How Have Things Changed?

When I was a nipper, the route to success in the creative side of advertising was clear: win awards.

There were occasional anomalies, such as Jaspar Shelbourne, CD of JWT, who didn’t appear to have won much at all, but everywhere else the creative credentials of those in charge were impeccable.

However, over the last few years, something seems to have changed. Of course, most of those in the top jobs are highly awarded, but it doesn’t seem to matter quite so much any more. Now you need to get on with the chief of a network or holding company who might not give a toss whether your pencil count is one or seven, or whether your awards were won last year or ten years ago.

I once went to a talk about how CHI started. Johnny Hornby said that he and Simon Clemmow chose Charles Inge by leafing through the last few D&ADs and choosing the person whose work featured the most (I’m sure it was slightly more scientific then that; they probably had a pint with him too). Somehow, I can’t see that happening today.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are no longer lots of famous teams as there were when I started. It almost seems as if something is happening to squash the potential stardom of creatives, to prevent them growing too powerful. This might be because their inclination to kick up a fuss is in inverse proportion to their suitability for the top jobs. Perhaps those who are choosing would rather have a slightly less good CD/ECD who won’t scare the horses, than a thrower of pot plants through windows who will show horses Dawn of the Dead and The Omen on a regular basis.

Then, in turn, slightly less good creatives get chosen to populate the departments. The non-horse-scaring ECDs aren’t going to be keen on hiring horse-scarers, so the process filters through. Of course, propensity to kick up a fuss doesn’t correlate exactly with creative ability, but if those rows that push ads to be 8% better disappear, then so do the ads that are 8% better.

So is this the revenge of the suits? Are some of them turning CDs/ECDs into puppets that will step into line rather than risk losing an account to lah-di-dah creative standards? Is this a coincidence, or is the economic climate making creative indulgence seem like too much of a…well…an indulgence?

On one side that makes complete pragmatic financial sense.

On the other, it’s so depressing it kind of makes you want to scrape your eyeballs out with a rusty nail.