Alon Shoval, a creative director at GSD&M, Austin, Texas, is moving to Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco. He'll partner there with John Doyle, succeeding Mr. Doyle's former co-executive creative director, Dave O'Hare, who returned to San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners earlier this year.
In the past year and a half, the fabled West Coast creative talent pool has undergone an unprecedented makeover. A dozen new creative directors have moved into top agency posts, two leading shops have shuffled staff to better compete in the marketplace and two other national shops are looking for creative directors.
In addition, the creative heads of three West Coast branches of global agencies have added the word "worldwide" to their titles, putting them on equal footing with their Madison Ave. peers.
Observers are hard-pressed to pin down the factors behind the trend.
"I can't think of a pattern, except when it rains it pours," said Miranda Chiu, a founder of Baeder/Chiu/Taylor and one of the nation's leading creative headhunters.
"Is it a coincidental development or a phenomenon to build the groundwork for something more spectacular to come? Time will tell," she said.
Agency executives offered a host of possible reasons, ranging from the role of big-name creatives in new-business efforts to a new wave of worldwide accounts from dozens of West Coast-based "dotcom" marketers.
The West Coast has developed a Hollywood-like creative star system, some executives say. From legendary tales of Hal Riney mesmerizing potential clients by letting lighted matches burn down to his fingertips to the sight of TBWA/
Chiat/Day's Lee Clow making presentations in well-worn jeans, West Coast marketers have grown accustomed to star-powered pitches.
'THE $500,000 GUY'
"Clients want to see the $500,000 guy," said the head of one regional office of an international agency.
Geoff Thompson, chairman-CEO and chief creative officer at Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, agreed: "It's big boy time."
Julie Bauer, president of Saatchi & Saatchi, San Francisco, said at the end of the day "it makes clients feel more comfortable" to have a big-name creative working on their brands.
Ms. Bauer has helped rebuild the San Francisco office of Saatchi & Saatchi. It recently began work on one of the first Procter & Gamble Co. projects on the West Coast, thanks to a creative team led by highly regarded Creative Director Steve Silver.
But one industry consultant said the factors behind the West Coast creative shuffles are driven by simple business concerns.
"Agencies are not moving the client's business the way they should," said Mike Marsak, president of consultancy Effective Marketing Strategies. "What is considered creative is simply entertainment designed to build creatives' reels, not necessarily advertising that works."
Other executives see the changes as the result of an overcrowded advertising market. The region is likely to get even more competitively packed as more East Coast and European agencies establish West Coast outposts.
"There's not enough business and there are too many agencies," said one agency executive who asked not to be named.
Mr. Thompson, who started in San Francisco 21 years ago and is now back for a second stint, noted a major change in the nature of business on the West Coast. The financial and creative stakes have both been raised, he said.
INSTANT GLOBAL PLAYERS
Unlike Levi Strauss & Co.'s Levi's brand, which took decades to grow into a worldwide marketing operation, the numerous "dotcom" start-ups looking for agencies today are instant global players. Budgets for some, such as E-Trade (recently awarded to Goodby) and Buy.com (awarded to Black Rocket, San Francisco), exceed $50 million.
Mr. Thompson, along with Larry Tolpin of J. Walter Thompson USA, San Francisco, and Joe McDonagh of Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles, have worldwide responsibilities for their companies.
"A lot of people feel ready to work on bigger stages," said Mr. McDonagh, who moved to O&M from chief creative officer on the Toyota Motor Sales USA account at Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif.
Black Rocket founder John Yost said the new titles give an ego boost to West Coast creatives.
"Rather than being simply the head of the local office, they get lofty titles and they fly around the world," Mr. Yost said. "It makes them feel good about themselves."
The presence of stars such as Mr. Clow also may be a factor in job switches by up-and-coming creatives.
"It's not like you're going to overstep Clow" at TBWA/Chiat/Day, noted Chuck McBride, recently elevated to creative director of Wieden & Kennedy's Portland office.
"Everybody has to move around to make it these days. There are a lot of creative buttheads trying to find out what they want to do for the rest of their lives,"