The days of ‘big thick bureaucratic layers’ in agencies have to change: Terry Savage

Agency processes waste “so much time” and the layers need to be removed to allow for more direct forms of communication, said Cannes Lions boss Terry Savage.

Savage speaking at the Comms Council’s Think Long event today

The industry veteran, who spoke on a panel and presented at the Comms Council’s Think Long event in Sydney today, said simplifying processes will allow agencies to tackle client issues with immediacy.

“Process wastes so much time and takes up so much time. To get to the core of things – and this is one of the transformations that will likely have to happen in the big companies – is they’ve got to in fact simply the processes. They have got to get rid of some of the layers to enable a more direct form of communications and a more effective form of communication to take part,” Savage said.

“Maybe that means they’ve got to up-skill some of their creative people in presenting better, talking better, whatever it takes. The days of big thick bureaucratic layers where the process becomes the business itself have got to change.”

Earlier on in the day, Savage admitted one of the biggest issues he hears from marketers is agencies don’t understand their businesses and there are too many layers, which make the process slow.

But Savage, who this year will step down after 33 years as chairman of the advertising festival, was optimistic about the future of creative agencies globally, refuting the ideas that ‘holding companies are dead’ and ‘consultancies are taking over.’

“I have to say it’s sad right now because we are giving ourselves the biggest beating up that you could possibly imagine at a time when in fact, we should be on an absolute high,” Savage said.

“We’ve got agencies, we’ve got brands, we’ve got the platforms, and we’ve got consultancies. But the one thing we absolutely know at this point in time is that if creativity is the big differentiator to reaching people, agencies still today have a massive advantage in that regard. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s data or digital, whatever the platform, creativity is still sitting front and centre.”

Savage said creatives were “no longer strutting down the crescent” and had a “far more humble approach”, arguing that perception needed to change.

“We need to develop leadership which actually reminds us of what we do,” he said.

“No one is dead and they won’t be dead for a very long time and we’ve all gone too far in terms of being down on ourselves and we need to recalibrate to understand holding companies are going to survive. They are going to change, they are going to have to modify – they may change their model –  but they’re going to survive.

“Consultancies have a long way to go to get where they want to get. It’s a battle ground, but let’s stop beating ourselves up all of the time, and reading the paper all of the time about how our industry is in crisis.. It’s changing, of course it is changing.”

Savage also took the opportunity to express his distaste for the media coverage around Publicis’ decision to pull from awards last year. Following Publicis’ withdrawal, ad giant WPP warned it would also turn its back on the awards.

“The big headlines about Publicis suspending for one year and what does Cannes represent – actually created a feeling of negativity around creativity. At a time when agencies should be celebrating, we were creating a negative impact on that one advantage that the agency world had and that is they are more creative at this time than the other competitors that are coming to Cannes,” he said.

Following the announcement from Publicis, the Cannes Lions underwent a major overhaul.


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