Sunday, July 29, 2012

Has Bill's Big Idea Had Its Day?

Advertising agencies may be slow, but at least they're expensive.

That's a Client joke, by the way.

Yes, despite that fact that we're all all working longer hours for less money than ever before… Clients still think we're expensive. And maybe we are - after all, we've recently had to add a whole new raft of roles to service the digital side of the business, such as social media expert, technologist, UX guy… have you noticed there are now about 11 people in the room, where there used to be only 7? And they're all drawing a salary.

So margins are under pressure again.

And the only cost we can cut (since it's the only cost we have, other than the rent, and colour photocopying charges) is people.

This is nothing to be regretful about.

As the world changes, new roles are created (e.g. social media expert) and others (such as the guy who used to walk in front of automobiles waving a flag) disappear.

The last role to go was Traffic. The elimination of the traffic department has been happening gradually over the last five to ten years, and has reached the point where most agencies now seem to employ a single traffic manager, or brief allocation manager, whereas once there was a whole department. And yet life goes on.

So who's next?

We can't get rid of Planners - that's the department that Clients value most highly of all, and are most willing to pay for.

Perhaps we could get rid of Account Handlers?

A mate of mine who has recently launched a start-up has decided he isn't going to employ any Account Handlers. "They're just translators," he told me. "If you don't have them, then the Creatives and the Clients have to figure out how to talk to each other, which - believe it or not - they are perfectly capable of doing."

KesselsKramer, the renowned Dutch agency, has never had Account Handlers. According to their slyly brilliant new book, Advertising For People Who Don't Like Advertising: "KesselsKramer's issue with Account Handlers wasn't that they were bad people, or scary ones, or ruthless… it was simply that the role of account handler can be split over other departments."

Both come down to much the same point - why hire Account Handlers, when Creatives can do that job themselves? My answer to that question is another question - do we want to? I think not.

I challenged a very dear Account Handler of my acquaintance not so long ago to tell me, given that she wasn't coming up with strategies, and wasn't writing ads, exactly what was she doing all day? Her answer was succinct: "Shit you don't want to do."

And I agree with that. While agencies probably could do without Account Handlers, I don't see why we'd want to. It would just mean we spent more time talking to clients and less time being creative.

So my regrettable conclusion is that, if we are to be totally candid about which is the next role we can afford to lose, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

And that hallowed team of two.

Do we really need two?

Bill Bernbach's logic in putting a 'words man' and a 'pictures man' together was that we were becoming a visual culture - thanks to the rise of TV and magazines - and so it was necessary to have visual ideas, to make an impact on that culture.

The wannabe poets and novelists who filled the ranks of agency copywriters weren't naturally visual thinkers, so pairing them with the art directors (who at that time were mere visualisers) was a necessary step to create a team that, between them, had both visual and conceptual skills.

Bill's idea worked, but that was nearly 60 years ago.

Times are different today.

Would Bill (pictured, looking mildly cheesed-off) consider that today, the doubling-up may be unnecessary?

Today's copywriters are not pipe-smoking tweed-jacket-wearers who have the visual sense of Blind Lemon Jefferson. They've grown up in the age of Spielberg and Zuckerberg, and while they may not know every typeface known to man, they're accomplished visual thinkers. In short, they don't need art directors. Yes, they'll need designers, directors, or UX guys to bring their ideas to life… as they always have… but they don't need an intermediary between themselves and the execution people.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm going off on a rant against art directors, let me very quickly state that just as I think a copywriter no longer needs an art director… the reverse is also true: art directors no longer need copywriters. Don't forget, the role of art director evolved from the role of visualiser. It was believed that art directors didn't have strong conceptual skills, and so needed to be paired with a copywriter. Today, that no longer holds true. The kind of people who are becoming art directors are coming from the exact same background as the copywriters - ad school - and their conceptual skills are just as strong. They don't need a copywriter to prop them up any more.

Where I'm arguing we should go is nothing more than the way the wind is blowing anyway. I would guess that at least one-third of teams nowadays don't have a rigorous art director/copywriter divide, but define themselves as either or both.

So what we basically have is a duplication of roles. Yes, it's nice to have a mate with you at all times. Someone who's got your back. And it could be argued that a strong team of two can do more and better work than two individuals could, since they develop an understanding over time. However, the opposite could also be true - that their partnership becomes stale and predictable over time.

The other argument for having teams was that it was always said you need 'another person to bounce off' in order to have ideas, and a creative can't work successfully in a vacuum. But there is no vacuum any more. We're not 'left alone' any more, we're surrounded by stimulus, we're constantly working with clients, account handlers, planners, directors, designers, technologists, social media people… no one could seriously argue that the modern creative would be stuck 'on their own' without a partner. You're nearly never on your own, nowadays. Besides, many great writers, artists and musicians work on their own so it's doubtful whether this argument ever had any real validity.

Gentlemen, the bean counters are crawling all over us, like thousands of tiny insects, and the fact that they haven't yet noticed that we are employing two people to do the job of 'concept creator,' when it could be done by one, is a minor miracle.

The change has to be imminent. Already, the 'CD team' is all but non-existent. Yes, it's easier to make creative directing decisions when you're an individual not a team, so it makes sense from that point of view. But CD's have always had to have ideas too, and they're now doing that perfectly well on their own.

So the CD team is all but gone, and it can't be long before the regular creative team has to disappear too.


Don't shoot the messenger.


MK said...

My profession has long been the envy of my friends who work 'real' jobs. I get to go to work everyday with one of my best mates and talk shit over lattes for a living. It's a pretty sweet deal.

However, I have to agree with you, Scamp; the team model's days are numbered. I find the lines blurring between the roles of 'writer' and 'art director' everyday. I often write better headlines than my pen-friend and he often takes my crayons and shows me how to use them. We both even have two email signatures: our employed titles and another that simply says 'creative' (yep, maybe 'douchebag' would be more appropriate). Eventually the bean counters will realize they don't need two of us and the axe will be wielded right down the middle of every team.

However, I don't think it will necessarily be for the best. The main benefit of working as a team is the concepting stage. And we all know that the best advertising comes from the best ideas. You simply come up with better ideas when, as you said, you have someone to bounce them off. And that person will never be a planner, a suit or a client. Those kind of idea sessions exist. They are called 'brainstorms' and they're the single biggest waste of time in advertising. We've got an innate disregard for any ideas that come from anyone but a creative. Even if they're good, our egos don't let us believe it.

Ah, the creative ego. What a fragile thing it is. I can't speak for everyone, but I know I frequently shift from thinking I've got the creative muscle of Ron Jeremy to... well, I don't know any celebrities with sufficiently small penises to complete this analogy. But you get my drift.

The more years I spend in this industry, the more I tend to realize that you could do it all yourself, if need be. However, that doesn't mean that the work will be better (or even half as good) as if you're able to work with someone who has creative input that you value and respect.

So, long live the team structure. It's much more fun to sip lattes and talk shit with a mate.

Marge said...

As an art director, I find this post quiet inspirational. Who needs copyrighters anyway? I'm going it aloan...

Anonymous said...

I disagree.

With respect, a lot of your article seems to be predicated on the notion that all creatives work in large agencies and all of them have access to in-house specialists in every relevant discipline.

Secondly, I appreciate that you personally would rather not spend "more time with your clients and less time being creative" but that is built around the assumption that speaking with clients more often has no part to play in the creative process, and cannot possibly lead to better work - which is not my experience at all.

Thirdly, I myself believe (and I am not alone in this opinion) that creatives have become too-far removed from the planning process and their instinctive nose for a good brand story has been marginalised and devalued. I would argue creatives need to put more input into the planning process and less time arguing focussing on executional creative issues.

Certainly there needs to be increased flexibility in creative teams to avoid insular thinking and encourage versatile cross-discipline executions, but that doesn't mean that art director / writer teams have had their day.

No offence but to me your arguments seem highly egocentric and only stand up under very specific circumstances in highly regulated working environments.

From my position, creative teams are as relevant as ever and are still a vital cog in the cognitive machinery of marketing creativity.

Bill's big idea still has plenty of life left in it yet.

Anonymous said...

I know that I work more than twice as efficiently when I have a partner to confer with.

Charles Frith said...

I don't know the answer, but I like the question.

Barry said...

Enjoyed reading that but here is another suggestion.

I have worked in mid-sized agencies that employ at least half a dozen junior teams. Being junior, these teams take time...a lot of get to a solution, often after 3-4 rounds on the same brief. This is not just a colossal waste of time (which is the commodity that agencies sell), but also a big waste of money over the long run. Is it not better for an agency to hire 3 teams instead of 6 but mature workers who can work fast and get it right first time.

That is another way for agencies to save money.

Copying comments over from Campaign Brief, hope no one minds - Scamp.

CD said...

I don''t care if it's a Copywriter + Art Director or two writers or two social media people, but you need two people. Two creatives make magic happen much faster than one because they bounce off each other and they identify crap faster and move on instead of wasting time stuck on an idea. Three or more people can work as well, but the most efficient ratio is probably two.

Monty said...

A good ideas person doesn't need someone to help them have ideas.

A good ideas person doesn't need someone of equal remuneration but lesser talent to share the credit for his ideas.

A good ideas person doesn't need someone to sit in a room and distract them as they try to work.

A good ideas person often works better on their own.

A good ideas person often has ideas when they're not sitting in their office, like when they're driving their car or when they wake up in the middle of the night.

A good ideas person doesn't need someone to modify his perfectly-formed ideas so that the other person can feel like they've made a contribution.

Ask Monty said...

You're on you own on this Monty.

Bullet Proof said...

I take it from what you are saying Monty, that you are a "good ideas" person. and have never benefitted from any form of collaboration in the idea/execution process.

That's pretty rare in the ad caper.

And I assume you take complete ownership of any lesser successes, or dare I say "bad ideas".

And don't say you haven't had them.

CD said...


I take it you don't think John Cleese is good writer, since he worked with Graham Chapman in Monty Python, or his wife on Fawlty Towers?

I guess the writers of the Simpson's aren't as good as you, given they work in large teams?

I guess the South Park guys must be wrong too.

And the countless advertising teams who have written great ideas like Old Spice or Nike, or VW or whatever you care to mention really...

Anonymous said...

We already have an excellent prototype of this model of thinking.

It's called: John Webster.

Anonymous said...

I think the rigid commitment to a creative team - a writing, art directing duo - has had its day.
Partly because of cost. But partly because of the way communications has moved on over the last couple of decades.
I spent some time working in an agency in Scandinavia. Their attitude was pretty refreshing. Their approach was 'whatever works'. Sometimes an art director writer combo would tackle a brief, sometimes a lone creative. Often a team of four or five would sit around a table and thrash out an idea - and then split off into relevant disciplines when they needed to execute said idea. It was always pretty fluid.
I think this is the way the world is going. It'll take London a while to catch on, because that city resists change more than most (I know, it's where I work now). But it'll happen.

Lubomir said...

I think global economy and technology are killing the Art Director. Outside of the creative hubs - London, New York, Tokyo etc. there is no actual work for a full day Art Director the same way you don’t need a full day professional typographer.

We had a “single malt” AD from Miami Ad School. She was useless because she couldn’t do design work. So the “local” art directors who are trained in the National Academy of Art mocked her all the time. They are better illustrators than her also painters, and sculptors, they know about textiles, crafts, comics, posters, and human anatomy - they actually could do stuff with their own hands, and they are faster with the software too.

Also 90% of ad agencies in the world adapt work. You go to a site of any global brand and you find instructions what you should do for Q2. Everything is readymade, and some of them are so “good” that you need just a local copywriter to translate the shit. my AD says “for the last year I have less then an hour of actual art direction per day”

rachel carroll said...

Spot on. Mr. Scamp. This is already happening. Some of the best creatives work solo already. Hmm. But on thinking about it most are writers...

Butterbean said...

I've never failed to crack a brief. But I have failed to crack a brief with my art director.

Mike said...

And so say all of us...

Good to have you back Scamp.

ad weasel said...

I'm with Bill. He made a wheel round, why make it square if it stills works? Adapt with the times and tech yes, but completely change it? Definitely not. It has worked so well for years producing amazingly creative work. Change this by scrapping the creative team model and the quality of the ideas and craft etc will collapse. Not sure it will make it better, so what's the point? Cost saving? I've worked on accounts with about 10 suits tending to it and all of them without doubt were oxygen stealers, that's where the axe should fall. I'm in a market where creatives present their own work and have a relationship with the client, it sees to work. That's how we should adapt. Otherwise, it'll be like scrapping the midfielders because attack can do the same job. Plus you'll always need a good cop and a bad cop.

Scamp said...

Mike's link - - has an article, far better constructed than mine, on the same subject. It's by Matt Keon, ECD of 18 Feet And Rising.

ANDY said...

Monty i dont think there are any rules for idea generating.
As long as the end result is good

Deena Syed - Brand Strategist said...

Art Directors and Copywriters are facing extinction too right- the new thing - well not really new now it's been happening for the past 10 years, it's a creative strategist, I say if you cannot put words and pictures together you should not even be in advertising.

Even Ad agencies are getting fired left right and centre nowadays, I jumped the fence 4 years ago, I believe in an internal branding department model with a brand manager, Graphic designer/art director and a PR team all in house keeping the brand consistent from the product to the Ads.

It's all about being cost effectiveness and meeting the bottom line now. If your ads are not effective and you only look for awards you are already redundant! Sorry for the bad news, it's time to evolve or die!

M32 said...

It all depends on what kind of work you want to make, and the kind of agency you want to work for.

I don't want to work at 18ft and rising, and thats why i think what Matt Keon said is a total crock of shit.

You just need to look at the most successful agencies in town. The ones winning the most new business/awards simultaneously. AMV, W&K, BBH, CHI, Mother, Adam & Eve, VCCP...

All the best work coming out of the UK is being made by teams. All the creatives getting promoted to CDs are teams.

It's not just in the UK. Look at the US. The place that invented our industry - and still leads the way.

All the best work comes from teams. Droga 5 hire teams. Their CD's and ECD's are teams. So they must be facing extinction too...

Nothing wrong suggesting that duos could benefit from working in a more collaborative/not so old-fashioned 'mad men' type way. The good teams at good agencies already do.

Anonymous said...

Who needs creatives at all. We end up just typing out what the shit the client thinks is great anyway.

Gordon Comstock said...

I freelance alone, partly because I have difficulty maintaining a relationship with a single art director.

But I'm always being paired up with different people. So it seems less like not wanting to work with someone else, as not wanting to work with the same person every day.

Anonymouse said...

Working outside of the OMNAGENCY structure, the first thing you ditch is the 'brand planner'.

Media planer is necessary

Other than that, a good copywriter and a good account person can do the job. Art director essential for the creative work, if copywriter is playing planner.

Are there any legendary planners btw? I could name a hundred great creatives and 10 great suits.

Serious question.

Anne Miles said...

Most of the comments here have been made with consideration to how the individual that wrote it sees their world based on their specific skillset. As a former consultant to the industry and also having been involved in bigger agencies down to small business I can say that the ability for role sharing is possible and any combination of skills is also possible - dependent on the individuals.

A sound way to approach this is to work out what roles the business wants to merge and then go out looking for that person - you'll find them.

Sadly most of the comments here are from people who are defending their current roles. It would be a good time to start expanding on your skills in other areas and securing your path for the future.

This model is working a treat for our production service - The DMC Initiative. It is not an agency, but the same theory applies - we have dropped the model of the individual director and producer and have multi-skilled people working collaboratively together under the supervision of a creative director and it works so well. Our people shoot, write, build props, do sound...with everything in-house... do whatever is needed.

In the past multi-talented people (I include myself in this) have been told we don't have a place, but get ready for these type of people being the new way - it is faster, client issues are solved quicker and with the shorter communication lines it is less expensive without losing the money that goes directly on the screen.

Anonymous said...

neasLate to this, sorry.

Firstly, you're answering a problem that isn't the primary problem.

The real issue is that clients consistently undervalue agencies and, even more importantly, they undervalue what they do.

The value of big, provocative, brand-defining ideas is incalculable. But right now advertising being treated as a commodity. Witness the e-auctions.

If you adjust your agency to suit this world, then you accept it.

Secondly, given that advertising ideas (regardless of media) are the product we make and sell, it makes no sense to reduce the assets we have at our disposal to create it. Those ideas are also what distinguishes us against the competition, so again, cutting the resource that creates it is illogical.

As the inefficiencies of social media as a marketing tool become more widely known then the 'experts' that you media, UX etc...may find their roles less essential than we all thought.

I'd rather keep the tried and tested configuration of talent talent that has been proven to work, in favour of one that might.

Lastly, the copywriter/art director was not created primarily for the strict disciplines you suppose, but because two brains are better than one. Two brains can edit each others work, two brains produce the unexpected more frequently.

Rogers and Hammerstein, Morecombe and Wise, Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais for example, all duplicated each others skill, but they did not duplicate each others talent.

Even Ricky Gervais has a writing partner.