Global creative directors are easy to pick on. They draw huge salaries, jet around the world and always find time for sunbathing at Cannes. Their visits to regional offices are fleeting, leaving at best a lightning bolt of inspiration, at worst resentment for meddling. "The paratrooper mentality of dropping in for a few days seldom accomplishes any real work," says Jim Copacino, former CD at McCann-Erickson/Seattle, who recently founded Copacino Creative. When the global CD comes to town, "it's like a presidential whistle stop," he says. "You shake a lot of hands, give a motivational speech to creative people who don't know you and then you're gone."
It might be time, however, to change the ponderous perceptions of the intergalactic CD job description. Today more agencies are lending the position added credence, demanding more from their global CDs, while many shops are instituting the position for the first time. In August, Saatchi & Saatchi appointed Sydney-based Bob Isherwood to be its first ever worldwide creative director, an evolution of his position as chairman of its year-old worldwide creative board. Most recently Helayne Spivak, former chief creative officer at the New York office of Ammirati & Puris Lintas, was elevated to the lofty post of worldwide creative director of multinational accounts-right before she left A&P for a top creative post at J. Walter Thompson that combined domestic and international responsibilities.
Two things make the role of the global CD more compelling these days: one is the increased globalization of brands, the other the continued acquisition of smaller, more creatively-driven agencies by the big multinationals, which are typically the only shops that deploy these pooh-bahs. On the global front, agencies clearly feel the need for someone to oversee the worldwide image of a big-name brand. But from a practical standpoint, the question has always remained of how much impact a single CD can have over such far-flung networks.
Another question worth asking about global CDs is how necessary they are, given that most big shops already have numerous regional creative directors in place. Certainly the increasingly global nature of brands plays a role here. "It gives the client one guy to yell at," says Ted Bell, who has been Y&R's worldwide CD for three years. "They can call up and say, 'Hey, Ted, what the hell is going on in Buenos Aires?' You become a focal point for them."
Singapore-based Neil French, Ogilvy & Mather's regional creative director in Asia, believes that multinational agencies are still relying on the global creative director position to mollify multinational clients. "The clients moan about the lack of creativity in their ads," French says, adding as an aside that it's "impossible that they themselves, with their formulas and their Jesuitical belief in their historical righteousness, are to blame." So, he says, "the agency chucks in a well-known name, which calms the monster down for a while."
Sweating under the pressure to keep huge chunks of billings, the agency is hardly to blame, and French says that playing for time usually works because the "complaining client will almost always switch jobs before the absence of any effect is seen." Most global CDs cringe at this kind of lame-duck scenario, including Isherwood, who asserts that the elevation of his chairman's role into a full-time global gig after a year is proof that Saatchi & Saatchi has no ulterior motives. "There's no intention to mollify multinational clients," Isherwood says, explaining that his role is clearly "for maintaining and improving the standards of Saatchi worldwide."
Mike Fromowitz, currently executive CD at Batey Ads in Singapore, agrees with French. As a former regional creative director at Bates/Asia and CD at McCann-Erickson in Toronto, Fromowitz has plenty of experience dealing with global CDs. "Up until now, they've been anomalies," he says, noting that the only truly global CD that he can think of was David Ogilvy, who spread his agency's beliefs and culture as he opened offices in emerging markets around the world. Fromowitz believes that most global CDs have nominal influence on international advertising. Sent in to various offices to sort out their agency's world affairs, he maintains, many of these creatives "were sold a bill of goods. How could any one person be global? Let's be reasonable."
On the other hand, the job of the regional CD, who maintains a closer connection to local agencies and hence to the work, is a more practical way of managing creative, he believes. "I realized it wasn't enough to walk into your regional offices and make a few great ads and leave," Fromowitz says. "You had to invest some real time to find talented leaders and let them prove themselves," and to "open doorways that may have been slammed shut by unreasonable management or clients."
One of the biggest problems is that when these global CDs make the rounds, they barely have enough local knowledge to reap any palpable benefits, Fromowitz claims. In the end, adds Copacino, "Clients do business with agencies they trust," rather than with a visiting figurehead. Nevertheless, global CDs say they can help sell work, which is one of the most basic functions of any creative director. Y&R's Bell says he was called on by the CD of the Zurich office to help sell Union Bank of Switzerland on a risky TV campaign featuring revered actors reading great literature (directed, ironically, by Neil French) that has met with critical success.
When Marcio Moreira, chief creative officer at McCann-Erickson, took his global position in '93 he was explicitly warned about too much touring. "I was told that the diplomatic role should be no more than 15 percent of my time," he says. Instead, his focus should be on the people and the work. "You're value-added to these people, you're not their boss," is what McCann's CEO John Dooner told Moreira.
As such, the nature of the relationship between a global CD and those actually doing the work is distinct from that of a more hands-on manager. "It's not practical or possible for someone in this position to overlook all the work," Moreira says. After surveying all the McCann print and TV on a quarterly basis, he says he's able to troubleshoot problems in particular shops around the globe where the level of creative isn't what he thinks it should be. Then he either works with creative directors to improve the portfolio or, on occasion, he removes someone who isn't working out. "I begin to manage people rather than the work, and the only way you can do that is to stay in touch," which is something he does with regular meetings with regional creative directors or visits to agencies.
"You have to be a big-picture person," adds Bell. "You can't have people lined up outside your door showing you storyboards. Its more like, 'How are we doing in Europe,' as opposed to, 'Let's change frame four in that Burger King commercial.' "
Michael Conrad, Leo Burnett's co-chief creative officer, who was jury president at the most recent Cannes Festival, sees himself in a similar role. Like Moreira and Isherwood, Conrad reviews plenty of work, critiquing more than 400 TV spots and 800 print ads every three months. He also directs the agency's homespun Camp Leo creative workshops throughout the year on a regional and national level. "I'm an advocate and pusher of Leo's standards, and of finding measurable ways to deal with our performance," he explains.
Spreading a big agency's mission is critical, but equally important is making sure a global brand speaks in a unified voice, Conrad believes. "If you have worldwide clients and worldwide brands, you have to create consistency," says Conrad, who is responsible for steering the global creative on such heavyweights as Marlboro. "If you don't have that, the brand might drift in all directions and fall apart."
Despite all the positive roles that global CDs play, from trying to raise overall creative standards to shepherding brand images to smoothing over cultural differences to just pressing the corporate flesh in far-off offices, it's still difficult to gauge how much these world leaders influence the day-to-day lives of rank and file creative teams. Perhaps the best thing they can do is to lend support, says Marty Cooke, executive creative director at Merkley Newman Harty in New York. As creative director at Chiat/Day/New York, overseeing the global advertising for Fruitopia, he says he was frustrated trying to sell the agency's ideas in Europe, and probably could have used a superior's support. "With Fruitopia, the work kept getting watered down and watered down," he says. "I had absolutely no influence over a client in London who told me what a focus group in Madrid said about some American work. In America, I'm still a credible source," Cooke says, but overseas "your gut is no longer relevant because you've got to fly by research, you can't look out the window anymore."
For a global CD position, Cooke continues, "The only way to be effective is to actually have a credible presence on several large multinational accounts, so when you say something, it matters." For instance, when he was pitching some business from Beiersdorf, the German company that makes Nivea lotion, TBWA's global CD Uli Wiesendanger flew in from the Paris office to help the agency. "I didn't need him to help me to figure out how to do stuff in New York," Cooke says. "I needed him to help me with what to do in Hamburg, where I had no clue."
This is precisely how Wiesendanger sees his role, which he takes with a dollop of modesty. "To be relentless and tyrannical in the pursuit of excellence on a given campaign is the role of each creative director in each agency," he says,