Mark Wnek on advertising

Why our agencies go to the ends of the earth in search of creativity
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The Independent Online

Until quite recently, five of the UK's biggest ad agencies had creative supremos who hailed from the ends of the earth: Dave Alberts at Grey; Matthew Bull at Lowe; Matt Eastwood at M&C Saatchi; Tony Granger at Saatchi & Saatchi (S&S) and Malcolm Poynton at Ogilvy. Alberts and Eastwood are Australians and Poynton's a Kiwi , while Bull and Granger come from South Africa. Why is it that an incredibly high percentage of Britain's leading ad agencies feel the need to go halfway around the world to find creative management? Particularly as advertising creativity is one of the few things at which England rules.

(When I say "rules", this is largely according to the admittedly childish measure of advertising awards, which has little bearing on much other than helping me make this point.)

Australian business (indeed, Australian life) is somehow more healthy and outdoorsy, more can-do and virile, than in the UK. Over there, charisma outranks correctness. Certainly, all of the guys in the list above who I've met - Alberts, Bull and Eastwood - are extremely charismatic. In new business pitches, all things being equal - and they usually are - charisma is priceless. English creatives are simply not inculcated with or promoted on the basis of such qualities. In UK advertising, client relations have always been jealously guarded by suits. The latter have stunted the career possibilities of generations of creatives by, shall we say, "protecting" them from clients.

Not only does this state of affairs not yield charismatic, creative leadership, equally importantly neither does it promote any business nous. For English creatives, the Holy Grail is winning awards. And if you're locked away crafting ads for the benefit of awards juries, the client's right and proper business issues - like hoping their brand/product might be recognisable - are non-issues: there's nothing an advertising awards jury likes less than a big logo or packshot.

Australian and South African advertising creatives develop their careers in a more grown-up atmosphere. They consider themselves businesspeople, rather than artists "manqués", and are treated as such with far more "client face-time" than their English counterparts.

None of which, by the way, guarantees success. Indeed, the new-business rankings of the above gentlemen's agencies make ugly reading: last week, S&S lay 11th in Campaign magazine's advertising new-biz league table and Tony Granger is about to leave for S&S New York; M&C Saatchi were 12th and Matt Eastwood has left the company; Poynton's Ogilvy lay 19th, with Alberts' Grey and Bull's Lowe outside the top 20.

While Alberts and Bull find themselves in circumstances beyond their control - Grey recently lost its UK CEO and has just been taken over, while Lowe also has major worldwide issues - for our friends from the southern hemisphere, London Adland can be a cold, parochial and relentlessly competitive place.

For those who stick with it and manage to thaw London Adland's stiff upper lips - like the brilliant former creative director of S&S in London, Aussie Dave Droga; now worldwide creative head for Saatchi parent Publicis - the world of creative management is their oyster.

They certainly won't have any competition on the global stage from English creatives, most of whom are too busy whingeing about the big logo to bother about the big picture.

The surefire way to spot worthless men in suits

I hope I didn't give the impression last week that I am against all ad-agency account handlers, or suits. In fact, I know few people as charismatic as a Bill Muirhead or as switched on as a Michael Baulk. What I am against are the bad ones, of which there are far too many, braying with laughter as they examine their giant pay-packets of soft-earned cash.

Several clients have now asked me if I know how to winkle out these rotters. I have directed them without hesitation to my Addison Lee test.

This works like so: most projects involving your ad agency involve account handlers, be they to create a brief, to decide strategy or finalise creative work. Each project will need a certain number of meetings and a certain amount of stewardship, often from an eyebrow-raisingly high number of account handlers.

At the end of a given project, recap the input of each account handler involved and ask yourself: Could the input of any one of them have been every bit as well done by a motorcycle messenger with a clipboard?

If, in any instance, the answer is "yes", then dare I venture that the £120,000 per annum which Bunty Partington from JWT or wherever is earning for laughing at your jokes, pouring the tea, noting your comments and passing them on word for word (with just a tiny bit of sugar on top) to people back at the agency is nothing more than old-fashioned theft?