Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Two Faces of Advertising

If you're looking for hypocrisy in advertising you don't have to look very far.

Last week, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, arguably one of the most creative shops in the land, fired their CEO and Chief Creative Guru Andrew Keller, one of the most talented creative guys in the land.

This, after 17 years of service.

17 years that produced Subservient Chicken, Whopper Freakout and a Mini campaign that set the bar for automotive advertising.

I don't know Mr. Keller and obviously have no agenda sucking up to a guy who is no longer employed, but 17 years is a long time, enough time to raise a child and send her a thousand miles away to pay outrageous, out of state college tuition.

Call me crazy, but whatever happened to this thing we call loyalty?

Every day I hear or read about the demise of agency/client relationships. Or the importance of establishing an AOR. Or how long term strategic marketing problems cannot be solved by short term, flighty jump ball assignments. But you plunk a microphone in front of an ad agency CEO and you're going to get a bloviating earful about loyalty.

We talk passionately about it and then we cavalierly axe people who have steadily drank the Kool Aid and bled the agency's team colors. I personally know of other ad folk, with a dozen, twenty and close to thirty years of service, tossed to the curb like some inedible, stale bear claw.

It doesn't end there.

Agencies are fond of getting on a soapbox and informing the world that "we are storytellers and artists." They talk a big game about how creative departments need to include poets, architects, musicians, photographers and not just people focused on advertising. And then they chain those people to their desks, or a long picnic table, and carve 80 hours a week out of their lives to do nothing but advertising.

Agencies can never stop talking about the democratization of technology. And the power of social media. But when was the last time you read an agency blog or engaged with an agency website or sat through an entire agency self promo? I'd prefer to be drawn and quartered, at least my back would get a good stretch.

Agencies like to position themselves as leading pop culture. Of being on the cutting edge. And a model of progressive thinking. And yet if you were to break down the demographics of the leadership, you'd have a hard time finding any women. Or African Americans. Or 44 year old copywriters. Or anybody frankly, that wasn't young, white, and bearded, with a closet full of fashionable European scarves and a medicine cabinet brimming with hair product.

Don't get me wrong, I love working at an ad agency. Or at least what an ad agency used to be.

But today I enjoy it from the perspective as an outsider looking in and not the other way around.

Should he follow the same freelance path, and once he accepts the fact that there are no free bagels in life, I suspect that in a very short while, Mr. Keller will feel the same way, too.


Anonymous said...

My agency is co-owned by someone who is, at best, a pantomime creative. If there's a bad creative director's handbook, he runs it play by play. His idea of creativity is borrowed, not originated. He approaches brainstorms as "everyone listens to me" sessions. His voice is loud and he never stops talking to make sure no one else gets a word in. He believes he knows things he does not.

This is our Chief Creative Officer.

He has a knack for drawing in very talented people and then trying to turn them into miniature versions of himself. How on earth did he get to co-own an agency, you ask? A good question. Better is, how did he ever get to become a creative director?

The answer, I think, is that he played the image game better than anyone else. The trendy clothes, flashy haircut, this-is-what-a-creative-obviously-looks-like game. His ideas are 95% barren of merit. His management skills consist of making people who are better at this than he is do it his way. And often. Multiple times.

So, if Mr. Keller is looking for a gig and he's a good creative director, he should not be on the bread line long. There are agencies out there with good creatives and bad leadership who are just begging for a change. Step one is getting rid of the old. It won't happen for us - he co-owns the place - but it could happen elsewhere, and I truly hope it does. Because this is no way to live.

Anonymous said...

My agency's creative director (also a co-owner) is the opposite. He's got great ideas and is a great designer, but he can't lead. He is so introverted and shy that he never presents work, never defends work, and never ever ever talks to the client. He will work with our junior designers to give feedback sometimes, but often just takes over because it's too complicated to explain to them what to do. I'm the only writer in the studio; he should be advising and guiding me, but he has never once given me any kind of constructive criticism or feedback beyond "that's good." I long for guidance, someone to learn from, someone to push me. I agree that the agency world needs good CDs and that Mr. Keller is likely to find a spot...I wish it were here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with every word you say, but I feel I've taken a little different path. I have done lots of cool projects that are not "ads" - and gotten them produced by real clients. I've also worked in diverse agencies where there are actual, kickass women and minorities.

As you can probably imagine, a lot of agencies don't know what to do with me and my career has suffered as a result. Though I am currently employed at a small, specialized agency i'm probably not where I would be if i had a more traditional background.