“The original ad scene wasn’t very sharing, it wasn’t really collaborative. The mentality was an ‘I’m shit hot, I’m doing this, this is my agency, this is my brand, I don’t need anyone else, production houses bow down to me’. So, there was, for a long time, a master mentality.”
Jason Romeyko is pondering the many changes in the industry. Some have been drastic, as the biggest beasts ruthlessly ‘optimise efficiency’ and traditional setups are struggling to right their course – but for agencies that have always approached things differently he feels their time has come.
Take his current home Serviceplan. Less an agency than a ‘House of Communication’ it was founded in Germany in 1970 by Dr. Peter Haller and Rolf O. Stempel, who figured that clients might want to go to somewhere that could handle their whole marketing plan – creative, direct, PR, media – in one place. A place to ‘service’ your marketing ‘plan’, if you will. Mediaplus came along in 1983, market research arm Facit in 1986, and digital arm Plan.net in 1997. It’s a strategy that the major holding companies are only now trying to marshal their agencies around, but at Serviceplan that collaboration has been baked in from the beginning.
And – a fact that often goes overlooked in the UK and US – this strategy has resulted in Serviceplan being one of the biggest independent, owner-operated advertising networks in the world, and certainly the biggest in Europe. There are over 4,100 employees in over 38 locations. Earlier this year, Serviceplan opened a House of Communication in New York. Last week, Serviceplan announced its strategic move to a joint office space with US digital shop T3, in Midtown West, NYC. Serviceplan and T3 are two of the most successful independent agencies in the world, who have joined forces in a mutually beneficial partnership to extend T3’s global footprint, and Serviceplan’s footprint in the US.
What Jason has been busy doing, since he joined in 2016 as worldwide executive creative director after 23 years at Saatchi & Saatchi, is harnessing that collaborative spirit and entrepreneurialism and channelling it towards creativity – and getting all parts of the business to believe in being creative. Jason works closely with Serviceplan’s global chief creative officer Alexander Schill.
Jason says: “I’m an outsider who has come into management with a different perspective, an Australian who speaks seven languages and spent several years at Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, which means I can see things that previously Serviceplan management couldn’t.
In the day-to-day, they didn’t always see how great they are. They were always very humble,” he explains. “So now we’re going into an age where we have stepped up creativity – and it’s not that we weren’t creative before, but it’s about ramping people up behind an idea, a philosophy. At Serviceplan our idea revolves around ‘ÜberCreativity’.”
In order to really boost that creativity, Jason holds what he calls ‘Wigwams’, sessions designed to inspire people and remove the mental barriers that choke potential diamond ideas. He gathers together a gang from across different agencies and engages guest speakers to take them through an experience or lesson. After that, they’ve got 20 minutes to answer the brief with their very first ideas. Over the course of three days, more ideas are generated and then refined. For example, from his experience with this format, a brief aimed at older people with ailments, Jason got a gym instructor to wake the group up at 6am and give them body weights to wear, so that they’d feel stiff and slow.
“The reason that it’s so good creatively, is that as creatives you get into training, you’re taught what’s good, what’s bad. If you send someone away for three weeks they’re going to come back with something that their training says is good, which might be a homogenised result,” he says. “It’s not new and courageous. The wigwam makes sure that people spit out diamonds and the creative direction takes over. I call it explosive creativity.”
In his career he has held hundreds of those wigwams – and, curiously, that experience links in with Jason’s view of AI and the future of creative direction. He foresees a tomorrow where artificial intelligence, informed by decades of advertising research, will be able to generate hundreds – thousands even – of ideas. Some functional, some bizarre, some way off the mark, but a few with a nugget of something unexpected and full of potential. It’s then that the humans would step in.
“I don’t want to comment on what I think of testing, but the reality is that they [huge brands] have data going back 20-something years,” he says, expanding on his theory. “Imagine you have an algorithm and you type in the parameters of your brief and the algorithm should be able to spit out a couple of scripts. While the basic strategic idea might be strong, there’s no guarantee that the scripts will be any good, so creative direction will be more important than ever.”
Craft too – writing and art directing, those ad industry stalwarts especially – would become more important in this new paradigm. It’s similar, he notes, to what has happened to film. The craft of commercial filmmaking might have been viewed as a dying art as digital started its rise in the ‘90s – but audiences are watching more video content than ever.
“In the 90s, I personally thought I was going to have to look for a new job. I didn’t know anything about digital… ironically now my best work is digital. What digital has done has mass distributed audio-visual, so film is stronger than ever. We’re going to experience the same [with AI].”
Rather than viewing the rapidly evolving tech as a threat to creativity, Jason sees it as a potential liberator that will free creatives from grunt work. “The thing about creativity and humanity is that we are imperfect and if we celebrate our imperfections we actually make better work.”
Until AI gets to that level, though, there’s a lot to keep Jason occupied as he spreads the message of ÜberCreativity across his Group, and when conversation turns to the various offices around the world, his excitement is hard to contain. As someone who is fluent in seven languages, digging into the local creative cultures is clearly something that gets him energised. From punchy small teams like the Campaign X unit in Munich to the major wins in offices like France (where Dimitri Guerassimov and Fabien Teichner joined as joint CCOs and partners from Marcel last year) and China, which has just won its first international award at Spikes Asia. He’s full of praise for Spain’s CEO Luis Piquer Trujillo too. But the office that he’s really got a soft spot for is Poland – originally from Adelaide, Jason spent several years running Saatchi in Poland and he’s seen the confidence and creativity in the market really blossom.
Between the wigwams and the constant travel, Jason’s been spreading his mission of ÜberCreativity. It’s gaining traction – this year Serviceplan took home nine Lions at Cannes and was featured in the top five Innovation agency rankings. The braille-based e-reader the Dot Mini (from Serviceplan Munich and Serviceplan Korea) has wowed award show judges around the world at Spikes, the Clios, the LIAs, and Cannes
. And if his predictions about the impact of AI on the industry come to pass, then that emphasis on creativity is a smart move – particularly at a time when some of the older holding company-owned networks are holding back. It’s as Jason says: “ÜberCreativity is magic.”