Chief creative officer.
Chief of staff.
Chief operating officer.
Chief financial officer.
Chief performance officer.
Chief creative officer.
Chief information officer.
Chief talent officer.
Chief marketing officer.
Chief technology officer.
Chief communications officer.
Chief strategy officer.
These are the titles that now abound in the advertising business, conferring last rites on vice president, senior vice president, executive vice president and the all-time favorite sinecure, vice chairman creative.
Annette Stover of Euro RSCG New York, because of her tirelessness and efficacy, was recently promoted to chief operating officer from chief of staff.
I congratulated her on that recognition but questioned whether the title chief operating officer was a higher rung on the perception ladder than chief of staff, the latter being a White House ubergruppetitleschmaltz forever.
I also asked her, since she was likely to know the answer to this, and just about any other query put to her, "What happened to those old vice president titles that people used to lust after?" (Someone once told me, "Make vp by 30 or find another career." Up or out. Publish and perish if you hacked out a lot of print ads.)
There were companies, too, that had second vice presidents, and I knew one in which vice presidents were referred to as Vice President Hinckley or Vice President Jones—like Vice President Cheney or Vice President Gore.
Annette said, "Around 1990, someone in the administration in New York City put a microscope to the tax code, discovered an overlooked law and pounced on it: a tax on vice presidencies. And that really ended it." Put a tax on sand in the Sahara and after a while, you'd be hard-pressed to fill bags when the Nile overflowed.
Advertising has seen its villages (Grey) come and go and syndicates (Ogilvy) rise and fall without account people being called, respectively, burgermeisters or capos, which would have added some dash and have been no less idiotic. Even partner, a title our company used to trumpet, has withered away to the point where today, there is only one person with that title at Euro RSCG—a partnerless partner, the loneliness at the bottom, so to speak.
Are titles relevant or irrelevant to an organization's success? Do they stifle or encourage great creative work?
When Doyle Dane Bernbach was manning and womaning the barricades of the so-called Creative Revolution of the 1960s, the agency might have had its headquarters in Byzantia instead of 20 W. 43rd St., given its organization.
The strata of art directors at DDB during that time looked like this:
Assistant art director.
Junior art director.
Full art director with assistant duties.
Assistant art supervisor.
Senior vice president.
Executive vice president.
Executive vice president, creative director.
While this title mania reigned, Doyle Dane Bernbach was sweeping the New York Art Directors' Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts awards like no agency before or since.
Maybe the City of New York deserves to capture DDB's vice president's tax payments retroactively.
Tom Messner is a partner at Euro RSCG in New York and a monthly 'Adweek' columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.