Mark Denton

Did collaboration kill creativity in advertising?

Mark Denton is back in an ad agency for the first time in 35 years — as an intern. He’s found the atmosphere to be less competitive and more collaborative: but what does that mean for creativity?

As 2022 began, Mark Dentonadland star and director/owner of Coy! Communicationsfound himself in a position he’d never been in before. After nearly four decades of working in the ad industry, he was seeing in the new year with no jobs booked and no production company representation. He was keen, so he said on LinkedIn, to talk to “anybody who wants a chat about possibilities”, and mused that he might apply for an agency internship in a bid to “see how advertising works now”.

Soon after, London-based creative agency St Luke’s got in touch and Denton found himself taking on his first ever internship, returning to agency life for the first time since 1994. The experience has been, he says, “an education”. And it must certainly feel like a shift: even when Denton was working in agencies, nearly 30 years ago, they were ones he was at least co-leading. He reckons the last time he had to show his work to another creative director was in 1988. “It’s about biting your bottom lip,” says Denton. “It’s not unpleasant, I’m just not used to it.”

Lip-biting aside, among the most striking differences for Denton between agency life then and now is the working environment itself: gone are the days of creative directors lounging in personal offices with well-stocked little booze fridges, and of very long lunches (often 11am until 4pm, according to Denton); but also, gone are the days when competition, rather than collaboration, was how things got done.