The Creative Exodus: Are We On Our Way to a Land of Milk and Honey?

Top-Level Creatives Leaving Big Shops Is Good News for Small Shops -- and the Industry

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
Matthew Creamer's recent article on the mass exodus of high profile creative leadership from large agencies was compelling, to say the least. What exactly does all of this mean? Are the good times for creative people really over in this business or is this the beginning of something bigger and better?

I go with the latter.

I couldn't help but think of the result of the original Exodus while reading Creamer's piece. You may remember that exodus involved Moses leading the children of Israel out of slavery to the Promised Land. The rapid pace of change in technology and our economy has greatly challenged the creative process. The pressure to deliver results using a myriad of communication channels has required creative thinkers to learn to navigate a brand story through a communication matrix that makes three-dimensional chess feel like a game of Tiddly Winks. Frankly, the creative thinkers in our business have a lot tougher job. When you add to that an attitude hostile to creativity, the response will be visceral. That doesn't mean this response is a sign that our industry is no longer in need of creativity. On the contrary, maybe we're on the way to our own Promised Land.

It was interesting to study the reader comments of Creamer's article. Not surprisingly, some indicated a conclusion that those leaving because "it just isn't fun anymore" are like the kid on the block who takes his toys and runs home if his friends don't play the way he wants. This might be true if it were only a couple of people. But I know a lot of those who have stepped away from their big-agency gig and it wasn't because they were spoiled children.

Perhaps they stepped away because the most relevant thing they have to offer is needed elsewhere. But I also think it is because they are going to re-make our industry. This attitude is what has kept our industry moving forward. It is why agencies like Fallon, Goodby, Crispin, and the like, came to be. History repeats. Our industry works because there are people who can think of innovative ways to communicate with people. When those people get smothered with over-engineering they have to break free. Tesla, Einstein, Picasso and Steve Jobs come to mind as examples of why breaking the mold is a good thing. So let's wait and see what this creative shuffling is all about.

Yes, it is disconcerting to see our industry's creative leaders taking leave. It makes us worry about our own place in the world as creative thinkers. But that is no reason to decide our industry is no longer in need of something few can do. It means it is time to determine how to apply creative thinking to the new world order of our industry and become more valuable than ever.

The exodus of creative giants from large agencies is not the beginning of the end. For small agencies, it's a booster shot that will lend a hand to recreating our industry into its most creative age.

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