In my first job each brief was given to several teams. That made complete sense, partly because there weren’t enough briefs to keep each team busy, and partly because it meant lots more work was generated from which the CD could theoretically select only the creme de la creme.

But it also served another purpose, that of fanning the flames of endeavour with the bellows of competition. When the brief came in the starting gun went off and the object was to be as collaborative and friendly as possible on the surface while doing whatever you could to get your idea to the top of the pile: colluding with account people to harpoon that lead idea they think the client would never buy; telling the other team you love their idea then waiting for the final meeting to casually let slip that it had already been done by the agency across town; keeping your best idea back so no one has any time to try and beat it; having a special quick chat with the CD just when everyone else thinks the decision is done and dusted… Stuff like that.

Which creates a testy atmosphere, but does it create better work? You might think so, after all, the need to bring your A-game and the pressure of the other teams’ possible superiority would surely breathe down your neck to make you put in the extra hours.

Then again, the multiplicity of ideas makes it harder to just choose the best and go with it. Instead the CD and important account guys can make sure there’s something safe in the back pocket just in case the crazy-but-excellent top idea falls upon stony ground. Shit ad gets bought and made and nobody wins, particularly the good team whose best stuff gets harpooned by a turd.

But what’s the alternative? When I started at AMV in 1998 my AD and I were stunned to discover that it was one team one brief. How could that produce better work? Well, AMV circa 1998 was unusual in that it was stuffed to the gills with unbelievably good teams, and that meant that if you gave a team a brief they would respond with a very good ad. No need for competition, no need for dodgy shenanigans. We also presented just the one ad we thought was right. Oh, and the creative department had the last word in what that idea would be. Oh, and I almost forgot: the client would almost always buy that ad. Happy, happy days.

But that set up produced some of the best ads in history. As David Abbott said, ‘Flowers grow best in the sunshine’, and it was like Tahiti at 151 Marylebone Road.

I haven’t been in many places since where it’s one team one brief, but that’s probably got something to do with the current need to give clients quantity rather than quality. The idea that a single team would churn out the volume that clients currently ‘enjoy’ is a bit far-fetched and certainly requires going wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep.

I guess we’ll never really know if competition definitely helps or hinders, but I would say that it certainly fosters a atmosphere of friction, and that can go either way.

What does your agency do, and does it make the ads better or worse?