NYC, London jump oceans to find new creative leaders

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Interviewing Dave Droga, I told him that if there was one person his career reminded me of it was Tony Granger, who was then executive creative director of Bozell, New York. He replied softly, "I don't really know him."

Droga, the new ECD of Publicis Groupe's Publicis Worldwide, is in the process of leaving as ECD of Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi, London, to move to New York. What he knew then, when he told me to expect an influx of overseas creative talent to London, was that Granger topped the shortlist to succeed him, and Granger has now done so.

In the new agency world order, Granger is as obvious a candidate for Saatchi London as Droga is for the Publicis Worldwide job-more so, in fact, than many others closer to home. It's always dangerous to draw conclusions about "a trend" from two situations (three if you count Mark Tutssel moving to Publicis' Leo Burnett USA in Chicago from London). But it's clear these moves, once considered radical, will become more commonplace. There have been several similar conversations between major American agencies, particularly in New York, and senior British creative directors and some of their Australian and South African counterparts.

This new landscape emerges in part because of London's changing creative environment and in part because of New York's belated realization that it is not an advertising island. As Scott Donaton noted in his Jan. 27 column on this page, London has long punched heavier than its weight. It is because of a) an obsession with the highest quality creative work and b) its willingness to embrace innovation outside the creative department, i.e., planning, or the separation of media buying and planning from the rest of the agency.

Primarily because it is a smaller ad market, it will always be easier for London to embrace innovation than New York. The same can be said about San Francisco and Miami in relation to New York, and the Netherlands, South Africa and Australia in relation to London. But London is changing. Its obsession with British Design & Art Direction "Pencils" (uniquely, London does not obsess about Cannes Lions first) and other awards, the type of work that wins such awards and the kind of creative that this requires are all diminishing. The London ECD job is becoming a lot less "Hollywood" and a lot more Madison Avenue.

Several top London agencies have vacant ECD positions. There is a paucity of new talent to fill those slots. Some of those who could will already be talking to New York agencies.

The job in New York has changed, too. Because of globalized accounts, the worldwide ECD role and the role of ECD for a New York agency have become more synonymous. They clearly are in Droga's case. He must forge a meaningful agency in New York in order for the global Publicis Worldwide agency network to have real creative credibility. Few would dispute he has the talent.

The same goes for Granger in London. Neither task will be easy in those insular, forbidding communities. More problematic still is the issue of how many other creative directors there are who are willing and able to make the same leap.

Stefano Hatfield is contributing editor of Advertising Age and Creativity.

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