Who really calls the shots at a successful advertising agency, the top suits or the creative supremo? It’s a tired old saw which received new stimulus earlier this year at an IPA Client Services debate featuring Robert Senior, ceo SSF Group, and Ed Morris, recently departed executive creative director at Lowe.
The result was a foregone conclusion. Senior flattered to deceive by exalting creative excellence as “the fuel without which the bus goes nowhere.” Leaving Morris to argue the lame pedestrian virtues of the account man as “grand orchestrator between creativity and commerce.” The vote? Er, 44 to 6 in Senior’s favour.
But wait just a moment. Doesn’t history tell us something entirely different, and isn’t Mr Senior the living embodiment of this alternative truth?
I call to witness none other than Garry Lace, one of London’s most consummate suits. Lace it was who first highlighted an increasingly bizarre phenomenon in creative agencies: the wilful decision to dispense with chief executives and entrust agency management to the precarious hands of creatives, planners and the like.
For Lace, of course, this unfortunate trend has the poignancy of a parable – with himself cast in the role of Jesus Christ. Look what happened to Lowe after I left, he might say: a creative (Morris) and a planner (Rebecca Morgan) have presided over its ruin. And now just a planner…
Strictly speaking, that’s being a bit economical with the truth. Lace’s flamboyance was his own undoing; and besides, there was Amanda Walsh in between.
But in a wider sense, he has a point. Euro RSCG, which has recently dispensed with the services of its chief executive, Mark Cadman, seems embarked on the same path of self-destruction – led by a planner (Russ Lidstone) and a creative (Mark Hunter).
Self-serving though these words of Lace may partly be, I feel I ought to quote them in full. “I’ve always worked on the assumption that companies need a leader” he says. “That person for whom people will work harder and care more because they are able to construct a vision for the business based on experience and instinct and articulate it in a powerful and motivating way. That person who proves to be a magnet for talent and clients alike and for whom nothing is impossible.”
Lace may yet get an opportunity to prove his point. He has been languishing recently as managing director and part share-holder of Admedia the “out-of-home” (read toilet advertising) specialist. But rumour is the strangest thing. It has thrown him into a start-up venture with Robert Campbell, former creative powerhouse of RKCR and current co-founder with ex-Times man Toby Constantine of tgi50, a website portal aimed at the ‘just over’ 50s.
Even stranger is another rumour: the one that links Mark Cadman with … Ed Morris, in a similar venture. If either of these ventures gets going, maybe we’ll be a little closer to the truth. Who really does rule at an ad agency, the suit, or the creative?