Inside the diverse creative team structures of five agencies

By Ruby Derrick | 6 November 2023
Credit: Alice Dietrich via Unsplash

Creatives have a few tricks when it comes to organising agency teams.

But none can agree on the best way to get commercial creativity done on time. Some opt to to operate without account managers, while some take other non-traditional approaches, combining departments and sharing voices. Other agencies deem themselves an "unconventional" place to work.  

Adam Ferrier, Thinkerbell founder and consumer psychologist, on stage at AdNews' Perth L!VE, gave the audience five tips to making creativity easier.

One of those tips -- psychological safety is the foundation for good creativity -- was a concept he described that instead of account managers Thinkerbell has thinkers, who think about business things and tinkers, who come up with creative ideas. A thinker and tinker sit on every account, and that's what drives the business. 

“We have got rid of the layers of account managers because they just get in the way of everything and slow everything down. They become a costlier way for the agency to make more money and don’t add any value,” Ferrier said.

Senior creatives in the industry revealed to AdNews how they've each arranged their teams. 

Emma Robbins

Emma Robbins, ECD at M&C Saatchi, said the agency has creatives and teams at all levels of experience, seniority, and accountability; it's how it keeps the thinking varied, and rich.  

"But all the work they create is overseen ultimately by creative directors or chief creative officer - as the buck has to stop somewhere, and it should stop with the people experienced enough to make sure it's right for the brief, the brand, and our best," she said.

At M&C Saatchi's senior creative level, it may have creatives assigned to particular clients or accounts, says Robbins. Building on knowledge and relationships regularly is how trust is built and the work is better, she notes.

"At the junior level we're big believers in junior's not being tied to one brand or style of work, but getting opportunities on every size of brief - always supported - so they get a feel for the different scale of challenges, asks, and responsibilities we all get.

"It's also how we work to lift junior talent up and help them grow and build - just like a footy team does, so we're always building the succession plan. Our creative structure feels really fluid and fair, because uncommon thinking can come from any experience level." 

Ben Clare

Antithetical to many creative agencies, We Are Social operates under the mantra of delivering 'ideas worth talking about', says Ben Clare, ECD at We Are Social Australia.

The types of ideas that really draw from culture and blur the lines between traditional advertising and more engaging, authentic content, he says.

"To deliver on this, we have a slightly different creative department than most. What sets ours apart is its mix of both creative and editorial teams," said Clare.

The agency has the traditional creative teams, comprising of copywriters and art directors, as well as a large editorial department made up of social specialists, who have joined from ad agencies, or publications or platforms like TikTok, said Clare.

"Everyone is sufficiently experienced and respected to have a voice in the agency’s work and its future," he said.

"We aren't attempting to reinvent the creative department, but this diversity in skill sets allows us to approach each project with a unique and well-rounded perspective. Depending on the nature of the brief, you might find a copywriter, art director, and editor collaborating closely to bring the concept to life. It's all about art, copy, and culture seamlessly converging to create engaging and impactful content."

Frank Morabito, co-founder and chief creative officer at Spinach Advertising, believes Spinach is an unconventional place to work and it always has been.

From day one, nearly 25 years ago, the agency believed it made sense to expose everyone in the agency to every job going through the place, said Morabito.

"No private offices, no barriers, no divisions, no silos, no factions. For the first 15 years, we had no titles, but we found that some clients couldn’t get their heads around it‘Who do we call to discuss a job?’ they would ask‘Anyone’ we’d answer," he said.Frank Morabito

"It might appear to be a lack of structure, but it means everyone in the agency has to be switched on and invested in what clients are doing. It demands maturity, freedom of expression and teamwork. We’ve refined it along the way, but we found that it removes unnecessary layers and provides whole of agency solutions."

Some might call it ‘full-service but a lot of agencies have been very liberal in their definition of ‘full-service’ to the point where it’s become meaningless, notes Morabito.

He isn't sure how an agency that focuses only on creative, media, social, or stunts can claim to be ‘full-service’. Spinach prefers to be fully integrated. It’s the way its always worked.

"And today we believe it’s never been more important for strategy, creative, media and production to work side-by-side, under the same roof. At Spinach, fully integrated means people with those specific skill sets naturally form working groups to come up with ideas," said Morabito.

"It’s almost impossible not to when a writer is sitting beside a media person, or a strategist is sitting opposite a digital designer."

For CHEP Network, the structure of its creative teams is guided by a simple principle – that great ideas can come from anyone in the agency.

Gavin McLeod from LinkedIn

CHEP has a creative department, but it is a creative company, and it has brilliant ideas that originate from every part of it, says Gavin McLeodchief creative officer at CHEP Network.

"We find that if creativity is limited to just the creative department, you have the same creatives developing shapes of ideas that are familiar to them, when our strength and point of difference at CHEP is the breadth of capability and creativity we have in our teams, whether its account service, media, tech, data, PR or any other department," he said.

McLeod notes the agency harnesses the unique creativity of its people by building integrated creative teams around a brief and pulling together a tight team of people, with the right skill sets, to help bring that idea to life.  

"One final note to add in defence of account management as a capability is that given the opportunity, they’re just as creative as anyone else in the agency. They’re creative at heart, and they’re not a hindrance to creativity," he said.

"They’re a wonderful driver and facilitator of it, in addition to being a crucial advocate for our clients."

Justine Leong, general manager at whiteGREY, says the title never lives up to the art itself.Justine Leong

whiteGREY’s philosophy is that Tension Creates Extraordinary. It’s the agency's DNA of creativity and technology, said Leong, and the collision of the most diverse perspectives, that creates the right type of tension to produce extraordinary outcomes.

"Because when we all have equal voices it’s possible for us to shape all kinds of experiences and design businesses and brands from the ground up," she said.

This belief requires whiteGREY to design teams that can collide the most interesting perspectives around a problem. Leong believes that no one size fits all, and nor should it.

"The best business leaders are strategic leaders of a client’s business, they can shape a strategic narrative, steer a creative idea, develop teams, and grow a business commercially – the title being irrelevant to the art itself," said Leong.  

"When we are open and respectful of wherever a point of view comes from, it’s impossible to generalise and say certain roles have no value."

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