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December 31, 2010
Advertising Agencies: Kiss Your Creative Teams Goodbye

New demands on ad agencies mean old ways are dying and new job opportunities are being created.

Few things in advertising are as sacred as the creative team. Traditionally, this team consisted of a copywriter and an art director. When called upon, they would take the planner's insight and apply precisely the right combination of words and images to produce communication that was disruptive in its media environment, memorable in its delivery, and crystal clear in its meaning. This was done in hopes it would yield bountiful sales for the client (or a creative award for the agency).

I have spent most of my career on the copywriting half of that equation. I loved the work, but I also loved the privileged position my art director and I occupied in the agency. Once sequestered with our creative assignment, our methods were not questioned. Our work process was shrouded in the secrecy of a papal enclave with nervous account executives wringing their hands outside our chambers in anticipation of the time when we would emerge with concepts in hand (or not). Ah, nostalgia. I'm glad I was a copywriter in the '80s and '90s because the position as I knew it is going the way of the stat camera and Letraset.

The reason the creative team no longer works is because the right combination of words and images alone will no longer yield bountiful sales for the client. This is not to say good copy and art direction are unimportant. They have never been more important. Today it takes more than that, a lot more. Ad agencies now have different expectations placed on them. Our campaign solutions must do more than combine words and images to inform, inspire, and motivate. They must deliver business value in new ways that maximize the potential of digital media as well as traditional media.

  • It's not just print, outdoor, TV, and radio. If it’s digital; it’s also a potential media. Anything from rich media banners to social media assets to mobile apps and games.
  • Our creative team must not only create material to place in media. The media itself must be incorporated into their concept from the start.
  • Integration across media must be seamless, but concepts also need to work across platforms and delivery devices.
  • They must do more than address the target’s primary needs. They must look at tangential needs and find new ways to facilitate them.
  • Their solutions will not be confined to two of three campaign periods a year but will need to engage consumers and deliver value every day.
  • In some cases, they may even be called upon to create solutions that fund themselves.

That's a lot to ask of even the best copywriter and art director.

Today I run an ad agency and brand consultancy. About five years ago my partners and I concluded that developments in the digital world (specifically social media, mobile media and the evolution of the Internet) would fundamentally change the advertising industry. So we began the process of adapting to those changes. The first thing we realized was that adapting would not simply be a matter of hiring a web designer and a few geeks. We had to go one step further and change the way we develop solutions for our clients. Processes that worked well for creating campaigns in traditional media were not producing the type of solutions we needed in the information age.

The first casualty of this restructuring was the creative team. I loathed to do it. I thought too many cooks would destroy creativity, but what I found was an exponential increase in creativity. Creativity was no longer confined to our pictures and images. Our campaign concepts began to routinely integrate innovative ideas across the entire marketing mix from media, product development, and distribution to sales, pricing, and PR.

What do our creative teams look like today? It is no longer a duet; its a quintet: copywriter, art director (preferably a digital art director), web designer, and social media architect. More often than not the strategic planner, who used to drop off the brief and leave the creatives alone, is also in the group. As soon as the ideas begin to gel we add our SEO guy to the mix to make sure anything we create is made to be found from the start.

Different people. Different creative process. Great results.

Our best clients today demand creative business ideas as well as creative communication. We are able to provide it. Sacrificing one of advertising’s most hallowed institutions is the price we had to pay. This may be bad news for agency traditionalists, but it's great news for clients and job seekers who are in tune with the changes in the marketing landscape. If you are either of the above, I’d like to hear from you.




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Sean Duffy is a founder of Duffy Agency, the digital marketing agency for aspiring international brands. Sean has over 25 years of experience working with strategic marketing in Boston, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. In addition to his involvement with Duffy Agency, Sean is a frequent speaker on strategic international marketing and online brand management. He serves also as Lecturer and Practitioner in Residence at the Lund University School of Economics & Management and as Mentor in their Masters Program in Entrepreneurship. Sean is an active member of  TAAN Worldwide where he has served two terms as the European Governor. He is also a speaker, bloggerTwittererand is on LinkedInWith offices in Malmö and Boston, Sean splits his time between Sweden and the States.

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