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Creative agency jargon at J. Walter Thomson

Photo: Matt Eastwood, via Adweek

People leave companies and executives have to write statements. These statements must say everything and nothing at the same time. This is not the place for creativity, but try telling that to J. Walter Thomson.

Matt Eastwood, Chief Creative Officer of the agency J. Walter Thomson, is out. They’re not replacing him. This creates a challenge — how can you say that you are creative but don’t need a chief creative officer? Here’s the memo that JWT CEO Tamara Ingram sent, as published in Adweek’s AgencySpy. I’ve bolded the jargon and cliches and added a translation:


I’m writing to share the news that Matt Eastwood, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, has exited J. Walter Thompson to pursue a new adventure. We thank him for his contributions and wish him continued success in his future endeavors.

Translation: Matt Eastwood is out, and I decided not apply any creativity beyond the cliched “we wish him continued success in his future endeavors.” Read into it anything you want.

We are reimagining the future of the agency. This is a structural decision that will allow us to be more agile, leverage our collective global bench strength and encourage the burgeoning diverse ‘maker culture’ growing within J. Walter Thompson. As such, we have no plans to replace the role.

Translation: Go wild, folks, because we’re now fully buzzword-compliant in the creativity sphere. Get yourself up off the global collective bench and make things.

Creativity remains at the very core of our business, but today it is an even more collaborative process. It is borderless. It is broadly focused. We are increasingly relying on the people who are closest to making and creating the work. And, we are re-imagining the future of how this shift will be reflected within our organization and our leadership structure.

Translation: While we rearrange the deck chairs, you should just go be creative. With other people. In other countries. If you’re sufficiently creative, you’ll reach a point where the words “broadly focused” appear to actually mean something.

The Worldwide Creative Council will evolve to better reflect the needs of the agency. It will continue to be a pivotal part of our organization internally, and set standards and practices for how we improve the quality of our work. And, there will be a fluid roster of talented individuals with myriad skill sets.

Translation: A bunch of creative leaders in a council will make sure you’re creative in the proper way. Also: we’re expecting creative people to quit our “fluid roster.”

Additional strategic changes will include the use of technology to evaluate creative concepts at a much earlier stage. This will allow us to be iterative in real time and to ensure we are evolving our work to be stronger, more innovative and have a greater impact on our clients’ business.

Translation: We’ll use computers.

I am committed to protecting, supporting and developing the creative community and culture within JWT. I am looking forward to sharing more specific information soon. For now, it’s business as usual and we will keep the trains running as we head into Cannes.


Translation: I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I like creative people, but let’s try hold onto the clients and win awards, too.

Why this memo would scare the crap out of me

Imagine that you are working at J. Walter Thomson and you received this memo. What are you supposed to think about it?

Here’s what you know.

A respected colleague is gone with no explanation.

“We are reimagining the future of the agency” is ominous — especially without any details.

The company is reorganizing its creative efforts, but no one knows how.

There is a lot of vague encouragement to be creative, to feel creative, and to use technology to work more quickly. There is also a “Worldwide Creative Council” setting standards and practices. How those things relate to each other is unspecified.

If you like to read tea leaves, try reading “fluid roster of talented individuals” and “business as usual and . . . keep the trains running.” You might get the impression that amid all the vague encouragement to be creative, you are supposed to just keep doing what you’re doing as you have been doing it or you might lose your job.

This is terrible leadership. As an employee, you have nothing to learn and nothing to do differently — except worry about why the CEO is sharing vague rumblings about creativity and the future of your company. Amid a global advertising downturn, this isn’t useful.

A better strategy would be this:

  1. Send a simple memo that says “Matt Eastwood is leaving as Chief Creative Officer. We are not planning on replacing him right now. I’ll have more details later.”
  2. Spend some time figuring out how the creative efforts of the agency will now work. This might take a few months.
  3. When you have figured it out, announce it with clarity.

While I don’t know anything about the culture at JWT, I suspect that telling people to be creative and to keep the trains running is redundant. When you tell people who are doing their jobs to do their jobs, they wonder what’s going on.

Leave the cliches behind. Announce change, not intentions. Because that’s what people respond to.

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    1. Paul, thank you for posting these links. I find myself crossing out “As such,” almost every time I see it when I’m editing, because it’s just been added to bolster the writers’ illusion sthat it makes them sound smarter, when it reality it makes no sense at all as they’ve used it.

  1. Over and under on how many months from now they will announcement that they are appointing a single creative executive who will “ensure consistent quality of work” and “greater impact on our clients’ businesses”?

  2. Here’s what I can’t figure out.
    Unless they benefitted from primogeniture, every CEO was once in the ranks.
    When they were there, they saw memos like this. And probably had the same scornful, BOHICA reaction to this corporate doublespeak that we all did. It fooled no one. I saw this same memo 20 years ago.
    Then they ascend to the throne and start issuing the same bullshit they once saw for what it was.
    Is the air at the top so rarefied that they think that the meaning of this jargon is changed just because they’re the one using it?