Eight basic steps to reform today's creative department

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Ad people are in a rut-primarily because they're unable to think of themselves as anything other than ad people. For all the excitement surrounding new communications technologies, fresh programming and innovative measurement tools, when agency people gather their tendency is to wax nostalgically about the `60s Creative Revolution, wonder why clients no longer respect them and talk about ways to make 30-second network TV commercials more entertaining.

Rarely do they stop to consider that it's because they've set their creative boundaries so narrowly that ad people have dug the pothole in which they're stuck. No wonder agencies have become, in the words of General Motors marketing chief C.J. Fraleigh, "soft and flabby."

I'd like to make eight modest proposals for reform of agency creative departments-simple ideas, nothing revolutionary, that agencies can implement now.

* Stop hiring creatives from advertising schools. It's difficult to think outside the box if you're hiring from the same boxes year in and year out. Moreover, the schools' expertise is tutoring students in what has worked before.

* Import "guest stars" from other media. Hollywood in the `30s and `40s lured novelists and playwrights to try their hand at screenwriting. While some of their efforts have made for great satire (witness the Coen brothers' "Barton Fink") it's also true that some imports helped prime the golden age of American film. The indie film world, the theater and computer gaming are only a few of the "scenes" ready for agency picking. (Some innovators, such as Grey's Steve Novick, are already doing so.)

* Hire way diverse. The African-American percentage of U.S. agencies' creative ranks remains fractional. Hispanic representation is likely worse. Yet these are among the ethnic groups that have driven (and will continue to drive) the leading edge of pop culture. The ad industry must abandon the idea that diversity is just a moral crusade; diverse creative departments are a crucial survival mechanism.

* Give agencies a slice of the action. DDB Worldwide, New York, creative chief Lee Garfinkle dropped a provocative idea at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New Business Summit in June: Develop client-fee schedules that enable agencies to retain ownership of ideas and "rent" concepts out to clients; and allow agencies to share both risk and reward.

* Give creatives a piece of the action. Base bonuses for creatives on account profitability -one sure way to turn creatives into businesspeople, and to give the account executives an understanding of the value of creative.

* Start a creative R&D group. Forget about the wacky shops-within-a-shop, brought together to prove that a big agency can be just as free-spirited as a boutique. Rather, launch a bona fide creative think tank that can guide the rest of the agency to new ideas, trends, communications vehicles. And then get the agency leadership to help sell these ideas to clients-even if it means doing some risk-investing to prove their merit.

* Require all senior creatives to subscribe to Platinum Plus digital cable or satellite services. Really, it's a crime how out of touch creative directors are with cultural currents. (While you're at it, buy TiVos and iPods for all the junior creatives.)

* Start a creative blog. This is the cheapest way to share knowledge across office and global boundaries, and the fastest way for an agency to make sure the best ideas pollinate the world.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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