Where Have All The Visionary Money Makers Gone?

Agency CFO money maker

The agency business in being pounded by a sea of rough and tumble changes today. Agencies are struggling to get lean and nimble, and MBA-toting bean counters are key to this reformulation.

Unpopular though they may be, agency CFOs are nevertheless in high demand, says Jay Haines, CEO of global executive-search firm Grace Blue.

One of the biggest hiring trends we’ve seen in the past 12 months has been an upswing in searches for creative chief financial officers—financial executives with ambitious visions and personalities strong enough to impact the culture of the agencies they work with. The reason is both large and simple: money.

A CFO typically impacts the culture with severe cuts to staff and other resources. But Haines appears to be calling for a is a pro-active, not re-active stance. The new and improved CFO is one who can apply a creative lens to series of dynamic business problems, and see the opportunity for new revenue via product development, alternate compensation methods and other out-of-the-box solutions.

Ten years ago, digital-centric agencies forced larger, traditional ones to re-shape themselves to meet all the creative needs of the modern clients. But the problem goes deeper than straightforward integrated thinking or building out digital capabilities. Executives should anticipate what their clients’ needs will be 12 months from now and organize their model to meet those needs now.

I agree that we must anticipate our clients needs and remodel our agencies to serve these needs. I also recognize that you need to be a soothsayer to do the job properly. Marketing is highly dynamic, so the Super CFO, and others who would endeavor to “save advertising,” must swim against strong and unregulated currents.

It seems to me like raising agency revenue is a job for all agency staff, not just the suits in the room. For instance, a creative director ought to know which ideas are potentially profitable for the agency and for the client. It’s not something CDs have been trained to weigh, but the more savvy the business decisions made up and down the agency line, the better.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.