Monday, April 19, 2010

Blow something up.

In the last two weeks two creative big wigs have left their agencies to start their own. In each of these cases, and many more, a large institutionalized agency had hired a creative from a smaller creatively driven shop and charged them with turning around the ship.

Unfortunately, I too, was once in that situation. I was charged with energizing one of America's largest digital shops--to make it creative.

Therefore I have, I believe, the experience and insight that allows me to give this advice to those who follow in Montague and Graf's very small shoes. Get your money up front.

Institutions by their very nature are powerful. They wittingly or not, resist change. They are in the self-preservation business. And they will outlast you.

The only way to change an agency is to blow it up. Fire even the people with the great client relationships. Because those people though they are accountable for lots of revenue want to maintain the status quo. Most people do.

In the holding company era the status quo is even more powerful and resistant to change.

Let me repeat.

Get your money up front.


Anonymous said...

Just because you've won a Gold Pencil doesn't mean you know how to manage people. The vast majority of Creative Directors were promoted to their current jobs not because they were good leaders, but based on a creative reputation. And that's why the vast majority of ad agencies are horrible places to work.

Creative Directors have no real interest in making the lives of their underlings productive for everyone. Rather, they are in the business of maintaining their control and keeping that huge salary of theirs so they can continue to live in Westport.

They do this by taking all credit when things go right and deflecting all blame when things go wrong. And by instilling fear in everyone who works for them.

Creative Directors are not your friends.

Tom said...

Completely disagree wit the 'Blow it up' approach to organisational change, especially with large ones.

It doesn't work.

Sure, large organisations are like battleships, but real leaders (of which there are precious few) can alter their course.

Kelly said...



Saw the same news last week and couldn't help thinking about how small the ripple would probably be. Coming in to reorder the universe does little, and in all likelihood their leaving does less. *sigh*

I bet they'll have a grand time on their own, though.


Hm. In my completely personal experience, big orgs eat "change agents" for lunch. Even though they invited them to the party. I think it's just human nature on an institutional scale—I'm kinda fond of the embrace of the familiar, too. At least on most days. :)

It is nice that you've seen something different, though. Gives me hope.



george tannenbaum said...


Imagine trying to reform the Catholic Church. Or Congress. Or the Military.

Could you do it without blowing it up?

I don't think agency's dominant complacency is much different or much less entrenched.

Anonymous said...

Ty Montague is no more talented than you or I. But Ed McCabe took a shine to him when he was just a young college drop-out from New Mexico, and after that he couldn't do anything wrong. For virtually his entire career he has been able to live in an ivory tower where mere mortals like all the rest of us are not allowed to reside. That's why when he was finally put in charge of the kind of environment that 99% of the rest of us are familiar with--JWT--he failed.

Anonymous said...

Advertising agencies are now the epitome of boring corporate culture. I used to work with Ty back in the old days and back then we could have fun. Creative departments were playful places, which can explain why the work was more interesting. More importantly, Creative directors had power and account people were afraid of pissing off creatives. Today that's the reverse. Good work can only get done if creatives have power again. Small independent shops are the way forward.