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28 August 2013 - 12:47pm | posted by | 10 comments

One thing I would change in advertising: the media agencies killing creativity - Patrick Collister

Patrick CollisterPatrick Collister

Have you ever thought about making things better and cutting out the crap? Creative Social has invited five industry leaders to share the one thing they would change in advertising at the #CSpresents event on 3 September.

Ahead of that event, we thought we’d give three of those leaders the chance to share another thing they’d like to change, and we start today with the very honest Patrick Collister from Google...

In the Golden Age of British advertising, people used to joke that they watched telly for the ads.

Agencies like CDP, BMP, Saatchi’s and a handful of others made commercials which were both enjoyable and memorable.

So, how come so much advertising today is crap?

I blame Mindshare.

Oh, alright, not Mindshare alone but ZenithOptimedia, Carat, MediaCom, the whole lot of ‘em.

Media agencies.

They are now openly challenging creative agencies for their clients’ advertising budgets.

Look at a few websites.

“We are single mindedly focused on delivering great work.” (ZenithOptimedia)

We trade in “smart ideas” and “faultless execution”. (Mindshare)

They are speaking the language of creative agencies.

MEC Global has just appointed a global creative director.

And at Cannes, Mediacom’s seminar was on “How to unlock your inner creativity”.

What they are doing is simply finding more beguiling ways of selling what they have always sold. Numbers.

Look at it this way.

Imagine you’re a client. You go to a media agency. Based on what you did last year and the years before that, their software can help tighten up the media plan and guarantee a return on investment of, oooh, 6 per cent.

You’re a client. You go to a creative agency. The creative director shows you a campaign and you ask, “What sort of ROI do you expect?”

And he says, “Haven’t a clue, mate.”

Who do you go with?

Of course you do. Unless you are a stronger personality than most marketers, you go with the numbers. The result is advertising that’s neatly positioned at all the relevant points on the customer journey (and other bits of media jargon) but which is zzzzzzzzzzz.

I was the creative director at O&M when Martin Sorrell ripped out the media departments of O&M and JWT to create Mindshare.

What happened was the agency lost its balance, both in terms of its culture as well as its client offering.

It became smaller both metaphorically and literally.

Some of the people who went off to the new outfit – Mandy Pooler, Nick Emery – were a huge loss to the wider business of advertising, shunted into a niche from which they soon wanted to escape.

The only way out, though, is into territory once occupied solely by creative agencies.

The sunlit uplands, where strategy and creative execution are to be found and fat fees roam.

So that’s what all the media agencies have been doing.

Competing with their creative siblings inside the big networks.

Martin Sorrell laughs and calls it “kiss and punch”.

I call it a travesty.

The point being, the big media agencies may want to become creators. Indeed, they are already creators. It’s just they aren’t very good at it.

(At Cannes, only 26 per cent of Media Lions were won by media outfits.)

Either they should just go for it – and start hiring creative departments and we’ll all go back to the future in full-service shops again. Or they should stop being the silent assassins of our industry.

In the meantime, they talk about ‘ideas’ and ‘storytelling’, but, actually, they are killing creativity.


28 Aug 2013 - 13:41
adamc19186's picture

I couldn't agree more. The 'good enough' attitude is rife throughout the UK and we have almost completely lost our edge as the world's 'innovators' in advertising.

Stock imagery, particularly in digital marketing , is the epitome of this.

Agencies spend weeks searching for an image that fits the campaign rather than commissioning an illustrator or photographer to provide exactly what they need... and it shows

It's a false economy too... by the time you've chosen the best of a bad bunch and paid for it you've lost more time and money than you were saving by not doing things properly in the first place!

28 Aug 2013 - 15:35
markm10787's picture

Patrick's piece is spot-on. However did we end up in a situation where the very people who have absolutely no interest in the efficacy of creative work take control of everything creative? Oh, money! Just remembered. Silly me. I recall 'Wildcatter' Red Adair's answer to Michael Parkinson when Parky asked him "but.....really, how can you justify charging $1m a (oil) well (in the aftermath of the 1st Kuwait War, after Saddam torched about 1,000 of them) for capping them off?" Red said, "the part we use costs $1,000. I just charge them $999,000 to tell them where to put it!" Now, what was it that John Salmon, John Webster, David Ogilvy, John Hegarty, Neil Godfrey, Dan Weiden, Graham Fink, Jeff Goodby, John Withers, Adrian Holmes, David Abbott, Alfredo Marcantonio, Mike Everett, Alan Parker, uh, uh, um, uh........................? His (Adair's) other passing quip was "if you think employing a professional is expensive, try employing an amateur".

28 Aug 2013 - 23:41
JonClarke's picture

An interesting reply to the question Patrick. I'm a media man it says on my card, but in my head and heart I'm an advertising man (I started in BMP and ended my London agency life in Mindshare - experiencing the terrible start - and then found the Internet) . Media agencies aren't killing creativity, well not all of them, but more the mediums themselves and then the pressure on the marketer at the client end. The Internet advertising medium made us all start to measure more, that in itself started the the ever increasing decline. Creativity had to be cheaper, Media had to cheaper, everything had to be cheaper! Whilst everything in advertising got more specialist and lovely technology actually made our lives more complicated than we wanted. The speed of change is so rapid, creatives can't keep up with all the new digital opportunities and so many clients are too scared/mystified to sign-off budgets/ideas so few people are getting to create great advertising.

So let's not bash media agencies, they should like their Planning Agencies, Creative Agencies, Design Agencies join all together and be full service again.

I still sigh that after 15 years of internet advertising I've seen so far there is hardly any truly great and MEMORABLE internet ads or campaigns and yet I can still rattle off 100s of TV ads I saw in my youth and love to this day.

Alas the digital ad world is more about talking to the individual. We all want to feel individual right? However, we then don't experience something that we can all share and hark back to as we grow older.

The Pandora's box is well and truly open, technology and numbers run our lives. Is it right? Probably not. Who has the power to change it? Clients. Advertisers pay the fees, so let's see them up the budgets,invest in agencies & their experts, think big, ask big, not big discounts, but big creative media or what I'd rather call it 'advertising'.

29 Aug 2013 - 12:58
sueun21115's picture

Presumably Patrick Collister's article (“One thing I would change in advertising”) was meant to be tongue in cheek but I suppose it's just possible that Collister seriously thinks things were better in the olden days when media departments sat in the basements of ad agencies and basically just did what they were told to do by the creatives and suits (ie, put everything on telly); that he really thinks the only people who can be creative are the ones with “Creative” in their job title.

Of course the reason that media agencies have been such a success since they separated from full service agencies is because their creative thinking is applied to the task of growing clients' businesses and not merely winning awards.

You see how easy it is to fall into the old stereotypes? Media people are dull, number-crunchers who can't think creatively; creatives are irresponsible would-be-film-directors squandering client's money in pursuit of their vision. Clearly such clichés are nonsense. One world renowned creative director (responsible for much of the work from the “golden age” that we all admire), has said that the thing that's wrong with advertising is in fact the Gunn Report which ranks creative agencies on the number of awards they win, which therefore means they focus on winning awards as a priority (awards judged by other creative directors mostly rather than on effectiveness).

I wonder whether marketers care if good ideas for their brands come from creative agencies or media agencies? I suspect not. Either will do. Or ideally from both – and from many other suppliers too.

The key to creative effectiveness is great partnerships with one single aim – business growth. We love working with great creative thinkers in ad agencies, at media owners and at pr, packaging, pos and event agencies and more. The best creativity comes from teams that work together, without egos and without a suffocating nostalgia for the last century.

29 Aug 2013 - 22:13

Completely agree collaboration is key and creative media thinking is invaluable - but you need to have something great to say before you decide which roof top to shout it from. Patrick is merely pointing out that the best stories come from story tellers not number crunchers. Well said PC @sueun21115

2 Sep 2013 - 12:12
SH2610's picture

"I wonder whether marketers care if good ideas for their brands come from creative agencies or media agencies? I suspect not. Either will do. Or ideally from both – and from many other suppliers too."

I hope that this is the case, it is the blue print for success @sueun21115 but there are a number of issues working against creativity in the industry and I truly believe that two of the biggest factors that have not been accounted for above is time and client experience.

How many of our clients now have dedicated resource in this area and actual understand the value of great communications in business growth or the value of great communications full stop? In some cases, marketers only have dedicated 20% of their time to day a week!! How can they develop their knowledge or understanding if they don't have the time?

There are a lot of large companies who are making or have made wholesale redundancies in marketing. What has subsequently happened is that those that have survived the culls, simply get pushed into roles that either they are not qualified for or don't actually want. However, what they do want is the next job, where the prestige is larger and the pay is increased considerably. Who wants to upset the apple cart and make the requisite changes that need to be made when they can simply do what pleases their Marketing Director and get by so that in two years time, they can move into a better position internally as external hires remain frozen.

I do know this, if I was a Marketing Director I would prefer to hire a maverick marketer who took a risk at a big firm even if they failed over some serial career slug who was happy with the status quo. Stop hiring robots and drones with First class degrees in economics and start hiring those people who have a real zest for human nature and understand that consumers don't really care about the brands that are faceless corporations but those that truly care about making our lives better and more enjoyable.

3 Sep 2013 - 11:53
antonydonnelly's picture

very interesting points here but what should be said is the best advertising campaigns are simply the ones with the best ROI TV isnt the be all and end all to great campaigns outdoor advertising is still extremely effective whether its on taxi cabs, trains, billboards or bus stops if it isnt broke why fix it ?

3 Sep 2013 - 23:52
mni_done's picture

At the end of line, as a creative i'm equally interested in reaching business goals for the clients, meeting the needs and aspirations of the end-user/consumer - as well as crafting original and memorable creative work, that I can look back at and take pride in being a part of. Can't see any reason why that trinity couldn't be realized.

The interesting thing, when talking about creativity vs numbers is, that the most memorable campaigns I've experienced haven't necessarily swayed me into buying the product or service being marketed. Rarely has my perception of a brand shifted, unless it has been a mediocre execution or if it's too far-fetched to align with what the brands stands for.

Award-winning work from Old Spice, Axe or even Nike, has never made me buy their product based on their campaign. One thing is that I might not be in the athlete segment (in terms of Nike), but it's also because no matter what a campaign proposes, I'm quite firm in terms of personal taste and preference - so I wouldn't be gulled into thinking that for instance Old Spice would smell great all of a sudden, when it never has.

I'm amazed at times by the high quality, quirkiness, innovative storytelling etc by a campaign or brand identity - but it stays at that. A creative ad is a factor influencing sales for sure - but it's not an easy to foresee and anticipate the audiences reaction to it. Is it aimed at the already loyal - or do we try to approach new segments? People would probably buy Nike anyway, if they believe the quality and craft live up to their expectations. But it's based on their hands-on physical experience of the brands' products - or they buy into the story of the brands. That's why people are die hard-Adidas or Nike-fans - because they buy into more than a singular campaign but the heritage as well.

Campaigns - good or bad (as Miley Cyrus proved with her VMA stunt) create awareness. That's what they do. And a purchase might be a secondary action - but just 'might'. The campaigns we cherish from the "old days" are truly great, I agree. But our perception of them is also clouded with nostalgia, because they put us right back in time - just like music does. And also because they were groundbreaking and we forget that we have equally good opportunities to create just as groundbreaking work today.

Everyone is eating someone elses piece of the cake these days; "traditional" ad agencies want to do more digital work, digital agencies start creating visual identities etc. After all this time, people have shifted jobs and industries so many times, that agencies today are a mix of multidisciplinary skills - even though people don't practice it in their current position. I've moved between more or less all areas of our industry through the past 17 years. Started in digital, then motion graphics, advertising, visual identity, and back and forth.

All because I'm interested in that before mentioned trinity: creating business results, meeting end-user needs and crafting high quality creative work. And will do so, wherever I end up working - be it media, ad, digital or elsewhat.

20 Sep 2013 - 14:48
psh1953's picture

How beautifully and succintly put by Patrick Collister

Todays media buyers seem to put too much store in their econemteric "Computer says no!" mentality rather than take a great idea and just run with it. It's all rather rendolent of Oscar Wilde's quote about accountants knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Media used to be seen as some sort of dull service department one step up from accounts but in forging a greater role I think they have lost their way. Like Patrick I love progress but when I see media folk lobotomized to a point where you frankly feel like giving up you have to question what has been achieved here. Some of Sir John Hegarty's finest creative campaigns were wholly rejected by focus groups so lets hope some media people remain brave enough to use a bit of imagination, flair and gut feel. Oh yeah the business also used to be enormous fun!

26 Oct 2013 - 15:11
shree13454's picture

I agree - media agencies aren't there for creative. So don't do the creative!


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