What Can ‘Moneyball’ Teach Advertising?

I’m reading a book called Moneyball.

It explains how baseball started using statistics to recruit players instead of just relying on a scout’s instincts. Apparently, these instincts were completely unreliable and gave very little real insight into which players a team should draft. Then, around the late seventies, nerdy types started accumulating proper observations to create statistics that were a much more accurate reflection of a player’s worth. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that a poor team (the Oakland As) started to use this information to tilt the talent pool in their favour and compete with the super-rich New York Yankees. I haven’t reached the end of the book yet, but I assume that now the cat is out of the bag, all teams recruit on this policy.

It sounds fucking dull, but it’s actually really interesting and very well written.

But could its lessons be applied to advertising?

Could an agency recruit far better creatives for a much lower budget just by analysing what they were really good at rather than going on reputation?

For example, a creative might have their name on a few pieces of highly-awarded work, but then a bit of digging might reveal that he or she had little to do with the actual creativity. Then again, they might have managed to schmooze the edgy cut past the client, thus saving all the good work of his or her partner.

Then again, maybe there are some really good creatives languishing in agencies that don’t make the most of them.

Of course, it’s virtually impossible to analyse the parts of a creative’s ‘game’ in the same way one can for a baseball player, but something similar has been done twice in recent ad history: 1980s GGT and 1990s Simons Palmer both used an incredible talent pool of raw youngsters to complement a couple of seniors, and with the guidance of great CDs the work was brilliant on a smaller budget. Creatives such as such as Henry, Chaldecott, Grubb, Waters, Damon Collins and Mary Wear (GGT), and Paul Silburn, Dave Dye, Gary Martin and Tim Riley (Simons Palmer) maximised their bosses’ cash outlay because they were ‘drafted’ and shaped by some of the keenest eyes in the business.

Nowadays, however, I think this is less relevant. Agencies don’t seem to care about great creativity to the same degree and a creative’s ability to be ‘client-facing’ can be as valuable to an MD as his ability to win a Pencil. Also, the relegation of creative quality to the back of the list of priorities means that a good young creative may never get the chance to display his or her best stuff on a regular basis.

For what it’s worth, when Daryl and I hired junior teams, we looked for hunger (inclination to work hard) and an auto-didactic interest in great creativity (trans: given half a chance they inhaled award annuals). That meant that when we tried to point them in the right direction they knew what we meant and were happy to put the work in. D&AD entries and nominations followed and now all are doing well elsewhere.

Now, whether they’re all good with clients or not is another matter. But we thought they’d learn that later. After all, if you’re shit at ads but good with clients then you’re not a creative, you’re an account manager.