I can tell you one of the things that keeps you up at night once you’ve reached the “heights” of Chief Creative Officer is, “Where’s the next job going to come from if this one doesn’t work out?” Actually, now that I think about it that was probably my wife whispering to me as I tried to fall asleep. It’s not like there are many openings for that title at any random time given the average number of years a person stays ensconced in the position, considering they define the agency’s style and voice. Well, unless that time is now, which, conveniently, it just so happens to be. (If you’re reading this in the future, then you should know it doesn’t apply to you so don’t look so surprised.)
According to recruiters and The Wall Street Journal, at least 10 major traditional US ad agencies, including Ogilvy North America, McCann-Erickson New York, Euro RSCG New York, and JWT North America, are currently in search of their lead creative strategy visionaries all at the same time; and rumor has it a few more will be on the prowl soon. Here’s the problem for these guys and the slightly smaller agencies or larger multinationals also looking for a replacement Global or Executive Creative Director (and, believe me, there are an unprecedented number of those also searching right now): there’s practically nobody out there who is qualified anymore. At least none that still want the job, he said modestly.
Yes, yes, it all comes down to digital as the reason that the creative leaders are being forced out or leaving because they feel the need to step aside or out of frustration for not being able to do what they’ve been screaming about for so long. The clients are no longer tolerating creative departments that operate in silos or talent that does not have answers that include smartphones, tablets, Facebook, and other non-traditional channels. The Boards respond with, “Off with their heads!” and “Get me a kid that knows something about this!” but good luck finding a kid with the acumen to run a large team of very experienced professionals, usually in several offices, and who can also manage humorless, prickly clients that see their bottom line dropping versus the amount they’re spending on media. Hey, good luck finding a kid who even knows about digital and real, honest-to-goodness brand strategy. It’s a skill that develops over many years of observing and doing.
Which is why the answer these companies seek is to open the minds of the highly trained and proven creative professionals that are already there in the traditional agencies. Their problem isn’t that they’re dinosaurs with no place in the new world order. The problem is the agencies haven’t invested any serious effort in training them while the creatives themselves have arrogantly ignored, dismissed, or otherwise been blind to the real way forward. They’ve paid enough lip service to “integration” to keep Wyeth’s ChapStick in business for a few more decades, but they have been absolutely closed-minded when it has come to understanding that they need to change their own mindset and approach to this new, sophisticated audience.
If agencies continue to explore “radical” approaches to replacing the talent that has sustained their half-a-trillion dollar industry for so long, like looking to comedy writers or people from completely irrelevant fields, all they will do is implode. There are many other types of companies rising up to supplant advertising agencies the way typesetters were replaced by technology, and if they are foolish enough to throw away what has made them so effective for so long out of reactive fear, then all of those fears will most assuredly come true. The answer was within all along, guys.