Claire Beale On Advertising

Come on, adland: don't fret about the words 'design consultancy' ...

There's nothing like a bit of collective paranoia to get the advertising industry's professional adrenalin pumping. A few years ago, the spectre of ad-savvy management consultants eating agencies' lunches spurred adland to push its services. Though the MCs never did quite plant their flags on agency soil, they did at least give the advertising industry a sound kick.

Could design agencies be about to do the same? Anyone who has been following the twists and turns of the Sony Ericsson saga over recent weeks (more of which below) will be well aware that the management consultant is rapidly being replaced by the design consultant as the industry bête noire.

It's not surprising. There are plenty of good design agencies that inevitably have a view on how a brand could communicate with its customers. And there are plenty of examples of design agencies all but writing the advertising scripts themselves. The fact that design agencies often have the ear of the client CEO while ad agencies have generally been frustrated in their attempts to get into the boardroom doesn't help.

But there is one part of the business where the design and advertising industries conjoin in an orgy of mutual respect: at the D&AD. Anyone at last week's D&AD president's dinner, held in the rarified atmosphere of the senior common room at the Royal College of Art, will testify to that.

As the impeccably urbane and eloquent Dick Powell, of the design agency Seymour Powell, handed the president's mantle on to the rather more ostentatiously maverick Tony Davidson, the creative honcho at Weiden & Kennedy, peace had clearly broken out.

The dinner exemplified what makes D&AD such a powerful organisation: its ability to coalesce a broad group of people around a passion for creativity of any hue.

As Davidson, himself a far cry from the conventional advertising-agency creative, pointed out, great creative ideas do not begin and end with a 30-second TV ad, and the best creative minds work across media and across disciplines. At the sharp business end, design agencies and creative agencies may find themselves in clear competition. But as D&AD crowned its new president last week it seemed obvious that there's plenty of room for pooling creative passions for the good of the creative industries at large.

This wasn't, of course, the case with the Sony Ericsson business. Adland watchers will recall that the mobile phone giant split with Bartle Bogle Hegarty in a blaze of publicity after it emerged that the design consultancy Wolff Olins had been secretly beavering away on SE's brand strategy. With its creative credo compromised, BBH stomped off - leaving the £80m Sony Ericsson account up for grabs. It's a rare agency these days that can afford to be precious about such things, so not surprisingly some of the biggest creative networks quickly piled in to tilt at the Sony Ericsson prize.

Now Saatchi & Saatchi has emerged triumphant, and the sighs of relief at Charlotte Street are deafening. The coup has finally ended Saatchis' new-business drought. Few things are more likely to grind down staff moral and sap energy than pitch after pitch and failure after failure. This is the first major new-business coup since the irrepressible Lee Daley took the helm at the end of 2004. That's a long time dry, and the advertising vultures have already been drooling over the prospect of another CEO carcass.

Since his arrival, Daley has spent plenty of time, money and public relations effort dragging the agency into the 21st century with creative content divisions (Gum) and R&D units (Industry@Saatchi).

But the staleness at Saatchi's core has left cynics dismissing Daley's revolution as nothing more than a fashionable veneer. Sony Ericsson should change all of that. It underwrites the revolution Daley has instituted and gives him licence to push through more changes at the heart of the Saatchi proposition.

Nowhere is change more urgently needed now than in Saatchi's limp creative offering, and Daley knows he needs to make some bold decisions if Sony Ericsson is to be more than a single swallow.

The agency enjoyed a brief creative flaring a few years ago, though much of the excitement centred on only a handful of small-spending clients. Daley needs to revive that sense of creative revolution, this time with a real breadth and depth. If Saatchi's is to do full justice to its intellectual, creative-ideas positioning it needs to follow through in the quality of its execution on a broad range of clients.

Daley has much work ahead. Fortunately for his colleagues, he appears to have more than enough passion for the fight.

WHEN ZENITH Media broke away from its Saatchi & Saatchi parent in 1989, the decision to forgo the gloss of Charlotte Street for a warehouse in Paddington was utterly symptomatic of the media agency's philosophy. Forget fancy restaurants and flowers in reception; rock bottom square footage and a frills-free delivery defined the sort of cost-conscious service that advertisers could expect from the new wave of media independents.

How times change. Last week ZenithOptimedia, as it is now called, proudly unveiled rather swanky new offices a stone's throw from the Charlotte Street alma mater. A glittering cocktail party hosted by that rarest of beasts - a media chief with a planning background - seemed to finally lay to rest the "pile it high, buy it cheap" positioning.

If any of the media A-list quaffing espresso Martinis doubt that Zenith has shaken off its old pecuniary spots they need look no further than the agency's newly unveiled management team. Where once Zenith was the home of the brutal buyer (or "gorillas with calculators", as they used to be known) the intellectual planner now rules. The new-ish CEO Gerry Boyle has promoted the fellow egghead and wise old bird Derek Morris as the agency's chairman, while Mark Howley becomes the new planning director.

So Zenith's move to Fitzrovia is more than a geographical one. In a way it's a metaphor for the direction media agencies across town are now taking: getting closer to the creative process, leading with a planning sensibility rather than simply a buying mentality and slowly managing to charge a better price for a more upstream service.

Rumour has it they even forgo the steak and chips for sushi these days.

Clair Beale is editor of Campaign.

BEST IN SHOW: HARVEY NICHOLS

Clothes are sexy, right? Almost always much more so than the alternative. So it's no surprise that fashion house ads usually ooze pheromones.

Clothes retailers, though, often come at the whole business of advertising with all the hang-ups of any high-street store (driving footfall, maximising sales per square foot). M&S has recently got it right by remembering that its customers are real people looking for lovely clothes (rather than simply walking wallets) and, at the other end of the shopping spectrum, Harvey Nichols rules.

HN has got a great line going in erotic advertising. You may recall the Seven Deadly Sins campaign (lots of rucked-up dresses, post-orgasmic expressions and racy visual double entendres). HN and DDB, its agency, have got passion for fashion nailed.

So a new HN campaign is something to savour. The S&M undertones are still there and the visual metaphors are as rich as ever. So we have a sexy woman with a spike instead of a head approaching two louche guys with balloon heads. Or a woman with a lightbulb for a head, watched by moth-headed men. Geddit?

Photographer Dimitri Daniloff has crafted some beautiful visual stories, the powerful narrative disturbingly dark and unsettling. But they're wicked fun, too; this is fashion as fancy dress for sexual predators - and I want some.

The reality is that with high-street chains now delivering cheap fashion and the web offering cut-price designer gear, HN needs a personality that makes it every bit as desirable a brand as the ones it sells. The new campaign firmly positions Harvey Nichols as the temple of fashion.

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