Advertising agencies may be slow, but at least they're expensive.

That's a Client joke, by the way.

Yes, despite that fact that we're all all working longer hours for less money than ever before… Clients still think we're expensive. And maybe we are - after all, we've recently had to add a whole new raft of roles to service the digital side of the business, such as social media expert, technologist, UX guy… have you noticed there are now about 11 people in the room, where there used to be only 7? And they're all drawing a salary.

So margins are under pressure again.

And the only cost we can cut (since it's the only cost we have, other than the rent, and colour photocopying charges) is people.

This is nothing to be regretful about.

As the world changes, new roles are created (e.g. social media expert) and others (such as the guy who used to walk in front of automobiles waving a flag) disappear.

The last role to go was Traffic. The elimination of the traffic department has been happening gradually over the last five to ten years, and has reached the point where most agencies now seem to employ a single traffic manager, or brief allocation manager, whereas once there was a whole department. And yet life goes on.

So who's next?

We can't get rid of Planners - that's the department that Clients value most highly of all, and are most willing to pay for.

Perhaps we could get rid of Account Handlers?

A mate of mine who has recently launched a start-up has decided he isn't going to employ any Account Handlers. "They're just translators," he told me. "If you don't have them, then the Creatives and the Clients have to figure out how to talk to each other, which - believe it or not - they are perfectly capable of doing."

KesselsKramer, the renowned Dutch agency, has never had Account Handlers. According to their slyly brilliant new book, Advertising For People Who Don't Like Advertising: "KesselsKramer's issue with Account Handlers wasn't that they were bad people, or scary ones, or ruthless… it was simply that the role of account handler can be split over other departments."

Both come down to much the same point - why hire Account Handlers, when Creatives can do that job themselves? My answer to that question is another question - do we want to? I think not.

I challenged a very dear Account Handler of my acquaintance not so long ago to tell me, given that she wasn't coming up with strategies, and wasn't writing ads, exactly what was she doing all day? Her answer was succinct: "Shit you don't want to do."

And I agree with that. While agencies probably could do without Account Handlers, I don't see why we'd want to. It would just mean we spent more time talking to clients and less time being creative.

So my regrettable conclusion is that, if we are to be totally candid about which is the next role we can afford to lose, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

And that hallowed team of two.

Do we really need two?

Bill Bernbach's logic in putting a 'words man' and a 'pictures man' together was that we were becoming a visual culture - thanks to the rise of TV and magazines - and so it was necessary to have visual ideas, to make an impact on that culture.

The wannabe poets and novelists who filled the ranks of agency copywriters weren't naturally visual thinkers, so pairing them with the art directors (who at that time were mere visualisers) was a necessary step to create a team that, between them, had both visual and conceptual skills.

Bill's idea worked, but that was nearly 60 years ago.

Times are different today.

Would Bill (pictured, looking mildly cheesed-off) consider that today, the doubling-up may be unnecessary?

Today's copywriters are not pipe-smoking tweed-jacket-wearers who have the visual sense of Blind Lemon Jefferson. They've grown up in the age of Spielberg and Zuckerberg, and while they may not know every typeface known to man, they're accomplished visual thinkers. In short, they don't need art directors. Yes, they'll need designers, directors, or UX guys to bring their ideas to life… as they always have… but they don't need an intermediary between themselves and the execution people.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm going off on a rant against art directors, let me very quickly state that just as I think a copywriter no longer needs an art director… the reverse is also true: art directors no longer need copywriters. Don't forget, the role of art director evolved from the role of visualiser. It was believed that art directors didn't have strong conceptual skills, and so needed to be paired with a copywriter. Today, that no longer holds true. The kind of people who are becoming art directors are coming from the exact same background as the copywriters - ad school - and their conceptual skills are just as strong. They don't need a copywriter to prop them up any more.

Where I'm arguing we should go is nothing more than the way the wind is blowing anyway. I would guess that at least one-third of teams nowadays don't have a rigorous art director/copywriter divide, but define themselves as either or both.

So what we basically have is a duplication of roles. Yes, it's nice to have a mate with you at all times. Someone who's got your back. And it could be argued that a strong team of two can do more and better work than two individuals could, since they develop an understanding over time. However, the opposite could also be true - that their partnership becomes stale and predictable over time.

The other argument for having teams was that it was always said you need 'another person to bounce off' in order to have ideas, and a creative can't work successfully in a vacuum. But there is no vacuum any more. We're not 'left alone' any more, we're surrounded by stimulus, we're constantly working with clients, account handlers, planners, directors, designers, technologists, social media people… no one could seriously argue that the modern creative would be stuck 'on their own' without a partner. You're nearly never on your own, nowadays. Besides, many great writers, artists and musicians work on their own so it's doubtful whether this argument ever had any real validity.

Gentlemen, the bean counters are crawling all over us, like thousands of tiny insects, and the fact that they haven't yet noticed that we are employing two people to do the job of 'concept creator,' when it could be done by one, is a minor miracle.

The change has to be imminent. Already, the 'CD team' is all but non-existent. Yes, it's easier to make creative directing decisions when you're an individual not a team, so it makes sense from that point of view. But CD's have always had to have ideas too, and they're now doing that perfectly well on their own.

So the CD team is all but gone, and it can't be long before the regular creative team has to disappear too.


Don't shoot the messenger.