Creative Pursuits

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More than a handful of agency heads in New York wonder how Dubya did it.

President Bush filled an entire cabinet in less than a month. They, on the other hand, spent weeks-even months-trying to fill their executive creative director positions. Surely this must be an easier task than finding someone to run the Justice Department, right? Well, maybe.

A laundry list of New York agencies, including M&C Saatchi, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and True North Communicatons' Bozell Worldwide, either recently concluded lengthy quests for creative directors or are still on the hunt. In the past few weeks, WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson and Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide named top creative executives for their flagship offices. Bartle Bogle is set to announce this week the hiring of Kevin McKeown.

Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide also is seeking an executive creative director in New York, re-instituting a long-vacant position. New York-based multinationals Y&R Advertising (a unit of WPP Group) and Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles also are looking to fill their worldwide creative director posts. Both spots have remained vacant since last year when respective incumbents Ted Bell and John Neiman left to work on projects unrelated to advertising.

What's behind this higher-than-usual degree of churn? Agency insiders cite plenty of reasons, but the biggest seems to be a desire to strengthen top management, where creative shifts often follow changes on the business side. "A lot of this is an effort to create senior management teams that are truly complementary," says one senior recruiter.

Another factor behind the changes is the thinking that new blood will result in better creative work and that agencies should start taking a more proactive role in creating marketing buzz.

"Agencies have been reacting to change, not creating it," says Susan Friedman, president of New York-based Susan Friedman Ltd. "They're asking creative departments to provide them with a sense of the big picture today. As a result, they often believe that some mysterious outsider will come in and make all the difference."

Indeed, this round of musical chairs is occurring as major changes wrack the agency business, most of which center on the double whammy of a shifting media environment and greater difficulty in reaching consumers. That the economy looks ready to tank isn't helping matters.

"A lot of what's happening in advertising now is not about 30-second TV spots," says Marty Cooke, who left M&C Saatchi last December for Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky. "The business is moving toward more integration, and there's no model out there that's serving it."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Cooke describes SS&K as something other than just an ad agency. Formed out of a merger between a political consultancy and a public relations firm, the New York company bills itself as practicing "brand representation."

While few in the agency business would disagree with Mr. Cooke's assertion about the need for honing new strategies and tactics, the problems facing agencies making high-level changes in creative management are more complex than merely finding someone to embrace integrated solutions.

According to executives who have conducted these searches and the recruiters they've consulted, the issues include how an agency defines what it stands for and how it conveys that to potential candidates; determining the role of new media and non-traditional approaches to creative solutions; and deciding how accomplished a candidate must be in these areas to be acceptable to an agency. Also, in an era when creative directors are expected to interact more deeply with everyone from clients to account planners, agencies must measure the increasingly important aspect of chemistry.

The result is that it's taking longer for agencies to find candidates with the right mix of talent, reputation, leadership ability (perhaps the single most important criteria, many say) and strategic capabilities. This isn't a negative reflection on the available talent base, says Ms. Friedman; it's more a reflection of the fact that a new generation of genuine creative leaders, fluent and comfortable in multiple disciplines, has not yet emerged.

Consider the most recent high-profile hires: Both J. Walter Thompson's naming of former BBDO Group Creative Director Mike Campbell and DDB Worldwide's appointment of Bob Kuperman to the post of chairman and "creative leader" of its New York office took some veteran recruiters by surprise.

In hiring Mr. Campbell, JWT turned to a senior creative director from an agency that, while a television powerhouse, is not widely seen as cutting-edge in terms of embracing new business models, new media and non-traditional marketing techniques. Mr. Campbell briefly ran @tmosphere, BBDO's interactive unit.

DDB, meanwhile, went back to the future when it brought on Mr. Kuperman as chairman of the New York office. Mr. Kuperman, 59, will not have the creative director title, but will oversee the creative department. "He was never on the radar screen," says one top recruiter familiar with the agency. "I don't think of him as a creative director, because he's been managing agencies for so long. That said, he has a lot of credibility, and creatives like him." He's also worked for DDB before, starting as an art director in 1963.

"When I talked to Jay [Chiat] and Lee [Clow], we talked about the same things that Bill talked about," Mr. Kuperman says, simultaneously linking his days at Chiat/Day with his old life as a working art director and his new role as a mentor for DDB. "I don't think the job of creating good advertising has changed."

Mr. Kuperman says he's not planning on rolling up his sleeves again to do storyboards: "I'm here to coach the younger guys and to encourage the rest of the agency to support the product. My goal is to help make this place as creative as it can be."

At Bozell, the hiring of Tony Granger represents the more time-honored approach of bringing in a star from another agency. The goal was simple-grow the business. Mr. Granger, a leading creative star in South Africa, says he took the Bozell job over rival offers from other New York shops and some in London because he sees opportunity at Bozell. "The agency has massive gaps in its portfolio," he says. "It has wonderful new business potential."

According to some of the industry's top recruiters, the agencies that can most accurately capture themselves when setting forth criteria for creative jobs will be the most successful in filling such posts.

Dany Lennon, president of The Creative Register in Westport, Conn., says establishing definitive, specific criteria is key. "Agencies often don't know what they want, and if you don't know what you want, how can you look for a creative leader?" she asks.

"The other big problem is that many agencies are looking for Mr. Fix-it," Ms. Lennon notes, "but the best candidates for these jobs don't want to fix things-they want to build things."

Ms. Lennon, who placed Mr. Granger at Bozell, says agency President Tom Bernardin gave her a very specific, growth-oriented brief for the job.

What can slow down this process, she says, is when the various parties to this mating dance are all working from different definitions. "Do they all equally understand what makes for a good [creative director]?" asks Ms. Lennon. "If the agency, the candidate and the recruiter are all saying different things, nothing meshes and nothing gets done."

Moreover, the risks in taking this step for both an agency and a creative are huge. There are expectations to be lived up to, and often new creatives encounter unforeseen cultural and political resistance to what they want to accomplish.

Maybe that's one reason it seems to take so long to find a good fit. "Talented people will throw their careers into play if they feel they've got a reasonable chance of doing good work, but remember, it takes time," says Tom Nelson, formerly an executive creative director with Ammirati Puris Lintas and now a partner in The Gardner Nelson Project in New York. "People tend not to stay in these jobs for a long time. The either get tired or fired."

As for getting tired, there's always the wide world of convergent media that mainstream agencies have to compete with. Brent Bouchez, for example, left Bozell to start Bouchez, Kent & Co., a New York agency that intends to fuse its marketing communications with a design sensibility. Wieden & Kennedy's Stacy Wall departed for a job at production house Hungry Man, New York, where he will pitch concepts to TV programmers.

Mr. Cooke agrees there are more interesting things for experienced agency creative directors to be doing than running yet another agency creative department. "It just feels like these big CD jobs are increasingly irrelevant in terms of what's going on right now," he says. "They feel like they're somehow removed from change."

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