Trading Places in Adland

Making the move from one advertising discipline to another can be an attractive step, so why is it that so few people make it? And would agencies be better served by staff with more general skills than by specialists? John Tylee reports.

Cliff Francis is about to cross an agency divide only the truly talented, the supremely confident or the downright foolhardy would consider.

Having spent years helping to create Procter & Gamble's advertising, the Saatchi & Saatchi lifer is beginning a new role helping to determine how that creative work should be shaped in the future.

While a few eyebrows may be raised at the prospect of Francis switching from being the network's top creative on P&G to the strategy director, Saatchis' senior management sees his move as more of a logical progression.

In fact, if Kevin Dundas, the network's worldwide strategy director, has his way, such crossovers will become more commonplace.

"Cliff is a seasoned creative who knows the P&G business better than anybody and is well able to join the strategic debate," Dundas says. "I also want him to work with me to find out how we can develop more of this new kind of planner. I don't know why we are not doing this more often."

For the industry's most experienced practitioners, the answer is simple: versatile multitaskers such as Francis are rare. There are too few people who can be jacks-of-all-trades as well as masters of them.

As the examples on the opposite page show, switching disciplines successfully is not for the faint-hearted. It often takes courage as well as financial sacrifice and loss of status. Sometimes it occurs because somebody believes they have entered an ad agency through the wrong door and need to correct the course of their career. Sometimes a senior manager will spot a talent the person involved never believed they possessed.

The truth is, not that many staffers are breaking down the door to seek a switch. During the past year at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, just two account people have moved (into planning and TV production respectively), while a planner has become an account handler.

James Murphy, the RKCR/Y&R chief executive, claims he has never refused such a request and, in fact, would welcome more. "It's the way of the future," he says. "Clients buy people and the ones they want most are those with a 360-degree view. Agencies have got to become multi-skilled or else they are not going to be relevant any more."

Damian O'Malley, the executive planning director at McCann Erickson, is equally adamant the industry must show adaptability. "The days when agencies had big departments of account people who did not contribute to the creative process are a thing of the past," he argues.

Moves such as that made by Francis from creative to a strategic role may become more frequent because of a natural synergy between planning and creative departments.

Rory Sutherland, the Ogilvy Group vice-chairman, is a consistent critic of the industry for not casting its net wide enough in its search for creative talent. He says: "A good creative is a good planner and vice versa. I'm very keen on not stereotyping disciplines."

At the same time, the demands made to agency chiefs to allow job swaps could increase as account people fear their career paths are heading into a cul-de-sac.

Some senior industry figures cite the pressure on agency remuneration by procurement specialists as a factor helping to drive the industry towards job switching. Clients are prepared to pay for the agency services they feel they need the most - creative and planning. But they are less willing to fork out for account management, which they view increasingly as a basic delivery system. "The overlap between what planners and account people do is immense," Richard Warren, the strategy director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, says. "About 80 per cent of the job is the same."

Then there is the different mindset of those entering the industry. Last year, Publicis ran a two-week summer school for undergraduates considering a career in advertising; the school climaxed with a presentation to a real client. None of the undergraduates' presentations began by suggesting TV as a solution and two did not even recommend advertising.

"There is a generation growing up in the business which does not think along the usual tracks," Tim Lindsay, the Publicis UK group chairman, says. "They are very comfortable slipping from one discipline to another."

Andy Berlin, the chairman of New York's Berlin Cameron United, also believes in the importance of newcomers not being pigeonholed. "I think it's very good for anybody in the early phase of their career to get experience across the disciplines," he says.

If the industry's top executives are so positive about job switching, why hasn't there been more of a headlong rush to cross from one agency discipline to another?

One possible explanation is the advertising industry's inherent conservatism and reluctance to change.

Another is the emotional and psychological factors that ensure most people stick with their specialisms. "Planners are much more introverted than account people," O'Malley explains. "They are more fascinated by the intricacies of problem-solving and less by making things happen. Account people are much more interested in the business impact."

Moreover, those weighing up whether to switch disciplines may also have to sacrifice status. "Account handlers have to give up power and position - that can be hard," one planning director observes. There is also the fact that, in an agency where everybody got to pick their ideal job, most would opt for creating the ads.

But should agencies be encouraging staff to become multidisciplined?

Many in the business have misgivings about how much agencies should dilute their specialist expertise. Berlin, for example, calls the belief that every person can master a multitude of skills "silly and destructive".

Specialists will survive because clients continue to demand them - not least in the creative department, where craft skills are seen as vital to the production of highly visual work. "It takes all my time just to find the best photographers and illustrators," a creative director says. "At the end of the day, you need your specialists."

Without them, anarchy can ensue. "If you blur the lines, you end up with the most forceful person in the group making the decision," Steve Harrison, the creative director and managing partner of Harrison Troughton Wunderman, points out. "But the most powerful person may not necessarily be the most talented."

John O'Keeffe, the Bartle Bogle Hegarty executive creative director, agrees that the buck has to stop somewhere. "I'm all for collaboration but if I don't like the strategy I need to know who I can call about it," he says.

The result of all this is an industry workforce where specialists remain, but accumulate the broader breadth of knowledge that is necessary to reach consumers in a fragmenting media market.

Gerry Moira, Euro RSCG London's executive creative director, says: "Agency disciplines will get broader and we are all having to get familiar with other forms of communication. But we will still keep to our territory."

Keeping its specialists while encouraging greater interaction between them seems to be the industry's preferred route. The return of the media expert Kevin Brown to BBH, where he will help the agency understand how consumers are interacting with the changing media landscape, may be a sign of things to come.

"I believe that we will step back in time and bring back media thinking alongside creative and account management," Michael Baulk, the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO group chairman, predicts. "Our people will always have to be rooted in something but they need a greater knowledge of how to connect with consumers. The big issue is how we train them to do that."

ACCOUNT MANAGER - CREATIVE - WILL AWDRY, Creative director, DDB London

"I joined McCormick-Publicis in 1983 and for the next two-and-a-half years dedicated myself to being an account man. The trouble was that the creative department seemed to be doing all the things I would have loved to be doing, so I went to the creative director, Gerry Moira, and asked if I could join.

"He came back saying that he had good and bad news. The bad news was I was being fired. The good news was that I could work out my month's notice in the creative department. Fortunately, one month became three months and I ended up at Bartle Bogle Hegarty for nine years.

"At first, I encountered massive scepticism, both from creatives and account people. And that was on top of the 25 per cent pay cut I had to take. You would also find yourself working at three times the speed and staying up all night to crack a brief to prove a point.

"But I have never regretted it and sometimes I think I would love to have worked in a planning department. The more you are exposed to other disciplines, the better you get."

ACCOUNT MANAGER - PLANNER - RICHARD HUNTINGTON, Planning director, HHCL United

"I had been working below the line as an account handler at Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray in the early 90s when Simon Hall, one of the founding partners, said he thought I might make a planner. I told him I did not even know what a planner did and feared that, as far as my career was concerned, I might be shooting myself in the foot.

"It certainly felt as though my career was on hold during the six months I spent learning as a junior planner at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, having taken a pay cut to do it. However, I quickly found that planning, unlike account management, has a relatively flat structure. That makes it attractive.

Even junior planners get responsibility very early on while their account management counterparts are only being allowed to pour the coffee. You find yourself doing ten things a day rather than ten things a week.

"What's more, I think there is a big question-mark over the future of account management, which could become a basic delivery system while planning and creative brings in the business."

ACCOUNT MANAGER - CREATIVE - EWAN PATERSON, Executive creative director, Clemmow Hornby Inge

"I had been working as a geologist with BP for three years before joining McCann-Erickson as a graduate trainee. But after six months, I realised I did not want to be an account man and that I had only become one because I did not know much about the industry. It is hard to explain this tactfully, but I felt working in an agency and not being able to write ads was like being in the RAF and not flying a plane.

"The trouble was that the creative department was not interested in taking somebody from account management. So I resigned and put a book together in my flat. Later, I teamed up with Dylan Taylor, who had been doing the creative course at Watford.

"Doing what I did was tough financially. I took a massive pay cut when I got my first job as a creative at Yellowhammer and it probably took about five years before my salary matched what I had been earning as a graduate account man. What helped me was that, having been a suit, I knew how agencies were structured and how the system worked."

CREATIVE - ACCOUNT MANAGER - MARTIN SMITH, Founding partner, GMS Law & Kenneth; former deputy chairman, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and former chief executive, Grey London

"Because I had been writing for the Footlights Revue while at Cambridge, copywriting seemed the logical thing to do when I decided I needed to earn some money.

"I started out as a writer at Ogilvy Benson & Mather, working on accounts such as Black & Decker, Papermate and The Observer. But I found that doing what I did meant I had no knowledge of other departments. I felt my education needed to be broadened and I found that I had more synergy with the account people who briefed me than with my own department.

"Bill Felstead, one of the agency's directors, suggested I make the switch to account management. I suppose it was an unusual thing to do because creative is the sexy part of the business. But I found it very easy because I was working with people whose respect I had already won.

"I do not miss being a creative because I get just as much of a creative buzz from what I do now."

ACCOUNT MANAGER - PLANNER - RICHARD WARREN, Director of strategy and founding partner, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners

"Having worked as an account manager in London and New York, I was always interested in the strategic side of advertising development. At the same time, I always liked account management's front-of-house role.

"Today, you can be a planner and still be front-of-house. But when Tom Knox, my best friend in advertising, rang me in the US and asked if I would fancy being the planning director of what was then Delaney Fletcher Bozell, I knew I had a skill deficit.

"I had to spend a year learning the basics, and winning the planning department's respect was difficult. However, it is important to remember that a planner's most valuable asset is their ability to come up with a big strategic idea and I had already developed the ability to do that as an account man.

"Now the roles of account management and planning are much more fused and the overlap between the disciplines in immense. Significantly, six of our 12 planners were previously account people and there is a lot of merit in that."

ACCOUNT MANAGER - CREATIVE - BEN PRIEST, Executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"I had been offered a place on the Watford copywriting course when I left university but joined the graduate trainee scheme at Ogilvy & Mather instead.

"After 24 hours, I realised I had made a terrible mistake. Only about 6 per cent of the job was to do with advertising and I had no interest in the rest of it. I stuck it for a year and I am glad I did because I got to see the business in all its forms - from TV production to selling ads to clients.

"I tried putting a book together at evenings and weekends but it proved impossible. So I quit to live on £30-a-week dole money to devote my time to it. It was a dreadful time but, after three months, my creative partner (the late David Harvey) and I were lucky enough to get a placement at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow Johnson, then one of the sexiest agencies in London. Ironically, we then went on to work at O&M.

"I suspect that 99 per cent of the account people who say they want to be creatives never try. You have to be brave and believe you are absolutely right for it."

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