Agency creativity and the evolving advertising industry
: An exploratory study

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The purpose of the study is to understand how agency creativity has changed within UK advertising agencies as a result of the changing digital landscape. The study reviews the drivers of change in the industry and explores how creative advertising agencies are evolving and developing their team resources, work practices and relationships using a multi-disciplinary approach.

Whilst advertising creativity has enjoyed a rich and established body of literature there is scant research on teams in this context. As a result, the study draws on literature from several perspectives in a multi-disciplinary approach for a greater understanding of the phenomena under investigation. Specifically, literature has been reviewed from the general creativity literature for theoretical underpinning and identifies issues from team diversity and creativity research, advertising creativity, and client-agency relationships in advertising. It addresses the calls from the teams’ literature for real world studies and draws from gaps within the literature in relation to advertising creativity, influence of the client, client-agency relationships and work practices to add insight and recommendations for practitioners.

This study adopts a cross sectional qualitative approach with participants drawn from 21 different creative advertising agencies within the UK using key informants in Elite interviews. Additional data from interviews in practitioner articles about creativity and teams were collected from Campaign Live; the Drum and Advertising Age and used predominantly for sense checking of the issues under investigation.

The findings explain how agencies have responded to the changes in the digital landscape and emphasise how creativity has moved from being an individual focus to dispersal across a team. The findings establish why teams in particular, are more functionally diverse with many different formations, and expertise and explains how agencies are developing fluid teams to meet the demands of today’s fast paced organisations. Coupled with this, advertising agency work practices are evolving to reflect the external pressures of less time, money and the challenges of operating in an evolving digital landscape. Finally, the influence of the client and the nature of the creative challenge presented by the client affect client-agency relationships and explains why agencies are repositioning themselves in order to better meet the demands of clients and create competitive advantage.

There are three major contributions from this study. Firstly, the findings of this study contribute to the advancement of theory related to creativity in advertising by establishing that the responsibility for creative ideas is now dispersed throughout the agency. Creativity has been reframed as a “mindset” for everyone in an agency rather than confined to specific “creative” roles. The resulting conceptual framework developed captures a new understanding and illustrates and explains how the responsibility for creativity has changed. This is important theoretically because it explains how the combination of competencies i.e. mindset, skills and expertise, is an important competence which needs to be developed as an organisational resource.

This overall contribution leads to a second contribution which relates to the development of a team level view of how functional team diversity affects the creative output and breaks new ground in the advertising creativity literature. This is important because the evolving digital landscape necessitates a greater variety of expertise for campaigns. The ability to operationalise these teams in a ‘fluid’ way will create a dynamic capability which will create competitive advantage and undoubtedly lead to better performance.

Thirdly, in order to facilitate this dispersed creativity, this study establishes the need for agencies to realign the creative process away from a linear approach to one of collaboration which facilitates flexibility and agility in response to client needs. Accordingly, this allows for a better utilisation of resources both within and across the agency and ultimately to improved flexible client-agency relationships. Instead of agencies competing with their clients to carry out the tasks which agencies make little money from or which clients are better able to perform, they learn to work with them for mutual benefit and develop new ways to add value in the relationship. In this way, the influence of the client on advertising creativity leads to a rethinking of the roles within the client-agency relationships and the need for agencies to establish a clear positioning to avoid client confusion.

The study concludes with implications for practicing managers in advertising agencies and identifies further avenues for research.

Date of Award1 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDirk Vom Lehn (Supervisor) & Finola Kerrigan (Supervisor)

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