OPINION: Scrap hierarchies and you can free up creative talent

With the most gifted individuals often accepting the top jobs, the problem for ad agencies is that their talents are not always fully utilised, Chris Woollams argues

With the most gifted individuals often accepting the top jobs, the

problem for ad agencies is that their talents are not always fully

utilised, Chris Woollams argues

Our industry is known for having fads. ‘Globalisation’ was the word in

the early 80s, ‘integration’ in the early 90s. Recently we’ve had ‘re-

engineering’ and, very recently, ‘outsourcing’.

In my view, no agency is genuinely re-engineered. Equally, outsourcing,

in its true meaning, is a far cry from a couple of creative chaps

setting up shop to do work for anyone who wants it.

Over the past few years, re-engineering has been a major topic at the

Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors. Almost

always, it has involved companies changing their operations and

structures and cutting whole departments and divisions.

This level of restructuring has never been seen in the advertising

industry. Staff cuts have been made out of necessity but, somehow, re-

engineering has meant agencies working horizontally rather than


Hierarchies, departments and vertical management systems need to be

replaced by teams chosen from different disciplines to suit a client’s

particular needs. A break with traditional thinking? Tosh. This is

nothing like the level of re-engineering that has happened in client

companies and, worse, it’s nothing new.

We had teams chosen/designed to meet clients’ needs at Ogilvy and Mather

when I started in advertising in 1972. Horizontal teams are not new.

And they’re nothing to do with genuine re-engineering.

Not that we don’t need it in advertising. Lower margins and less income

are at odds with clients’ desire for more ideas and demand for higher


By and large, clients want to work with four or five very bright people

who can help them solve a business problem.

Sadly, bright people - especially the older and wiser ones - are at a


Worse still, the bright ones end up managing the place and spend more

time worrying about new business, photocopiers and National Insurance

contributions than they do about in-depth client solutions.

The time has come to free up bright individuals and find a way to

restructure so that the worth of our business shows through in the

thinking, understanding, ideas and creativity we offer.

The few bright people we have should be ‘front-of-house’ and do no more,

or less, than worrying about clients’ businesses and communication


Re-engineering should free them of management issues, which they are

probably not qualified to do anyway.

But it’s with ‘back-of-house’ that re-engineering needs to come into

its own.

Do agencies need progress/production departments for press and print?

Most outside suppliers are only too happy to provide online facilities

and someone to check the work’s progress.

Why can’t we ask more of TV production companies and avoid in-house

duplication? Do we need in-house planning departments? Agency joint

ventures with media independents provide the best quality work, without

being a drain on overheads.

Which brings me to outsourcing. Not the piffle we’ve been reading about

recently, but a truly re-engineered back-of-house that cuts costs and

gives the front-of-house people quality support.

Our industry has to face up to two questions that clients repeatedly ask

themselves: do I get the quality of thinking and initiatives I deserve,

and why am I paying all this money for all those people and overheads

when they seem to have little to do with my business?

Re-engineering and outsourcing will allow us to address these concerns.

Unfortunately, the advertising industry is unlikely to do as I say

because, sadly, I suspect that it likes hierarchies.


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