Paul Simons; why too many chiefs indicates the triumph of self importance over purpose

From time to time I think the wider advertising world shoots itself in both feet, mostly due to self importance reasons. The current trend of the ‘chief’ prefix to job titles is the latest.

This is spreading like a forest fire with small businesses of ten people having several chiefs for something or other. To outsiders this can look ridiculous.

Ogilvy has made a big commitment, either genius or madness, to the chief trend by culling all existing structural job descriptions and creating around twelve chief something or other.

One implication is how appropriate job titles can get de-valued. The well known ‘C Suite’ collective at the top of the executive tree was clear as it referred to: the top man/woman – CEO; the money man/woman – CFO, and the organisation man/woman – COO. However this has been diluted by the Chief Purpose Officer (yes, there are some), the Chief Delivery Officer (real), the Chief Talent and Capability Officer (real) and so on.

The Ogilvy move has added a further complication as there are three Chief Creative Officers, a confusion for sure about who is in charge, plus a further dilution of the chief tag as it doesn’t indicate who is the most senior person.

Why does the advertising industry fall in to this ego trap of self importance? Many times over the years I have queried layers of job titles because they are a sop to the individual to replace a genuine promotion and increase in salary. Account management has to be the worst offender with senior account managers and business directors and so on.

Technology is a key influencer of the chief trend, driven by the US tech world. It is where the future seems to lie, hence the current focus on AI and the like, so there becomes a gold rush adopting its language, dress, jargon, and job descriptions. Have a look at the British Interactive Media Association awards coming up soon and check out the various juries. The job titles of the jury members sounds like a plane load of techies have flown across from California. But of course they are all Brits aping their counterparts in the US.

Will the ad world ever learn? As my mum used to say, stick to the knitting. Our approach should be to reinforce the value we are able to offer clients and not attempt to pump up our importance. As Bill Bernbach once said: “Our job is to sell our client’s merchandise…not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product.”

Wise words.

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