Will client creative chiefs improve ads?

The charitable view of Matt Atkinson’s recent switch from chief marketing officer to the new role of chief creative officer at Tesco is that it signals a new approach to innovation at an organisation sorely in need of it.

A more cynical one is that it symbolises the retailer’s desperation, having just issued its third profit warning this year, and that it will take more than advertising campaigns from Wieden & Kennedy to fend off competition from discounters. Not that Tesco is alone in adding chief creative officer to its list of executive titles.

News UK has just promoted the former Bartle Bogle Hegarty senior manager Nick Stringer to the position, with a brief to drive more integrated creative and media campaigns and manage an agency roster that includes Grey London. Some suggest this trend is indicative of clients starting to think more about long-term strategy. Others believe chief creative officers are there to revive companies and will disappear once short-term problems have been fixed.

Whether they can change internal cultures significantly enough to spark better work from their agencies is debatable.


Matt McDowell, marketing director for Northern Europe, Toshiba

"I suspect clients such as Tesco are appointing chief creative officers because they are looking to re-energise their businesses as their markets become so competitive and old ways of doing things become obsolete. But it also suggests that such companies have fundamental weaknesses, because they have nowhere else to go to get the creativity they need. Organisations can reach a stage where they can’t see the wood for the trees and need to look at things through fresh eyes. But you need to get that externally – and that’s what agencies are for. Chief creative officers may well prove a passing fad."

Agency head

Chris Hirst, chief executive, Grey London

"The most important issue for organisations that appoint chief creative officers isn’t the title but whether the job they are being asked to do makes sense. If the role is going to make companies more entrepreneurial, innovative and fleet-of-foot and helps build bridges with creative agencies, then that has to be a good thing. It won’t work if a chief
creative officer is appointed to work in isolation to solve one particular problem. Having a chief creative officer makes sense for media clients such as News UK, which has a lot of synergy with agencies. In some other businesses, the need is less obvious."

Industry body

Debbie Morrison, director of consultancy and best practice, ISBA

"I think clients’ appointment of chief creative officers indicates they are now thinking more long term rather than in the tactical and reactive way they have been doing over the past seven years. It’s also reflective of clients taking more marketing services in-house and a feeling that, in these days of multiple channels, the old disintegrating agency model is too slow and insufficiently agile. We take lots of calls from members wanting to know more about the Specsavers model. The good news for agencies is that this trend may enable them to have much broader conversations with their clients."

Agency head

Neil Christie, managing director, Wieden & Kennedy London

"When it comes to client companies appointing chief creative officers, it’s very much horses for courses. Some need creative directors who have hands-on roles. A good example is Sir Jonathan Ive at Apple, where product design reflects its personality. Another is Christopher Bailey at Burberry. Creativity is fundamental to the way fashion brands present themselves. Whether such a role is so important for a retailer or an FMCG brand is harder to say. However, for a company such as Tesco, which works across multiple channels, there’s a chance for a creative director to manage the way the brand looks and feels."