Three large New York agencies are in the market for top creative directors, while in Portland, Ore., Dan Wieden is looking for someone to head creative work at Wieden & Kennedy's growing Amsterdam office.
In San Francisco, London shop Leagas Delaney is looking for a creative director for its new office, while Interpublic Group of Cos.' Anderson & Lembke brought in East Coast-based partner Steve Trygg after several false starts at landing a creative director suitable to client Microsoft Corp.
And Foote, Cone & Belding's office there has been searching for several months for a group creative director on its cornerstone Levi Strauss & Co. account.
"Good creative directors are faced with more attractive propositions" than just signing on as employee at an established ad agency, said Dany Lennon, president of the Creative Register, a headhunter for creative talent.
ALLURE OF EQUITY
Those more attractive propositions usually involve the equity they can reap from starting their own shop, taking an economic stake in a new company that has the potential to yield millions of dollars down the road and ensure economic freedom for a lifetime.
"Opening an advertising agency is easier than ever," Ms. Lennon said. "Clients are willing to give out projects, and it's easier to get business from the start."
That trend has helped creatives who choose to free-lance as well, she said.
Creatives inspired by the professional and financial success of San Francisco shops Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Citron Haligman Bedecarre, and DeVito/Verdi in New York among others, also can take advantage of more creative start-up financing than simply using credit cards or taking out a mortgage on their home.
For example, in March, creatives Rob Ingalls and David Moranville left Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and opened Ingalls Moranville through a subsidiary arrangement with Davis, Ball & Colombatto, Los Angeles. The deal allowed the team minimum financial risk in starting a shop while securing it access to Davis' media, account, strategic planning, production and accounting services.
The payoff was almost immediate, when the new agency won the $30 million Sega of America account and, later, the $3 million to $5 million Monterey Pasta Co. business.
"You have greater control over your own destiny and the security of knowing that if you build a relationship with a client that they're your relationshiops," Mr. Ingalls said. "We are masters of own fate."
Fate alone isn't the only reason top creative posts are going unfilled.
Goodby Co-Chairman and Creative Director Rich Silverstein said agencies themselves have unrealistic expectations about what new creative leadership can do.
"Everybody's looking for magic," Mr. Silverstein said. "You can't transplant talent from one agency to another and think one person is going to change the nature of the agency."
When a creative rescue is required, the situation can be equally daunting from the perspective of the creative talent.
Seth Werner, VP-executive creative director at Publicis/Bloom, Dallas, put it this way: "The good news is you've been made captain. The bad news is that it's the Titanic."
One headhunter said she doesn't view the large number of openings as unusual.
"There are a number of good people who are ready to move into [more senior] jobs," said Susan Friedman, based in New York.
"There are lots of senior creative people free-lancing right now and looking for more permanent positions," said Rosalyn Dunham, partner-creative at New York Creatives, a 4-year-old ad agency.
Among the New York openings is one at Young & Rubicam, where Ted Bell, vice chairman-worldwide creative director, has been looking for several months for somebody to run his agency's New York creative department, a responsibility he has been handling for a couple of years.
One person Mr. Bell talked to about the job was Geoff Thompson, Chicago-based worldwide creative director for Foote, Cone & Belding. Eventually, Mr. Thompson decided to stay put.
Filling the position "is a priority," Mr. Bell said, "but we're not going to rush."
With Steve Davis recently becoming president of the New York office, Mr. Bell wants to make sure he becomes involved in the hiring process.
D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles also needs a creative director for its New York office, after moving Ross Sutherland into a worldwide special projects position this spring. And N.W. Ayer & Partners, being acquired by DMB&B, also is looking for a replacement to succeed Mark Fenske, the highly touted West Coast creative who left the agency in April just six months after joining it.
"I wish I knew how to solve the problem," said Mr. Wieden, whose agency already had a list of creative openings before it picked up another chunk of Microsoft business this month.
One way, Mr. Wieden said, is to hire young creatives out of school and give them as many responsibilities as they can handle.
"We grow them as fast as we can," he said. "We have a perpetual farm team," balanced with "enough seniors."