As Agency Landscape Evolves, Creativity Remains ‘Priceless’

NEW YORK Despite increased pressure from global holding companies and the changing media landscape, creativity can thrive as long as progressive corporate cultures are fostered and maintained, according to executives who spoke today at the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Creative Conference, part of Advertising Week.

“Selling part of an agency does not have to mean selling out,” said Miles Nadal, founder of MDC Partners in Toronto.

“Tolerance for risk diminishes in direct proportion to the size of an agency,” he said. “Clients want innovation, not global coverage.”

MDC has partial stakes in agencies including Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami, Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners in New York and Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York. Staying small and allowing agencies to retain their independence is a good business move that will pay off financially in the end, according to Nadal. MDC typically has stakes between 51-80 percent in agencies (though it has a 49 percent stake in CP+B) in order to maintain agencies’ independent spirit.

Art director Steve Sage, who worked on the Emmy-winning Citibank “Identity Theft” campaign by Fallon in Minneapolis, noted that a quick turnaround time allowed the idea to make it through the approval process and avoid testing.

“The best move was hiring director Kevin Thomas,” he added. “His visual style is amazing.”

McCann Erickson’s Leslie Sims (vp, cd) and Robert Frost (svp, senior cd), tasked with keeping the 8-year-old MasterCard campaign fresh, said their trusting relationship with the client allows them to come up with new creative twists on the premise despite the age of the campaign. For example, one spot shows a father buying his son a guitar, who “tries it out” in the store by smashing it to bits. “Rock and roll: priceless,” the voiceover states.

Kitty Schulz, acd and copywriter at DDB in Chicago, discussed the evolution of the Cannes gold-Lion-winning “Real Men of Genius” radio and TV spots. The original spot as first pitched to the client used Bette Middler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” as background music, but when the team used original songs by Survivor’s Dave Bickler instead, Schulz said, the campaign fell into place.

Sage, Sims, Frost and Schulz spoke as part of a panel of young creatives, moderated by Nina DiSesa, chairman and CEO of McCann Erickson in New York.

Finally, Rick Boyko, former Ogilvy & Mather co-president and CCO, discussed ways Virginia Commonwealth University’s Adcenter, where he is managing director, teaches students to deal with the complex media landscape.

“Creatives must now “not only create ads, but create ideas that stretch past conventional media. You have to be aware of every point of contact,” he said.

—with Eleftheria Parpis