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Zee Melt 2016: Creative Directors: Who needs them?

Ted Harry Mellstrom, Creative Director at Forsman & Bodenfors, talks about how the agency does not have a hierarchy and how everybody takes full responsibility

Roshni Nair | Delhi | August 30, 2016

(Left) Per Nilsson and Ted Harry Mellstrom (Right) (Left) Per Nilsson and Ted Harry Mellstrom (Right)

It is not every day that a creative director from one of the world’s best creative and digital agencies comes on stage and talks about how maybe there is no need for a creative director in an agency. But Tom Harry Mellstrom from Forsman & Bodenfors did just that. The most awarded agency in the world in 2014 (according to the Gunn Report), Forsman & Bodenfors works a little differently than most others.

Mellstrom doesn’t like the Creative Director’s tag and rather identifies himself as a simple art director. Speaking about how their agency works, Mellstrom says that it is about trusting their creatives and letting them run their own business. “It all comes down to the one word, responsibility. We trust every creative with their own clients, everyone takes full responsibility and everyone is in charge and running their own business.”

Mellstrom says the agency doesn’t have a formal hierarchy within the creative department. It doesn’t don’t have CCOs, ECDs, CDs, it only has art directors and copywriters and no one is in charge of other people’s work. They believe the only boss is the task itself.

“In our view, the most ground-breaking work doesn’t get made if you are just trying to win awards. The most brilliant ideas, the ones that take you off-guard and shake you from within, are the ones that come up with a solution to a real problem. When someone forgets all the internal politics, all the awards and just focuses on one thing – the actual problem, this is when good communication is born. We like to see our creatives as explorers or scientists who only work on one thing, the actual problem,” he said.

But that raises the question of how in the absence of hierarchy, work gets filtered. Answering the question, Mellstrom said, “It is always the team that decides. The core team is pretty small even for a big client. The team consists of an art director, a copywriter, an account manager, a planner and sometimes a PR person. They pick up the brief, they come up with the strategy, they come up with the ideas, present the ideas to the client and they get to know the client. Then we have what we call ‘The floor’. This is where we discuss and present our ideas to other people at work but the team still takes the final decision.”

So what do they look for, when they look to hire?

“We are not only looking for good portfolios, we are looking for Swiss Knifes -- creatives who are or want to become equally good at coming up with ideas as they are at presenting ideas and want to keep pushing the project forward with world-class ambition without waiting for instructions. Ideally they should be a bit like entrepreneurs.”

Forsman & Bodenfors doesn’t have departments because it believes in facilitating discussions and neither does it have fixed teams. This model is designed to make sure that no one is totally dependent on someone else and so that people get to work with different kinds of people.

Speaking about the merits of working in a system where everyone is involved in everything, Mellstrom said, “If you do prize-winning work, everyone in the office will somehow feel involved because they have been and same goes the other way. If you do bad work, the agency is still behind you because they have been involved in your work. There is a fine line between elitist and humane and at Forsman & Bodenfors we try to be 100% of both. We want to be nice and we also want to be the best.”

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