Advertising Agencies Need to Take Back Creativity


In the 2017 Forbes survey of Top 10 Big Companies Millennials Want To Work For, The Walt Disney Company was the only business that could be traditionally described as ‘creative’ to make the list (the others were Microsoft, HP, Google, Apple, Boeing, Intel, Caterpillar, Amazon and Lockheed Martin.)

Of course, traditional definitions don’t always hold true and the case could be made that all of those businesses are creative. Few people looking at an iPhone, for example, could fail to admire its creativity.

New products, new markets, new strategies – these ideas all require creativity and there’s increasing awareness that high-quality innovation and creativity can come from anywhere.

The rest of us in the industry – client services, accounts, media buying, planning, sales, research and so on – we were known as ‘suits’.

This wasn’t always the case. I spent many years in the advertising industry – a creative industry, certainly, but for a long time, I would never have called myself creative. Creativity required competence in traditional artistic skills; creative people were graphic designers, they could draw a storyboard or produce beautiful mockups, they were copywriters and so on.

The rest of us in the industry – client services, accounts, media buying, planning, sales, research and so on – we were known as ‘suits’. The thought that we might be ‘creative’ hadn’t really crossed anyone’s mind. If it had, it probably seemed like a misnomer.

Not so today. In our work at One Young World, we have access to thousands of the most talented young leaders in the world. Most of them are creative in their fields – whether that’s advertising or accounting. When their creativity is harnessed, these inspiring young leaders are transforming their industries and driving positive change.

What we notice about the very best of the best talent is that they want and demand to be able to make a difference at work. This doesn’t just mean that they want to be employed by a business that is making a difference (although they do), they also want to make an impact as individuals.

It isn’t an easy demand to fulfil, particularly in massive corporate structures where young people might be expected to settle in amongst the layers and layers of hierarchy. But, the big tech giants, like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are proving that it’s possible.

Sadly, many advertisers and other ‘creative’ companies are, in contrast, lagging behind. In the competition to attract and retain the best talent, they are failing – not good news for an industry facing unprecedented disruption and uncertainty.

This failure is surprising when you consider that enabling an individual to make a difference and enabling an individual to be creative often go hand in hand – they both require being granted space to have your own ideas and develop them.

Creative departments, agencies, and industries should be well placed to attract and retain top talent if they go back to owning what they do best: creativity.

Advertising needs to be fostering creativity in all of their employees, to be ensuring that every single role is such that anybody working there will feel inspired. Productivity will rise, innovative ideas will flow, and advertisers will continue to grow and adapt.

It’s vital that advertisers can own this kind of creativity – the industry desperately needs exceptional young talent in order to adapt to the changes and challenges ahead. Without creativity fostered across all aspects and levels of the industry, advertising as we know it may be lost for good.

This article first appeared in

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