ART & COMMMERCE: Who’s on Second?

Tomorrow’s creative sluggers have yet to be drafted
A few more pages into this issue, you’ll find the second installment of Adweek 2000, a series of stories and images offering a glimpse of the future of the ad business.
The first part of the series, published in October, focused on technology, exploring how new media is changing the face of the communications business. We photographed the young stars of the high-tech world, the leaders of tomorrow. With so much young talent out there, whittling down the number of subjects was a long and painful process.
This time around, we set our sights on the future of creativity. But identifying the next generation of leaders there turned out to be quite a different story.
It’s not that there aren’t any fresh young stars. But the pool is certainly limited compared to the rich, deep ranks of new media.
We constantly hear recruiters and creative directors lamenting the shortage of talent. They gripe that the dot.coms lure away their best and brightest. (They are not alone. I’ve lost a few myself to the siren song of stock options).
Some say they’ve given up on finding talent in the U.S., and are having to turn elsewhere. Some have just had to be more creative about where they look.
“It’s definitely a problem, and there are many reasons for it, but not a lot of options to resolve it,” says one creative recruiter.
To be fair, account managers’ gripes are much the same. They complain that the best minds coming out of business school are running directly to the nearest McKinsey, whose prestige and pocketbook rewards outshine whatever benefits agencies have to offer these days.
I guess I initially thought the complainers were exaggerating a bit. But I’m now solidly convinced there is a serious problem, especially on the creative side, and one that may only be getting worse.
One creative in high demand said the mega-consolidations in the business are to blame-that they turn off young creative, entrepreneurial types. In compiling this report, though, we witnessed something even more disturbing: In many cases, today’s creative leaders aren’t yet wondering who will follow them. The lack of clear, solid succession plans at some of the best creative shops is a problem that, while certainly not new, seems more pervasive than ever.
Setting out on our photo shoots, we hoped to capture the leaders of today alongside their heirs apparent. But asking a creative director to identify a successor was usually met with silence, then some stuttering and stammering, and finally a firm lecture that this particular
55-year-old isn’t going away anytime soon, and therefore shouldn’t have to think about such things-at least not yet.
The follow-up question was obvious: “OK, sport, we’re not calling you old, but what if you get hit by a bus?” That didn’t go over well, either. I guess you can’t blame people for not wanting to contemplate their own demise.
Of course, it’s also a highly political topic. Many prefer to keep succession a secret so as not to piss off those who don’t have a legitimate shot at the top. And even if they do have the talent waiting in the wings, many creative directors simply don’t want to waste the time-or test their limited business skills-setting up managerial legacies.
“I think it’s fair to say creative leaders are not the best at succession planning,” says Keith Reinhard, while promising that’s not the case at his DDB.
Perhaps they’re all waiting to be acquired or to buy other agencies-events that would make setting up a plan a moot issue.
But isn’t it better to create one of your own?