Interesting article in the Harvard Business Review (thanks, J).
It says that the executives who do the most damage when they leave are the internally-facing ones, such as the heads of HR, Finance and Production. Those who are externally-facing, such as Account Directors and ECDs, are easier to replace without doing significant damage to the running of the agency.
This is because the former group knows the firm-specific structures that can keep an agency operating in an effective way. But does it also suggest that the days where an account would follow a CD or suit out of the door are long gone? With corporate takeovers and international realignments it must be harder for any one person to hold the key to an agency account these days and perhaps that, as much as anything else, has reduced the importance of the CD or account man.
I recall those days (all 500 or so of them) where JWT London ‘managed’ without an ECD. It seemed crazy at the time, but the truth was they kept on trucking (and presumably saved themselves several hundred grand in wages in the process). It used to be true that an agency could not exist without creative work, but anyone who’s worked in a big shop in the last ten years must have noticed that clients now spend plenty of cash on brand audits and the like, pushing planning up the totem pole to further reduce the importance of creativity to the bottom line. Many big clients also seem able to last a ridiculously long time without actually producing any actual ads.
When I was at university I did a month’s work experience at a now-defunct agency off Soho Square. At some point one of the most senior account directors explained to me that the creative department was the only one without which an agency could not function, and must therefore be serviced and protected for the good of the company.
Perhaps that’s no longer quite so true.