For years, the concept of the big agency worldwide creative director was derided by hipsters at smaller, creatively focused agencies. And the opinion is still widely held that these well-paid executives-and the accompanying creative councils they preside over-are often toothless epicenters of pomp and circumstance.
"Ever since I worked at big, multinational agencies like JWT and O&M, I've thought the worldwide creative director thing was sort of a joke," said Jeff Goodby, principal and creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. "The title has a 'Star Wars' quality to it, and of course the job is undoable."
Or is it? As the marketing world gets smaller and the reach of the multinational agency networks gets broader, more shops are instituting procedures to review their work on a global basis. At the center of many of these efforts is the supposed doer of the undoable, the worldwide creative director. In the age of globalization of both agencies and brands, the role is emerging for the first time as a job with real responsibilities, rather than largely ceremonial ones.
Mr. Clow, for one, says old definitions of the title don't work, and he hopes to redefine the job. His goal: to lead by example, continuing to create great advertising himself and counting on a trickle-down effect.
"I'm not going to fly around the world and sprinkle holy water on creative departments," Mr. Clow said. "That's a crock of shit."
Among the other respected creatives who have taken the post recently are Neil French, the legendary godfather of Asian advertising, who was named global creative director at Ogilvy & Mather last year, and J. Walter Thompson Co. Worldwide Creative Director Bill Hamilton, who played a key role in the creative turnaround of O&M's flagship New York office.
Efforts to review and evaluate creative product run the gamut from Leo Burnett Co., which arguably has the most sophisticated program in place, to Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide and BBDO Worldwide, neither of which has a person with the global title. (Both maintain loose, almost informal apparatuses for global creative oversight.)
Burnett's vaunted Global Product Committee meets four times a year, and when it meets it really meets-hundreds of ads are reviewed from all points of the globe; computerized scoring systems are employed; scruffy creatives engage in passionate debates; Altoids and Marlboro Lights are everywhere.
Other agencies have addressed the issue of global creative management as well. Foote, Cone & Belding named Geoff Thompson its worldwide creative director two years ago, and installed him in London. He still maintains the title, although he's now back in San Francisco and wearing three hats-as chairman and creative director of that office as well as worldwide creative director.
Bates Worldwide installed Aussie John Fawcett as its worldwide creative director last year, a job last held five years ago by Bill Backer. Over at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Worldwide Creative Director John Nieman is reformatting the creative structure around global pieces of business, moving away from the more geographic organizations to which most agencies have adhered.
"The days of one worldwide creative director being able to helicopter in and help out on 15 pieces of business are over," Mr. Nieman said. D'Arcy's new structures will have regional creative directors assuming overall responsibility for the agency's multinational brands and product categories.
LOGICAL PLACE TO START
Not everyone shares the belief worldwide creative directors and their sundry councils can make a real impact on the work, but proponents claim it's the only logical place to start, particularly when working on a global platform.
"There's a scale beyond which you need a structure," Mr. French said. "Otherwise, you don't know what everyone's doing."
And, of course, there's the issue of keeping your accounts happy.
"Global clients want to know who they can call when they don't like the work in Latin America," said Y&R Advertising Vice Chairman-Worldwide Creative Director Ted Bell. "It's hard to say it's irrelevant when you're trying to manage brands on a global basis."
Still, the naysayers seem to rankle members of the fraternity.
"People have no problem understanding what a worldwide CEO does," said Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. "So they should have no problem understanding what a worldwide creative director does."
Veterans see themselves increasingly as the creative conscience of their respective agencies. They also see themselves as managers of their teams, except that the teams consist not of writers and art directors but of regional and local market creative directors. Often they work in partnership with managing directors; indeed, the regional managing director/creative director partnership has been embraced at O&M, Burnett, Saatchi and other networks.
Still, many of these global creative directors, and their respective worldwide boards, don't have absolute authority. Most function in advisory capacities, and the worldwide creative directors will only move to replace local market or regional creative directors in consultation with their respective managing directors or the network CEO.
When it comes to critiquing the work-a key part of the worldwide creative director job description-their respective reputations either work for them or against them.
"You lose your credibility in about 20 minutes if you're not attached to creating advertising," said FCB's Mr. Thompson. "The further you are from the day-to-day stuff that the guys you coach are going through, the harder it is for them to accept what you have to say."
SHAPING GLOBAL SELF-IMAGE
As with the judgments of the worldwide creative director, the assessments of the creative councils play a role in shaping an agency's global self-image.
At Burnett, "the global product committee gets the decisionmaking people in one room and opens their eyes to what the agency stands for as a whole," said Worldwide Creative Director Michael Conrad.
He cited another key role of the global creative director: to point out where and how the agency is doing good work for global brands, the ones that often need the most inspiration.
"We have a lot of creative successes with P&G around the world," he said, "and we have to encourage the offices locally that there is light at the end of the tunnel."
The decentralized networks, however, don't believe they're losing out in terms of creative oversight by not having well-developed review procedures in place.
DDB CEO Keith Reinhard, who is the agency's de facto worldwide creative director, said his network gives creative directors very specific objectives: "They're asked to maintain top-three creative rankings in their local markets, and to produce the most creative advertising in every business category they serve."
Mr. Reinhard said he's careful "about letting individual creative directors off the hook" when it comes to meeting these goals.
On the other hand, he noted, the nature of DDB's network-formed by the acquisition of leading creative shops in various markets-has resulted in a cadre of local creative directors who are, in many cases, creative stars in their own right. "I don't think a lot of these guys would want to report to a regional CD," Mr. Reinhard said.
Both Mr. Reinhard and Ted Sann, co-CEO and chief creative officer of BBDO's New York office, said they take care not to upset the creative autonomy of shops within their networks.
"We have lots of strong creative agencies around the world," said Mr. Sann.
Within the BBDO network, the CDs of some offices function as global creative directors on various accounts. For example, Mr. Sann acts as creative director on the agency's Gillette Co. business around the world.
LAISSEZ FAIRE APPROACH
One old-line network that mirrors the DDB and BBDO laissez faire approach to global creative management is McCann. There is no formal creative review board, according to Marcio Moreira, worldwide creative director, who relies instead on an inner circle of senior creatives to help him review the network's product.
Mr. Moreira said McCann has shied away from establishing a formal structure because they found it counterproductive.
"The few times we tried to create them, they became deterrents to creativity, rather than boosters," he explained. "They brought the work to a universally accepted level but without the peaks, and we have to shoot for the peaks because of client's expectations."
If anyone is not a lover of the process, it's Mr. Clow. He said he believes the best way to stay up on what the network is doing, and to hone his own world view of its accounts and the cultures of the agencies within it, is to collaborate with local creative directors on projects.
"That's the most honest way" to have an impact, he said.
Mr. Clow noted that he intends to maintain a sense of "organized chaos" in his dealings with TBWA offices. "I'm not going to rely too much on the historical structure of these things," he said.
Besides, he added, "If things get too organized, it'll feel like the account side is running it."
Most of all, he expects a degree of internal competition to keep the pressure on various offices to perform, a viewpoint he shares with his fellow worldwide creative directors.
"I'd love to have any other [TBWA] office kick our ass in any given year," he said, referring to his Playa del Rey, Calif., home.
For some shops, such a kick might also hit them in the wallet-a number of agencies tie bonuses and other compensation to how well local offices perform in networkwide creative evaluations.
BEST MEASURE IS AWARDS
By and large, the measure of an agency's creative mettle still comes down to awards shows, which makes the festival week in Cannes all the more important.
While "far from perfect," awards are "the only palpable, measurable way" to track creative performance, said O&M's Mr. French.
And when it comes to score-keeping, the agencies do pay attention. Mr. French cited an increased number of awards that O&M offices in different parts of the world have won since its creative council was re-established.
Likewise, Burnett executives track the number of spots that have scored near the top of their Global Product Committee contests and claim they can demonstrate that the agency's work, on a network basis, has steadily improved in awards shows.
No one suggests systems can generate ideas. But they can refine them, or at least find ways to share the good ones. Yet the increased resources agencies are devoting to the quest is indicative of the need for the networks to distinguish themselves now on the basis of their work, not their global reach or their account-management prowess.
"All an agency has to sell is its ability to get more bang for its clients' bucks," Mr. French said. "All the rest of the flim-flam becomes pointless if you can't deliver at the pointed end."
SMALLER SHOPS MAKE INROADS
Watching and waiting, of course, are the agencies that hope to benefit if network shops stumble creatively. Increasingly, multinational marketers seem willing to give smaller shops a chance to handle at least some portion of their global accounts.
In the constant push to take brands global, "the next big factor will be finding great advertising that crosses borders," said John Hegarty, creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York. "This is something the big agencies should be paying attention to, because we'd like to have a whack at it. And I believe we