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Opinion and Insight

Industry Heavyweights Fight for Creativity at LIA Judging

Poolside debates over the future of the Global CCO, passionate demonstrations of the value of creativity and some glimmers of hope – everyone was ready to rumble, writes Laura Swinton

Industry Heavyweights Fight for Creativity at LIA Judging

There were three big fights last week in Las Vegas. The Khabib vs McGregor UFC bout, of course. The massive crowd brawl that broke out in the audience afterwards, bien sur. And then, albeit somewhat more stylishly turned out and with less recourse to gouging, choking and thumping – a fight for the future of creativity.

London International Awards had gathered around 150 of the international ad industry’s top creative minds at the Wynn Encore hotel in Sin City. On top of that, 100 up-and-coming young creatives from all over the globe were invited to attend the inspiring four-day Creative LIAisons workshop, to hear from the likes of Susan Credle and Malcolm Poynton as well as sitting in on jury discussions. 

It’s an event we’ve been attending since 2012, when the LIAs first decided to take the cash they’d normally spend on an award show and use it to invest in the future of the industry, tomorrow’s creative leaders. In the current adland climate, that decision to champion creativity and to support creative talent has never felt so urgent.

I arrived in Vegas, dumped my over-packed suitcase and headed down to the judges’ hangout spot by the hotel pool. There was barely enough time for a frozen margarita before conversation turned to the VML/Y&R merger, the hollowing-out of agency brands at Publicis and WPP and the disappearing role of the global chief creative officer. And regional CCO too, come to think of it. It’s all quite a bit to deal with when one is jet-lagged.

Among the judges a good ten percent were between jobs. JWT’s former Global CCO Matt Eastwood, ex Ogilvy CCO Tham Khai Meng, TBWA’s recently-departed Asia creative president Nils Andersson to name a few. While the changes and challenges facing the industry are not exactly new news, shit certainly felt real. 

To purloin a phrase from Serviceplan’s Jason Romeyko, “if you want to make a thing, you have to kill a thing”. We were, at the time, chatting about the Publicis Groupe changes and what looks to be the winding down on some of their famous agency brands – but it’s a sentiment that might apply to the recent shifts in the industry. With so many experienced talents running loose and suddenly given the boot-up-the-arse needed to have a go at building their own projects, we’re already seeing interesting indies with different business models popping up all over the place. Chatting with the Chinese Creativity jury, independent shops are seriously nibbling away at the major holding companies’ business in Greater China. 

But, given the squeeze on top creative talent, when it comes to the holding companies are they still committed to creativity, I asked Matt Eastwood. “Yes and no. Look, I think speaking as someone who has come from an agency that has completely stopped its commitment to creativity, the money thing is really getting in the way. To me the money is a symptom of the industry and I think knee jerk reactions like ‘let’s save money on creative resource’ is not the answer. To me, I think, what you have to do is double down and overinvest in creativity. That’s the only way you’re going to fight your way out.”

But there are still holding companies and agency groups – and clients – fighting in creativity’s corner. IPG, notes Matt, appears to be investing in creativity. Drawing from the nine years he spent at Omnicom, he reckons likes of BBDO (which just nabbed the Ford creative account from JWT) are dealing with the same tough business environment as everyone but are producing great work. 

When I spoke to Publicis Worldwide CCO, Bruno Bertelli, his outlook was pretty optimistic. While the big talking point among the judges last week was the fate of a stalwart brand like Young & Rubicam, Bruno noted that Publicis Groupe is a good two or three years ahead with its Power of One transformation and is beginning to feel the benefit as different disciplines find new ways of working together.

As for creativity – its importance to client and its role within advertising – he argued that the industry and its many award shows need to fight harder to demonstrate the impact creativity has on business and therefore its value. “My way of judging is always related to big brands. I think today these awards have a duty to demonstrate that advertising creativity is still good at selling. I love big purpose, social campaigns, whatever, but now is the time to get back to the business. And to show important it is for brands and how successful brands can be with creativity, otherwise with all the data the business could be completely cannibalised by the data process. We need to be part of data, we need to collaborate but creativity can still play a great role.”

On stage at the Creative LIAisons, speakers were careful not to burden the young attendees, delivering talks on practical career advice or inspirational accounts of creative excllence. For creatives – who are sensitive souls at the best of times – could upper-echelon politicking be simply an anxiety-inducing distraction? 

Ever the voice of measured reason, Cheil’s Malcolm Poynton urged the up-and-comers not to be drawn in by doom-mongering. “There’s all this talk about this agency has merged with that agency. The thing I would say is… that none of it matters.”

“That shouldn’t be your preoccupation - or mine. I’m in this business because I’m super excited every day to find ways to connect brands with clients, with consumers,” he told the audience. “I think the exciting part about the evolution of technology in our industry is that pretty much if you can think it, you can do it. I repeatedly say to everyone in our agency and to our clients that this truly is the golden age of our industry. You can do anything you can imagine.”

While the jurors and speakers had a lot on their minds, and plenty of differing takes on the state of the nation, one thing everyone I spoke to agreed on was the importance of what LIAs has been doing to support and nurture new talent. The attitude towards the young creatives was a protective one – like a lioness with her cubs (though, being in Vegas, perhaps that should be ‘like a showbiz white tiger’). For my money – I gambled a total of three dollars last week, so admittedly, that’s not exactly high stakes – the big fight of the week was the fight for those creative talents just entering or finding their feet in the industry. They’ll build their careers in an industry that’s wildly different from today. But if they don’t believe in the power of creativity and of the value that it brings, if they’ve been KO’d by naysayers at this early stage in their career… then everybody loses. 
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