Creative Challenge

To succeed as a chief creative officer these days you have to be a double threat: possess great traditional media chops and be deeply versed in digital. But guess what? That ambidextrous talent pool is tiny, if it even exists at all at that senior level.

That’s the explanation that agency leaders give for why they’re stillhunting for CCOs up to 10 months after they began. Five shops are concurrently conducting such searches—JWT, McCann Erickson, Deutsch/LA, Euro RSCG and Bartle Bogle Hegarty—with each hoping to make a hire before the end of the year.

“It has become an increasingly complex job to recruit for because you need somebody who can do brilliant TV, print, et cetera, et cetera, but completely gets the digital world and space as well,” said David Jones, global CEO of Havas’ Euro RSCG, whose pursuit of a New York-based creative chief began in the spring.

The scarcity of modern CCOs explains why WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather, for example, in June named multiple CCOs—Steve Simpson for North America and Lars Bastholm for New York—instead of one. Some of the shops still seeking creative chiefs may follow suit.

“When you fill these roles, you’re definitely thinking about people that can lean into the future. But it can’t only be that,” said JWT worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey, whose search for a North American CCO began in January. “We need people who can think holistically because we’re about big brands and big brand ideas. So, it’s not just about channel expertise. It’s about overarching ideas, expertise and credentials.”

BBH worldwide creative director John Hegarty, who started looking for a New York office CCO last month, added that clients crave greater contact, experience across media technologies and a leader who is “youthful enough to reflect the new digital world. It’s just expanding completely the needs that this person has to fill. It’s almost getting to the point that it is impossible” to find.

What’s more, recent, high-profile CCO-agency divorces illustrate the danger of making the wrong choice-both for the agency and individual. Eric Silver lasted just a year as CCO of the New York office of Omnicom Group’s DDB and Gerry Graf, about two years as CCO of Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. Silver subsequently landed at Amalgamated and Graf opened his own shop: Barton F. Graf 9000. “There is simply more anxiety about the risks of a big, high-visibility appointment,” said Brian Brooks, a recruiter who works with Interpublic Group.

Shops lacking CCOs turn to senior group heads to pick up the slack. In addition to their regular client responsibilities, these lieutenants manage day-to-day work flow and help pitch new business. But not having a CCO-particularly in a major pitch-can be a competitive disadvantage, especially if your competition has one and you don’t.

While agencies need digitally-savvy creative chiefs, creative directors known for their digital work aren’t necessarily interested in or cut out for the demands of general market shops, according to two digital cds who were approached about the openings but ultimately passed. As one put it, “Digital people with experience are deeply unexcited [about] those jobs because it’s not really what they want to do all day.”

The other digital creative director, noting that traditional shops are in a transition period, added, “None of us agree on what the right thing to do is. So, what are the chances of being the right person?”     
–with Eleftheria Parpis