Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who Fires Who

Does anyone know a CEO who's been fired by an ECD?

There seems to be a rule that the top suit can fire the top creative, but not the other way around.

The situation reminds me of passages from a fantastic book called Guns, Germs, and Steel.

(If you haven't read this book, you need to go out and buy it immediately, if not sooner.)

Among the many brilliant questions that the author Jared Diamond poses, is this one: How come it was the English who sailed to Australia, took over the country, and wiped out most of the Aboriginal inhabitants... why didn't an Aboriginal navy sail up the Thames, and take over England?

Or to put it another way, how come Hernan Cortes arrived in what today we call Mexico, in 1519, and overthrew the Aztec civilisation? How come the Aztecs didn't rock up in Madrid, and overthrow the Spanish civilisation?

The answers, according to Jared Diamond, are that the English (in the conquest of Australia) and the Spanish (in the conquest of Mexico) had the advantages of guns, germs, and steel. Why they had those items and the indigenous inhabitants didn't, is down to geography, according to Jared Diamond.

If you want the full explanation, you can read the book.

But at least he has an explanation.

If anyone knows why it is that suits get to fire creatives, and not the other way around... please tell me.


EugenS said...

Probably creatives don't really want to become CEO's, unless they start their own agency. Btw, if Sir Hegarty were to fire the suits' boss, wouldn't that count as a creative firing a suit?

jay said...


We're working in a business, and they control the money.

They're the ones paying the agency's bills, and making sure clients are paying theirs. Most agencies and their holding companies are owned by suits, not creatives (Sir Martin Sorrell was an agency Finance Director, not a Copywriter). And to them, the ultimate measure of success is how profitable the agencies are, not how many pencils they win. The pencils are only as good as the new business they attract, and the creatives they retain.

The problem is that the creatives, for most part, have little idea or interest about the business part of the ad business. So they become mere employees, getting managed and incentivised by the suits.

The exception is obviously the independent agency model, where an ECD is a financial partner in the company. And that's the only way you'll ever get an equal say. Get in a position where you control the money.

It's a bit like the music business. You can be the pop starlet owned by the record labels, or you can use them for a while, learn what you can, then go off and start your own label. Then, you're actually in the game.

You want more say in the business?

Get to know the business.

no huge mystery said...

The last I checked it is management that gets to fire both. Most, but not all management has a background as a suit, and it is largely about who has the best relationships with clients - otherwise known as the business, or even more plainly, money.

Most creatives are not as good at forming relationships with the money as suits are. There are exceptions and they do well.

shotmug said...

Agencies keep their cards to their chests in terms of money, generally, but because suits earn bonuses (creatives mostly do not) based on performance targets when the shit hits the fan it's the suits who know how much a creative is costing and so gets pulled in to the meeting about whether or not to fire him/her. Thus, suit gets to 'fire' the creative, but as No Huge Mystery points out, it's really the management who is doing it.

Cat food said...

There are two ways to increase profit on paper (vs real profit). Win more business or sack people and make the rest work twice as hard.

Of even greater concern is the dangerous work conditions created to achieve a higher margin (and meet our bonus structures). In the last few years I've interviewed more and more hard working, responsible ad folk close to burn out, and been lucky enough to snare the better ones.

Unfortunately, there isn't an endless pool of talent, and quite often it's the more talented that end up being the least protected from burnout - due to the high demand they create for their skillset.

When our agency shifted focus from profit and awards to cultivating talent and culture, suddenly the awards rolled in after a long drought of bronze and finalists. The money followed. It was amazing how easy it was to do. We promoted people regularly with fairly insignificant pay rises, which fostered loyalty. As soon as they had a sense of responsibility they started working longer because they wanted to, not because they had to, which actually led to less burnout.

There was one very talented person who was 'on the edge' primarily from being overworked and under valued. Finance wanted him out, instead I fought for a 5% rise and a change of title, with slightly more responsibility.

The awards and new business he's won since has been staggering, and he's now one of our top guys. I'm still fighting to keep him, but not with finance, with other agencies.

Simple, small acknowledgments from management can really turn a place around, but only if you put people before profit.

John Smart said...

As they say, some people are in the business to do advertising and some people are in advertising to do business.

Guess who gets to make all the big decisions...

Anonymous said...

If that's the writer's central premise, he's got a problem.

The English didn't wipe out the Australian Aborigines. Not even close.
Many died from introduced diseases like the common cold and smallpox; some died from battles where spears were no match for guns. While there's no accurate measure, estimates had it at about 100,000 Aborigines spread across a land almost the size of the USA in 1800. Today there are 300,000.

Scamp said...

Ah, don't blame the author - blame me. I mis-spoke, as the Americans say. There are many terms I could have picked that would have been more appropriate than 'wiped out'. 'Colonised', perhaps?