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R.I.P The Creative Department

By Stewart Krull on Oct 24, 2013

Long live Account Services. Thank Heaven for Production. And here’s a big shout-out to our friends in Human Resources and Finance. Without a doubt, all these long-standing departments are as vital and valuable as ever to the success of an ad agency here at the tail end of 2013. The Creative Department? Not so much. In fact, next to “two-week deadline” and “lunch hour,” “creative department” may be the most obsolete phrase in the business.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that there’s no longer a need for creative practitioners, or a need to make every single branded interaction one that’s breathtakingly creative.

It’s simply that the traditional definition of “creative department” no longer applies.

If agencies are truly to excel in a customer-focused era, we need to evolve our idea of the team that’s tasked with conceiving the idea.

When the challenges consisted of the blank page or storyboard, leaving the solution to an art director and copywriter pairing made perfect sense (thank you, Mr. Bernbach). But in a time when every assignment must be looked at through a digital lens and every brief should aim to fill the customer need as opposed to a media need, the creative solution can involve one, many or all of the following: applications, product development, ecommerce platforms, loyalty programs, social activations, single-serve or serialized content and, yes, even ad campaigns.

Sounds complex. And it is. Beautifully so. And the type of talent required to pinpoint, conceive and give life to the brilliantly simple solution still includes art directors and copywriters, but they’re just two spokes in a cross-disciplined ideation wheel that should also incorporate strategists, technologists, user experience experts and social media/CRM specialists.
        
In short, what’s needed to successfully meet the needs of the customer today, not to mention the clients on whose behalf we engage the customer, is an organization-spanning “Experience Department,” where a brief is given to an expanded creative team comprised of nothing less than all “user-facing” personnel. 
        
For many of us, this isn’t news. It may even be best practice. But it most likely isn’t daily reality yet, either. A waterfall approach across agency silos, where Creative eventually consults Technology then eventually involves UX—and so on—simply doesn’t work in a world of hyper-dynamic platforms, always evolving customer expectations and time-compressed deadlines.
          
The implications are many. A true commitment to this model means rethinking everything from the resourcing sheet to the staffing agreement to the role and skillsets of the creative director (types the creative director nervously).
        
But the outcome will drive a consistently more creative output: a product that’s more compelling for being unmistakably more in tune with the user and his/her mindset, behavior and need on each specific channel.
        
Which in turn should help ad agencies ensure the term “ad agency” doesn’t become the latest obsolete phrase to get added to the list.

Stewart Krull is the EVP, Executive Creative Director at Atmosphere Proximity

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