Building a New Dynamic

On their first day of work at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart walked into the San Francisco agency and, much to their displeasure, found two empty offices waiting for them. The senior team, recruited from London’s Bartle Bogle Hegarty, was used to a chummier work environment. “We were almost upset with this. We wanted to be in one office,” says Raillard, serving as spokesman for the team known as Fred and Farid.

Working in a single office is one way, they believe, to keep their partnership and work thriving. In Paris, where they met, they lived in the same building. In London, only a church separated their flats. Now they live on the same block in the Marina district. “Fusion is very important,” says Raillard.

That philosophy applies to their work habits as well. “We both do everything,” says Raillard. “We do copywriting and art direction together”—and they get credited as such on each project. While the French duo have been working that way for nearly a decade, it’s becoming an increasingly common way to collaborate as agencies try to demonstrate that they’re purveyors of big ideas rather than traditional ads.

“No one has any idea which one is the art director and writer. I can’t tell,” says agency co-chairman Jeff Goodby, who hired Raillard and Mokart after their work for Microsoft’s Xbox won a gold and a bronze Lion at Cannes in 2002, the year Goodby served as jury president. He adds with a chuckle: “I tend to see that Farid writes a lot of things down, but I’m not sure what that means.” Raillard bristles at the importance U.S. creatives place on titles, explaining simply that “our job in a creative agency is just to produce.”

Goodby, noting that it’s not uncommon for his teams to avoid distinguishing between copywriter and art director, says many creatives who walk into the agency looking for a job now claim they can do both. “They explicitly come out of art school with no idea of what they are,” he says.

Are the days when the advertising industry produced legendary teams like Ammirati and Puris, Scali and McCabe and, in more recent years, Wieden and Kennedy and Goodby and Silverstein coming to an end? Not only are art directors writing more and writers art-directing, but the traditional copywriter/art director pairing that sticks together for the long haul and builds agencies is itself becoming something of a rarity.

“There aren’t a lot of true teams anymore,” says Anne-Marie Marcus, partner and CEO of New York-based recruitment firm Marcus St. Jean. ” ‘Married’ teams that don’t work without each other are no longer predominant.” In fact, Marcus reports that most of the job orders she gets from agencies are for single creatives, not teams. “Only 20 percent ask for a team, which means they are making the pairings themselves,” she says.

Creatives are becoming generalists, and agency creative departments are the laboratories testing the new mix. The definition of a creative team has expanded to include copywriter/copywriter and art director/art director pairings, and any combination of as many people a creative director sees fit. “It’s about getting the chemistry right,” says Michael Patti, worldwide creative director at Young & Rubicam in New York. “I’ve got threesomes, foursomes, sixsomes. … It sounds like I’m a porn director!”

The blurring of the copywriter and art director duties is a natural progression of the team concept instituted by legendary copywriter Bill Bernbach in the late ’40s and ’50s. The story goes that before Bernbach, copywriters would slip their work under the art department door, and art directors simply executed the ideas. “Now there’s a new evolution,” notes Kirk Souder, president and executive creative director at Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco. “There is a breakdown of the copywriter/art director discipline. ‘Writers’ and ‘art directors’ are simply becoming ‘creatives.’ “

Recession has helped fuel that evolution. For agencies, it’s more expensive to recruit a team than to make separate hires. For teams, it’s often every man for himself during tough times. When the excesses of the go-go ’80s drained out of the agency business during the early ’90s, “the whole team thing went down,” says Marcus.

During the next crisis, advertising’s more recent recession, many partners were forced to take jobs alone or switch disciplines for the sake of getting hired, note recruiters. “It’s best for a copywriter/art director not to define themselves,” adds creative consultant Dany Lennon of The Creative Register in Westport, Conn. “Depending on what’s available as bread and butter, I’ve seen many people swap over and just do anything for the sake of it.”

But Lennon thinks there’s more to it than just economics—she sees a larger societal trend at work. “Just as family life in America has broken down, so have the relationships in advertising agencies,” Lennon says. “There is no pledge of allegiance between art director or copywriters. It’s very much a game of survivor.”

Compared with other advertising markets, the U.S. is unique when it comes to de-emphasizing the team, says Patrizia Magni, the San Francisco-based managing director of U.K. recruiters Kendall Tarrant Worldwide. “Culturally, it’s about the individual,” she says. “Personal success is very strong here.” Geography also comes into play. In smaller European markets, teams can move easily between agencies with little disruption to their personal lives. “[In the U.S.], not everybody is prepared to go with his partner to his next destination,” says Magni.

Some point to ad schools as contributing to the generalist trend. Rob Schwartz, executive creative director of TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif., notes that the majority of entry-level creatives now come out of the schools, which generally require students to learn both craft skills.

Plus, says Goodby, the schools level the playing field as far as technical skills. “To some degree, everyone thinks they are an art director,” he says.

At the same time, agencies have become much more willing to hire singles. Some say they just find that complementary talents are not always necessary. Gerry Graf, executive creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York—and a writer who often collaborates with freelance copywriter Harold Einstein—says that’s particularly true when crafting television work, particularly in comedy. “When you are doing TV, the director and the DP also work as your art director,” he notes.

Raillard makes the same argument about art directors, adding that now, “creative people are just screenplay writers of ultra-short-length films.”

While in theory a proven copywriter/art director team is a valuable asset to a creative department, hiring an established pair can be costly—and some managers prefer to keep the creative “power” on an account democratically dispersed. “People are very fearful of teams,” observes Lennon. “It’s not something that’s being inspired and grown by management.”

That’s also because management, grappling with the roles that agencies will play for their clients in a rapidly changing industry, is rewriting the rules of who does what. “It’s a natural evolution from print-focused work to TV to Internet to out-of-the-box ideas,” observes Harry Cocciolo, creative director and partner of See, San Francisco.

Seven years ago, when Raillard was a strategic planner and Mokart an account manager at Euro RSCG BETC in Paris, agencies were far more set in their ways. After the pair sold a client a campaign idea that came from them, not the creatives assigned to the account, their unorthodox move caused a ruckus at the agency, Raillard says. They had to undo the situation by giving the creatives their brief to execute against. “We were so upset, we decided to resign and become creatives,” he says.

Today, a planner and an account manager might have an easier time making a creative contribution as more agencies try to improve communication among departments. “As long as they come through with the ideas, I have absolutely no care or regard if that comes from an art director, planner or media person, for that matter,” says Souder. “Creative people, being who they are, hate boxes.”

Adds Mike Hughes, president and creative director of The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va.: “The creatives that are going to succeed the best are the ones that don’t build walls, and open windows and doors between other people, so they can think of not just a good 30-second TV spot or just a neat print campaign, but something that is a big enough platform to work in all kinds of places.”

That job may be too big for one team. “For the kinds of campaigns we’re expected to build today, it’s impossible for any two people to have all the talents and skills they need to have,” Hughes says. “Now [clients] need to have an advertising platform that will carry over into interactive, that will inspire sponsorships, that will create a Broadway show or an online film. We’re now expecting agencies to do what they’ve been promising clients for 30 years.”

While no one argues that specific skill sets aren’t valued or needed, the hope is that loosening the reigns on art directors and copywriters will lead to stronger creative product. “I would hope the difference is that the work gets better because you are giving people a little more freedom to go places that make them feel they do their best work,” says Souder.

But some agency creatives say there can be too much freedom. The down side of not being tied to one craft, the skeptics argue, is an overall diminishing of specialized skills. “You have writers who really don’t write sentences and art directors who don’t freak out over type,” Schwartz says. “You don’t have people who have a love or reverence for their respective disciplines. The craftsmanship is fewer and farther between.”

Goodby, a writer who got his start as a journalist, argues that while he’s also “pretty good” with art direction, “it’s good for people to have a strength. It makes them focus on it and try to be better at it. It’s hard to be better at everything all at once.” But that’s what the new creative mantra seems to be, he says—to know a little bit of everything. And as an employer, he’s finding it harder to pinpoint the real talents versus the creatives with an array of serviceable skills.

Jelly Helm, director of Wieden + Kennedy’s new ad school, 12, notes that he’s highly suspicious of creatives who say they can do both copywriting and art direction. “I roll my eyes at, ‘I’m not an art director or writer, I’m a thinker.’ I don’t think you need to draw attention to it,” he says. “It’s just like on the basketball court—a good guard gets a rebound occasionally, but it’s not like suddenly he’s a center.”

Those who consider themselves creative juggernauts may then decide they’re better off alone than in a pair. But Rick Boyko of the VCU Adcenter argues that collaboration is still the best way to solve creative problems. (But he advocates expanding the traditional team to include a media planner, and the school is starting a student track for creative media planning.) “I’ve always found that a team was better than doing it all on my own,” says Boyko, the longtime chief creative at Ogilvy & Mather North America. “Not everyone is going to find that perfect person, but when you do, it’s terrific.”

Fred and Farid certainly seem to have found their better halves. While their unorthodox pairing works well for them, Raillard concludes, there is no right or wrong model when it comes to forming or labeling a team. “Sometimes it’s better to have two art directors working together; sometimes copywriters work much better alone; sometimes a creative and a planner make a very good team,” he says. “Agencies should let creatives choose what’s best for them. Isn’t creation about breaking the rules?”