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July 7, 2008
Inside Job

Where does creative leadership come from?
Where can it come from?
Where’s the next Lou Dorfsman ?

We live in disruptive times. New technologies pop up and usurp old assumptions. Consumers oftentimes have more persuasive effect for or against a brand than the brands themselves. Even the very definition of advertising is up for grabs.

In the midst of all this chaos lurks an opportunity.

You see, it’s not enough for Microsoft to hire CP+B or Mitsubishi to hire Traffic. Brands need more than what even the best agencies can provide from the outside.

Brands need to hear and see and nurture and express their voice from within. Now more than ever.

Google “Lou Dorfsman.” For 41 years, he helped define CBS. From print ads to set design, on-air identity systems to carpeting patterns in the lobbies, headlines to the Gastrotypographicalassemblage, Dorfsman labored to better define CBS in the minds of its audience, stockholders, employees and culture.

Creative leadership inside a company matters. As the Design Council UK puts it for their July 2005 Design Index, “The share prices of companies which invest in design performed up to three times better than the FTSE 100 Index over nearly two years in the run-up to December 2004.”

Of course, Dorfsman didn’t work alone. He had help on all sides, especially from the top. Larry Miller, who worked under Dorfsman, writes, “Lou gives most of the credit…to Frank Stanton, whom he calls ‘the real de Medici.’ The CBS president had taste and ideas. Are any top corporate execs in the branding business today obsessed with such telling detail? They should be.”

(Now more than ever.)

Defining and delivering the company’s voice from inside the company is as important a job as decisions to alter sales and distribution strategy, or to move manufacturing from China to Vietnam or to engage in bond arbitrage.

And clearly, a few brands agree. Look to Steve Jobs, Jonathon Ive and Hiroki Asai at Apple. Or Michael Francis inside Target. Like Dorfsman, they’re leveraging design, copywriting, consumer insights, interactivity and advertising thinking to propel their companies above the competition.

There need to be more companies like these. And there could be. According to the In-House Agency Forum, there are at least 76 creative departments inside companies big and small, including Reebok, Bank of America, Yahoo!, Timberland and Comcast. Yet these brands continue to stagnate, perhaps because they lack creative leadership, or haven’t empowered it.

The opportunity exists.

The voice of the company, coming from inside the company, matters most of all.

Will you be that voice?

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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