Assessing the Value of Worldwide Creatives

NEW YORK When McCann Erickson said last week that it would not appoint a new worldwide cd in the wake of Jonathan Cranin’s exit and instead establish a “global creative collective” of executives from across its multidisciplinary McCann Worldgroup, it became yet another reason to ask the question: Is the job of global creative chief still necessary? Was it ever?

Cranin held the post for four years and Marcio Moreira for 10 years before that. But McCann believes complexities in the marketing landscape now call for a different approach.

“The business is so different today than it was even five years ago,” said McCann New York CCO Joyce King Thomas. “Some of the most interesting ideas are coming from engagement planning, communications planning, digital—so we want to bring all these points of view together to foster ideas and further our process.” The 14-member collective includes execs from McCann, MRM, Momentum, FutureBrand, Universal McCann, McCann Healthcare and Weber Shandwick. “I’m not sure what the [worldwide CCO] job is about anymore,” she added.

McCann’s creative collective is a new twist on an old idea. Most networks, even smaller ones, have some sort of creative board that reviews work.

The 46-office Lowe, for example, gauges its ideas via a 10-person global creative council. “Philosophically, I think there’s too much management in networks and not enough focus on product,” said Lowe worldwide CEO Stephen Gatfield, explaining why the IPG agency has no need for a worldwide top creative to lead other creatives. The shop’s size and handful of global clients also explain its approach.

Among 13 global networks, only four—BBDO, Young & Rubicam, Publicis and now McCann—lack global creative chiefs. And Y&R had one as recently as December, when Michael Patti left.

“We don’t have one and we’ve never had one, because the basic premise that BBDO was set up on was a very strong local creative product,” said BBDO CEO Andrew Robertson.

The others—DDB, JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi, Grey, Leo Burnett, DraftFCB, Euro RSCG and TBWA—all have executives in that role, and CEOs said their creative counterparts are essential to maintaining high creative standards around the globe.

“I’m a believer in clear accountability and clear direction,” said DDB worldwide CEO Chuck Brymer. “Committees tend to become bureaucratic. Creativity by consensus is a dangerous thing. I don’t believe there’s a role for someone just flying around and putting the halo over their head. You need someone who gets it.”

Not withstanding the talent management demands of the job, CEOs expect their global creative leaders to stay engaged in client business. “I really believe that in any of these jobs—including mine—you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get involved,” said JWT worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey, whose worldwide CCO is Craig Davis. “I see him as a partner from a creative point of view when we’re talking about clients and their business.”

Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide cd Bob Isherwood sits down twice a year with executives from top client Procter & Gamble to discuss the Publicis Groupe agency’s work and at least once a year with Toyota executives in Japan. He also takes on global pitches, such as the $50 million Toyota Prius review that Saatchi won in 2003. “In our business it’s about the work and the business. And the two should be connected at the top,” Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts said. “We see this as being core to everything we do.”

Added Isherwood: “The DNA starts with this marriage of creative director and CEO that was started with Maurice and Charles. … It’s the model we have everywhere in the world, including New York.”

For TBWA worldwide CCO Lee Clow (who admittedly dislikes traveling), the job is about leading by example. “The job that I don’t think is real is one of flying in like a visiting dignitary or head of state, and the whole agency grinds to a halt while I sprinkle everyone with holy water. That just gets everyone behind on their real jobs,” said Clow, who’s also worldwide chairman. “What they do [in other networks] is probably a variation on the Peter Principle, where the worldwide guy spends little time practicing the art of what we do. They’re two steps removed.”

Concerns about adding a layer of bureaucracy in part led Y&R CEO Hamish McLennan to conclude that filling the worldwide cd post is not necessary, at least not now. “We’re happy with [North American CCO] Gary [Goldsmith] and Adrian Holmes [EMEA ecd] in Europe. We’ve actually got a regional structure. We are taking the regional view,” said McLennan. “I don’t think in this day and age it’s an imperative” to have a global creative chief, “but it’s always an option.”

Tom Bernardin, CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, which has a history of global creative leaders, sees the role as vital. Chief among Burnett worldwide CCO Mark Tutssel’s tasks is to lead a global product committee that meets quarterly to assess work. He also pulls together creative teams to tackle client briefs. “Mark is a real partner of mine. I’m able to rely on Mark to help solve clients’ problems,” said Bernardin. “He makes the work better.”

Said Tutssel: “I’m a compass that will guide the company forward in terms of where we need to go and identify a destination for the company.”

Most observers agree that, whether the job is essential or not, ultimate success rests with handing it to the right individual. “As with most things it’s about the person, not the title. I’ve worked with brilliant global creative directors and also with global creative directors who were just overhead and added no value whatsoever,” said Euro RSCG CEO David Jones, whose global cd is Remi Babinet. “The bigger agencies tend to have global creative directors because it’s driven by what their clients want. At the end of the day, though, the title is irrelevant. The only thing that counts is what the person delivers and the quality of the work.”

Or as Gatfield puts it, “Worldwide creative directors are born rather than appointed.”

—with Gregory Solman, Aaron Baar, Kathleen Sampey and Eleftheria Parpis