The rage against the ma­chine

‘I’d rather give up and get out of this whole in­dus­try, the in­dus­try I love, than work for Mar­tin Sor­rell…’

Campaign UK - - NEWS - By Claire Beale Global edi­tor-in-chief

…As it hap­pens, this is a quote from an ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor who does ac­tu­ally work for Sor­rell. They just don’t see it that way. The ECD works for an agency that’s owned by WPP, but it’s an agency with – for now – its own cul­ture and iden­tity and sense of pur­pose; WPP is a dis­tant shadow. The ECD loves the agency they work for. The ECD stays up late think­ing of ways to do great work, they sac­ri­fice week­ends, they care to their core about do­ing the best pos­si­ble job for their team, their agency. The ECD does not want to work for an enor­mous, amor­phous con­glom­er­ate. They don’t want to be a small cog in a large-scale process, “throw­ing frag­ile ideas into a big fur­nace”. They want to work for a com­pany with a cul­ture they can af­fect, where they can make a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence, feel proud to be­long. But the pri­macy of in­di­vid­ual agency brands within hold­ing com­pa­nies is com­ing un­der in­tense scru­tiny. Ear­lier this month Sor­rell ad­mit­ted WPP had had “a not pretty year”, and promised to “up the pace” of the hold­ing com­pany’s evo­lu­tion into a “co­he­sive global team ded­i­cated to the core pur­pose of driv­ing growth for clients”. Mean­while, over at ri­val Publi­cis Groupe UK, Fal­lon and Leo Bur­nett have al­ready been har­nessed to­gether and are now set to move in next door to Saatchi & Saatchi to “en­able more seam­less col­lab­o­ra­tion and ac­cess to the best tal­ent for both our clients and peo­ple”. Publi­cis’ planned Ai-pow­ered Marcel in­tranet will make tal­ent eas­ier to ac­cess across agency brands, and Nick Law has re­cently been re­cruited from R/GA to de­velop “a uni­fied cre­ative ethos” across Groupe agen­cies. You’ll know that this in­dus­try-wide nudge to­wards col­lab­o­ra­tion, in­te­gra­tion and con­sol­i­da­tion is be­ing driven by bru­tal cuts by the big­gest ad­ver­tis­ers, and Sor­rell has been painfully clear that “the tra­di­tional cre­ative busi­ness is where the pres­sure is”. But that’s not be­cause mar­keters don’t want cre­ativ­ity. In fact, they say high-end cre­ativ­ity is what they value most and are least likely or able to take in-house. Proc­ter & Gam­ble’s chief brand of­fi­cer, Marc Pritchard, said this month: “We want and need bril­liant cre­atives, and we will in­vest in cre­ative tal­ent.” It’s the rest of the agency costs (ex­cess man­age­ment, build­ings) they don’t want to pay for. Yet as we know big agen­cies have pretty much failed to find a vi­able model for charg­ing for cre­ativ­ity, in­creas­ingly pack­ag­ing it as a com­mod­ity and un­der­min­ing its pri­macy. What a mess. The old idea of large, ac­count-depart­ment heavy cre­ative agency net­works with plenty of flags on the world map is be­com­ing un­ten­able, even more so when you’ve got three or four of them in many coun­tries. So a de­gree of con­sol­i­da­tion is in­evitable and the big groups are look­ing at new ways to de­ploy their best cre­ative tal­ent to the right projects, re­gard­less of not only which par­tic­u­lar agency brand that tal­ent is em­ployed by but where it’s based. Our ECD won’t find them­selves re­as­signed to a cen­tralised WPP cre­ative depart­ment any time very soon, but there’s no doubt that the edges are be­ing rubbed off many pre­vi­ously proud and richly dis­tinct cre­ative agency brands as tal­ented peo­ple are re­quired to be­come more fluid. But the more you think this way, the more “tal­ent” be­gins to sound less like a col­lec­tion of highly in­di­vid­ual, bril­liantly skilled peo­ple and more like rolling stock. Agency cul­tures (which ac­tu­ally of­ten owe rather a lot to the ex­cess man­age­ment, build­ings and so on) be­come sys­tem­at­i­cally eroded, and the very things that en­gen­der real loy­alty and pas­sion from that pool of tal­ent be­gin to evap­o­rate. Then they give up and get out. • @claire­beale

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