Witches, Cheese- Advertising Creative Services

Fundamentally the advertising creative services business model is still a tough way to make money- but who’s in it for the money, right?


Does the name Darrin Stevens ring a bell? The agency account executive with the witchy wife? Darrin Stevens, along with his boss Larry Tate were probably TV’s quintessential Madison Avenue men on Bewitched before the Mad Men were even glimmers in their parent’s eyes. To those that have done time in the agency business, you may be able to relate to the days where grown men had wet bars in their offices and almost always had a pop or two with their clients before sitting down to review the creative, followed by a few more while planning the weekend golf game.

Agency veterans may also recall the panic attacks – Darrin and Larry had a few beauties – because the creative was late, or the media plan stunk, or the art director forgot to include the client’s daughter and their slobbering Golden Retriever in the ad.



Advertising creative services- Bewitched “Bewitched” TV show, characters Darrin, Samantha the “witch” and Larry


Samantha’s mother Endora could be a real handful, but she was nothing compared to Darrin’s trials and travails in the agency business!

If any business model needs the assistance of a little witchcraft, it’s the creative services business. It’s the one hunk of cheese of all the moving cheese that has more or less stayed put. Of course I’m not referring to the technology used to create advertising or the media landscape, rather it’s the business model that remains infuriatingly entrenched.

The Traditional Advertising Agency

Those creative services businesses that provide traditional advertising are still making their commissions, still buying traditional media based on CPM. And while the media mix has tripled in terms of available routes, not much has changed in the way that agency’s charge and clients pay for creative services.

For the account managers, the headaches have grown exponentially. Over the course of the past 15 years working with a major Madison Ave. agency, I’ve seen the number of specialists required to put together an end-to-end campaign quadruple, now challenging the account managers to coordinate work from a much wider variety of departments.

The agency I worked with actually set up different business units to manage the disparate media elements: one for web analytics and SEO etc, another for web production, one for video, another for print, TV, events, social etc etc. Unifying that circus in front of the client could be a real challenge for the mostly green account coordinators and I’ve witnessed some horrific train wrecks. I’ll admit I was thankful I had moved over to the client side.

Despite all the changes in the services being provided, the fee + production + OOP (out of pocket)  in the big shops hasn’t varied much. Creative Services businesses that serve the SMB space still live and die project-by-project, hoping what they have to pay their people is covered by the hourly + overhead estimates and that there’s some money left over after the paychecks are written and bills are paid.




Jeb Harrison
Jeb Harrison, after recently retiring from the IBM Marketing team, Jeb Harrison offers marketing communications consulting and writing services to businesses of all shapes and sizes. His long interdisciplinary career as an agency copywriter, creative director, company principal, marketing director, and integrated marketing communications manager has given him a unique and varied perspective on marketing communications in all it’s forms. Jeb is also a published novelist currently participating in the renowned Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program in Tacoma, WA, and is a sought-after bassist in his Marin County home. Be sure to visit Jeb’s blog on The Huffington Post and his own Adventures in Limboland blog, where limbo lessons are taught daily. He is married with two grown children and a ball-crazy dog and lives in Stinson Beach, California, about an hour north of the Golden Gate.

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