less harsh realities of business are long gone (as are many of the agencies that clung to this model).

But I also have an awful lot of sympathy for the idea that creativity is something special and other. That it cannot operate (always) as an element of a production line. Or at least it can't without threatening quality and the (indefinable) magic that makes for the very best and most effective work. And surely no-one believes that brilliant creativity can be created by formula?

In the context of all these issues, Steve Henry has questioned the role of an executive creative director in a modern agency (page 11). Do ECDs carry the same respect and gravitas they once did? And if they don't, is their work and their department compromised in its ability to create magic?

Updating the role of the creative department and the creative leader is certainly a major challenge for agencies trying to inch towards a new future-proof business model. It's very hard to define the elements that are necessary to create an environment in which brilliant creativity thrives. So, protecting and nurturing creativity is an intangible that's easily overlooked at a time when cost savings and business efficiencies are driving the agency agenda.

But (the best) clients appoint agencies because they can deliver brilliant big ideas that touch consumers, sell products and transform bottom lines. They don't appoint agencies on the basis of how cheaply and efficiently they're run. Clients want (integrated) communications solutions faster and cheaper but the best marketers only want those things if the work itself is as good as ever.

As they contemplate how to redraw the agency model for the next decade, agency chiefs must not neglect to focus on how to nurture their best creative talent and ensure they're inspired, motivated and, yes, "special".

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