Mark Wnek on Advertising

In a pitch battle, sometimes it's best to 'pass out' and slip away
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The Independent Online

I like marketing people. I've never felt the urge to count my fingers after shaking hands with a marketing person - a common feeling when encountering certain denizens of ad agencies. Goodness knows, marketing people have a tough time these days developing and differentiating their products while being rugby tackled by the 800lb gorilla known as the Government.

Ad agencies can help them by, among other things, ensuring total transparency in all dealings. One area requiring urgent attention is agencies touting for new business with advertising created by people no longer at the agency. Such work should either be taken off the agency reel or a clearly worded coda needs to be added informing potential clients of the situation. For example: "This work which shared a gold award in the recent IPA Effectiveness Awards was created by a creative team now at JWT, while the planner who authored the IPA paper left in December 2004." OK, that might look a touch ungainly on an agency reel, but isn't anything else misrepresentation? I will be keeping an eye out for agencies transgressing Wnek's Law in the weeks to come and listing them on my Wnek Wall of Shame.

Talking of clients, the scariest one I have ever met was Margaret McDonagh, the general secretary of the Labour Party, some four years ago when I was pitching for their account at my former agency. Basically, the person in that role runs it day to day.

Margaret came in with a couple of youngsters and Labour focus-group supremo Philip Gould. The former adman was suitably convivial during the pre-meeting small talk, whereas Margaret wore the demeanour of a Presbyterian deaconess at a wife-swapping party. Soon after this meeting, two things happened: 1) we were reliably informed that Frank Dobson, the official Labour Party mayoral candidate, had already been in to brief one of the rival pitching agencies, TBWA; and 2) Ken Livingstone came to us and asked us to represent him.

For those unfamiliar with the ad agency pitch process, it is usual for the unsuccessful agencies in a pitch to be the last to find out - often you find out in the trade press. So, we assumed that the politically, extremely well-connected TBWA boys - Beattie, Hornby, et al - had won the pitch. And so we said yes to Ken.

Driving home in my car later that day, my phone rang. At the other end of the line, Margaret asked in a voice like a broken bottle if it was true that we were talking to Ken. I burbled something like: "Why? You've appointed TBWA." To which she replied that she hadn't even started the pitch yet, and had I, or had I not, been talking to Ken. My answer was the same as any top UK adman would have given in the same position: "Er, sorry Margaret - hiss, hiss - can't hear you - hiss, hiss - bad line - breaking up - hiss," followed by turning off the phone and being off sick for a couple of days.

All of which was far from my mind at a small but perfectly formed dinner gathering recently given by TBWA at which my old college pal Alastair Campbell was speaking. Sitting down to eat, I glanced at the place-card next to me and blanched at the words: Margaret McDonagh. For a split-second, a ploy for getting out of the tightest scrapes, once explained to me by a famous old-school adman, flashed through my mind: pretend to pass out and slip away in the ensuing brouhaha. The next moment, Margaret, now Baroness McDonagh of Mitcham and Morden, sat down next to me. Needless to say, the Baroness couldn't tell some cretinous adman she'd encountered for five minutes half a decade ago from Adam and was absolutely charming company. I, however, continued to hold my hand half in front of my face all evening in the manner of the Scarlet Pimpernel, fearfully flattering myself that Margaret might at any moment go narrow-eyed, thrust a finger in my face and say, "'Ere, don't I know you?"

Why shouldn't we enjoy living dangerously?

Politics apart, something really excites me about America. The reason being it's a dangerous place. America is full of wild animals - wolves, bears, elks, rattlers, lions, alligators, coyotes, lizards, eagles. It's not uncommon in many cities to find a bear going through your dustbin or to have to break sharply as a pair of coyotes scamper across the street in front of you.

Unsurprisingly, the settlers who first went there were big on weapons. America remains big on weapons. Even as you're stepping off your plane and passing through US Customs, you sense that anything could happen, much of it scary, with the net effect that you feel somehow inexplicably more, well, alive.

While I like to think no power on earth could ever re-introduce hand guns to the UK, I felt excited stirrings recently when I read the re-introduction of wolves to the UK, specifically in the Scottish Highlands, was being mooted. Wolves in Britain! Real life in the raw and back on our shores! Could it really happen?

Well, look at it this way: this government has just spent millions of tax pounds on a white paper on public health to protect us and our children from... crisps. A key proposal of the paper is a ban on all advertising for 'junk' food before 9pm.

As our increasingly less vibrant land begins to take on the guise of a closely-marshalled Euro Disney theme park, any chance of a white paper on the subject of our increasingly junk lives, low in natural spontaneity and packed with heavy-handed governmental additives?

Wnek's Best In Show: Chanel No. 5

With the art of advertising increasingly under pressure, enter Chanel No. 5's £18m campaign based around a three-minute commercial by Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann starring Nicole Kidman in frocks (including one with a 20ft train) by Karl Lagerfeld. In the commercial absolutely everyone's talking about, Ms Kidman plays the world's most beautiful woman, pursued by paparazzi as she tries to find love. Proof positive that big-time advertising, creativity and market leadership still go hand in hand.