Almost 10 years later, Coca-Cola threw its own metaphorical hammer by going to CAA for creative ideas. And the effect has been to open people's minds to entirely new ways of doing business. In place of agencies as we know them, consider the following possibilities:
* A Blind Faith-style supergroup of creative shops. Imagine, for example, Chiat/Day, Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein, Fallon McElligott and Wieden & Kennedy joining together to go after a big client.
* Superteams of top directors joining forces with top copywriters and art directors. (How about Joe Pytka teamed with W&K's Jim Riswold?)
* Ad hoc groups of creative talent, similar to those put together by CAA for Coke.
* The institutionalized use by downsized agencies of ever greater numbers of freelancers.
* The rise of the "creative producer," who will act like a Mike Ovitz and assemble creative teams that can come in kamikaze-style, solve problems and then move on.
Whether any of the above scenarios actually happen, all are being discussed. And it's become increasingly apparent that as the year 2000 approaches, the creative landscape is unlikely to look anything like it did in the year 1990. The rules have changed. No one knows what the new ones are. But everyone big agencies self-importantly airing their visions of the future; smaller creative shops pondering their structure; the dwindling number of independent shops-- is asking, who needs an agency? What are they there for, anyway?
With huge companies like IBM and General Motors "unbundling" (witness Lexmark and Saturn) and giants like Time Warner and Microsoft forming alliances with one-time corporate rivals, it makes sense that agencies will soon follow suit. That process has already begun. The traditional ad agency may well be obsolete, destined to be replaced with skeletal organizations with all services provided on an a la carte basis.
"Ideas are not the exclusive preserve of ad agencies any more," says the creative director of one big agency. "And if we don't watch out, big agencies like ourselves will become media shops."
"There's an opportunity in the future for people to sell what's really important--brand-building ideas," says another creative director. "As long as they have the idea, clients won't care who places the damn thing."
The one trend of the future that is already evident is the increased use of freelancers. For a price, ranging from $500 to $2,000 a day, you can have the talents of any number of creatives who have left their agencies: Scott Burns (formerly of the Bomb Factory); Ian Potter, Pruett Holland or Steve Miller (Chiat/Day); Tom Thomas (Angotti Thomas Hedge); Tom Witt & Mike Rylander (Hal Riney); David Fox (Wieden & Kennedy); Hank Periman (Frankfurt Gips Balkind); Mike Rosen (Stein Robaire Helm); Michael Wilde (Goldberg, Moser & O'Neill) and many, many more.
"Clients want a handful of dedicated, intelligent, devoted people on their accounts, and they don't care where the people come from," says the creative director of one big agency who declined to be identified. "The other side of the coin is that big agencies sometimes are not able to get work internally, so they have a stable of (outside) creative people to lean on."
According to Hank Periman, "Now we get to manage our own time. We're getting more control. I can see the project through to fruition. Freelance allows us to work at bigger agencies. Everybody's attitude towards freelance is changing. It's no longer a stigma."
Not only is freelancing no longer a stigma, but more and more freelancers are labeling themselves "consultants" and signing up with agencies for longer-term projects of three or four months. "It's an economic thing," says one freelancer. "Agencies want a $400,000 or $500,000 guy, but they don't want to put him on salary. It's the wave of the future. People will be doing much more from home."
One reason for the rise of the freelancer has been the shift away from the unfettered acquisitiveness of the '80s. Instead of earning more money, more emphasis has been placed on having a choice of assignments. When creatives get calls for potential jobs nowadays, "they're more interested in quality of life," says headhunter Dany Lennon of the Creative Register. "They say, 'Well, I can still live in Westport, but I can have more control and see my family more.'"
Others contend the heavy use of freelancers is nothing more than a passing phase. "I wouldn't have big hopes for freelance in the future," says Lee Garfinkel, executive creative director of Lowe & Partners. "The best stuff will still come from the people who work on the account on a day-to-day basis. In their hearts, everyone wants a job. Most people want somewhere where they feel they belong."
According to headhunter Judy Wald, "No one knows if freelance work is here to stay or not. We won't know for six months. There are too many pitfalls, such as problems of conflict."
Ultimately, says Lennon, what's going to keep an agency vital in the year 2000 is the people themselves. "People want to work for people whom they respect," she says. "We can always place good creatives with certain key people whom they admire. And it will always work that way."
Some worry about the effect of all these changes on newcomers to the business. "In the long term, people won't get trained," says one freelancer. 'Which makes the people who do it even more valuable."
Mike Hughes of The Martin Agency laments the lack of role models. "In the '70s, you had Scali and Ally & Gargano," he says. "In the '80s, we had Chiat and Fallon and Riney. But in the '90s? No one's finding a role model around whom to build a school of advertising."
And what of the impact of such changes on the business? At the 1993 One Show, which has inherited much of the prestige of the Clios, entries totalled 13,000, up from 7,000 five years ago. While the most awards went as usual to small and midsize shops outside New York (with BBDO, O&M and DDB/Needham recording the biggest wins among the larger shops), several freelance efforts were cited as well. In fact, the Best of Show was awarded to a pro bono effort for the Coalition for the Homeless, done by freelancers Peter Cohen and Leslie Sweet. "It deserved to win," says Bill Westbrook, who served as a One Show judge. "Pro bono is a category where it's considered easy to win awards. So the judging tends to be tougher. And this entry stood out."
Hughes noticed the growth of far more idiosyncratic styles of advertising among the One Show entries. "There's far more different kinds of work in the shows in 1993 than in previous years," he says, again a reflection of the disparate kinds of agencies and individuals entering work.
Everyone agrees that despite a recession, despite all the fear and uncertainty in the industry, despite a potential revolution that might change the industry dramatically, the best of the current work at the awards shows is better than ever.
To hear One Show executive director Mary Warlick talk, there is no crisis in advertising. "Awards are there to build people up and make them feel good," she says. "Advertising is really about the creative product. And the mood at The One Show was bouyant. Not the doom and gloom we all read about. People were charged up."
Westbrook, soon to be installed as creative director at Fallon McElligott, agrees. "The standard of the best work was better than ever," he says. "Look at how well the Americans fared at the British D&AD. And the talent was more spread out."
The general consensus is that American advertising has arrived at a marriage of the American penchant for selling based on a strong strategy combined with an original idea.
"We're moving away from technology towards strategy," Westbrook continues, citing Fallon's Lee jeans campaign as an example. "It's as if a lot of the people who used to use technology for technology's sake have grown up and become advertising people. There's more good schools around the country, too. Overall, American advertising is getting better and better. The Brits have less influence than they used to. They place a lot of emphasis on cleverness. We don't have the confidence to do that, we think it will go over people's heads."
So if the American creative product is better than ever, why such concern over what CAA is doing?
"You have to ask is an organization like CAA doing the work any better than traditional ad agencies?" says Westbrook. "I don't feel threatened by what CAA has done. I'm one of the people who think the spots are rubbish. They don't know how to do high-concept work. I would argue that Pepsi has better high concept."
For all the revolutionary talk about the future of agencies, certain creatives believe the basics of the business are unlikely to change. According to Lowe's Garfinkel, the job still comes down to doing the work and selling it to clients. "Selling the work is the key to everything," he says. "While it's always been tough to come up with a great campaign, what's become even tougher is selling the work. We have to bring the magic back into advertising. We have to make this business exciting again. With the entertainment and communications network expanding--there's soon going to be 500 TV channels--everyone and his mother wants to get into the act. All I'm trying to do is build the right kind of atmosphere by hiring people who've delivered in the past."
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)