Opinion: Perspective - Why ECD is still the most important appointment

As I write this, I don't know whether Paul Silburn will be putting pen to contract and bunking from Charlotte Street to Whitfield Street.

And in normal circumstances we wouldn't publish details about job moves until everything was official. But Silburn's talks with TBWA are the worst-kept secret so far this year. For weeks he's been linked with the role, not in an "if" way, but "when". Someone has been far too indiscreet.

So for once I feel no compunction blowing the smoke and saying that Silburn is about to decide whether to accept the job as executive creative director of TBWA\London, or stay at Saatchi & Saatchi. In fact, by the time this magazine goes to press we may have the answer for you.

For the moment, though, he hasn't committed. You can see why Silburn might decide to stay put at Saatchis. Since he joined just over a year ago, the agency has enjoyed an improving creative reputation and the management team there under Robert Senior finally seems to have a sense of energy and purpose.

Senior won't let Silburn go without a fight, though it's true that Saatchis' creative partner, Kate Stanners, seems to have upped her game since Silburn arrived.

But I could understand it if Silburn was drawn back to TBWA with the opportunity to kick-start recovery. The agency has been limping along, particularly since the farrago over the proposed acquisition of Beattie McGuinness Bungay last autumn.

Yet the TBWA network has a strong creative reputation that now urgently needs to be replicated in London; the chance to lead that charge could be very seductive if Tim Lindsay can persuade Silburn that the London management team is empowered, committed and supported. No doubt the ECD salary comes with a "danger money" weighting, too.

Anyway, the real point is that the subject of who is going to take the TBWA executive creative director role has generated so much gossip over the past few months for one simple reason: an ECD still has the power to transform an agency's fortunes.

The power of the creative seat should be obvious. Yet, so often the ad industry seems in danger of losing sight of the need to nurture and champion its creative stars. Great creative ideas can transform brands and first-class creative ideas are the still the one thing that ad agencies, among all the other advisors feeding at the client table, can offer.

The type of ECD a chief executive hires is still the most powerful and obvious statement an agency can make about its scope and ambitions. A new ECD will suddenly make an agency interesting or disappointing, even before they've had the chance to do any work.

When Grey hired Jon Williams last year, I think it's fair to say interested observers (like me) were disappointed. The agency had failed to attract a real heavy hitter. Despite this, under Williams there are - for the first time in a long time - signs that Grey's creative product is becoming interesting and competitive.

Over at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, the hiring of Damon Collins as ECD, far more (at this stage) than the appointment of Richard Exon as chief executive, has given the agency a new impetus that's put the Adam & Eve breakaway behind it. And Danny Brooke-Taylor at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy has catapulted the agency into the premier league.

Sir Martin Sorrell may well be right when he says that insight and research are going to become big ticket sells in the communications industry. And it's true that creativity must only exist in an embrace with effectiveness; creativity for creativity's sake is one of the old ills of the industry.

But it's the best creatives who are still adland's stars, with the alchemic power to transform both brand and agency fortunes. Whatever decision Silburn makes will have an impact on two agencies and their clients that is much more profound than who's running the research or planning department.