Editor's Letter, January 2008

Published on .

VCU, one of the most esteemed educational institutions connected to this business of ours, a school charged with grooming the next generation of creative marketing torch bearers, is no longer an Adcenter. School steward and MD Rick Boyko recently announced the school would now go by the handle VCU Brandcenter (see p 6).

Aside from provoking relief that the school's deciders didn't go with something more oblique and annoying (or something with "Idea" in it) the name change seems apt. Boyko has spent his tenure at VCU retooling the center's program to mint minds for a new era, expanding the scope of the school's teachings with the goal of creating graduates that aren't merely carriers of attractive portfolios and makers of attractive ads but creative thinkers and marketing problem solvers. In addition to fortifying the curriculum's strategic and media underpinnings, Boyko spearheaded the addition of a Masters in Creative Brand Management in 2005, to help spawn a new breed of creatively enlightened marketer and account person, and last year, the Advanced Management Training program for creative directors.

So if the AdCenter isn't an ad center anymore, is the industry into which its students will graduate still an ad industry? Are you people still ad men and women? The head of our agency of the year called himself "absolutely an advertising man" in our last issue and yet we recognized his agency's work in part for its non-advertisingness. Is the distinction important? We've talked at length in Creativity about name calling—if it's not advertising then what?—as have others. TBWA's Lee Clow has famously pursued a vision of a "media arts company" as the evolution of an ad agency and has told us in the past: "Brands today cannot be sustained by what in the past has been called advertising... everything a brand does that connects it to the consumer is media, is brand communication. If orchestrating the art of all those media conversations isn't 'advertising,' then perhaps the creativity of what we'll do in the future needs a new name."

But if the industry is no longer an advertising girl, it's not yet a brand creativity woman. That means there's the small matter of what happens right now, and how a healthy transition is made. Bob Garfield's chaos scenario aside, there seems to be another gap— between the creation, or creative intention, and the execution of all these next generation ideas. While the kinds of work companies in this industry are doing may have outgrown the name advertising, the framework around getting these ideas produced is still very much advertising with a capital A.

As usual, the band of production heads assembled at our annual heads of production roundtable provided a fascinating glimpse at the sometimes blood-slicked place where the rubber of brand creativity meets the road of reality (see p. 33). There was much talk about talent (including questions about the continued relevance of creative team configuration—AKQA director of production Scott Wassmer says that agency has found success with a more well rounded art director/copywriter/information architect/motion graphics team); the pros, cons, hows and whys of an integrated production department; and the evolution of production company partners (a one-stop motion/graphics/Flash/interactive production partner is on Goodby director of interactive production Mike Geiger's wish list) but conversation never strayed too far from themes of time and money constraints. As they did last year, producers expressed concern about ever shrinking timelines and an expanding array of campaign components being shoehorned into a budget that was never meant to fit them. Most spending figures indicate that marketing dollars are moving away from "traditional" media, yes, but spending overall is not down. At some point, the online=cheap, and TV spot budget=TV spot, DVD, web films, other"integrated" elements equations have to change. Surely the next glorious phase of this industry—whatever you're choosing to call it—will not be ushered in by pushing people, schedules—and production companies— to breaking point? As roundtabler Lora Schulson, senior producer at TBWA/Chiat/Day New York said, after describing another blockbuster campaign produced with ridiculous money and production partners for whom enthusiasm and a better reel were the only rewards: "You can only go to someone so many times saying 'I have no money and no time.'"

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