Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

Getting Americans to appreciate this world-class Brit is a tall order
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The Independent Online

So I have to live a little and break a mini-rule of mine by writing about the event as if I were there - although most of it I can tell you in almost total certainty, without recourse to any blog or trade magazine's website.

I can promise that the welcoming barbecue was excruciatingly stiff and sponsor-heavy - especially the bit when the cowboy band started playing. It is a safe bet that BBDO's Andrew Robertson will have delivered the funniest and cleverest CEO speech, and that the late Ken Kaess of DDB will be sorely missed by day as an impassioned and erudite contributor, and by night as a gadabout barfly. I would even wager my sponsored lanyard collection from past events that one of the last two people in that bar when it closes in the wee small hours around 10pm will be Alison "iron-liver" Fahey, the formidable long-term editor of AdWeek. It's a conference Jim, but not as the schmoozy, boozy European ad industry knows it.

And then along came Ron Berger. Berger is best known for being the CEO of, and the shortest name in, the daftest-branded agency in advertising history: Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG. This, remember, is a company that is supposed to advise clients on building their brand names! He is second-best-known as the chairman of the self-same 4As organisation. And he used his outgoing chairman's speech to do that rarest of things at an American advertising conference: not only did he come off the fence, but he got personal.

Some of it was unarguable: the US television networks were "arrogant" and "greedy", Berger said, which is about as controversial as saying they are big. Then he attacked the trade magazines for not knowing the business well enough. That is unarguable too. If the journalists knew more about it, then they would have made as much money for old rope from it as him.

After the soft targets, then came gentleman Jack Klues, worldwide CEO of the Publicis Media Group. Klues had dared suggest at another recent 4As conference (yes, people do measure out their lives by them) that the recent quietly-mooted suggestion that media departments be merged back into agencies would be "like going back to the Eighties". Which it would. But that might not be such a bad thing in this respect, although it won't happen.

Then there was a slap for Bob Liodice, the president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers client body, for daring to question recently why any advertiser would work with just a single agency on its roster. Berger cited some familiar productive client/single-agency relationships in his argument: Nike and Wieden and Kennedy, FedEx and BBDO, and - erm - Volvo, for which MVBMS Euro RSCG has long produced some of the most anodyne car advertising in America.

The headlines were made by an attack on Britain's own WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell, lambasted for the umpteenth time in the US for being "not like John". "John" is of course Wren, the worldwide CEO of America's favourite holding company, Omnicom. I have to admit that this bit below I did get from Advertising Age's report.

"I think our industry would be better if we had more holding company CEOs like John Wren and less like Martin Sorrell," Berger said. "John's understanding and respect for his own brands, the work and his people, shows that you can run a public company that pleases more than just shareholders and analysts. John is unique, and we need more like him."

It's "fewer" Ron, not "less". Was that another subliminal height-ist remark? Sir Martin is often cruelly referred to at American events like this as "6/21" (the shortest night...). And then think about all those bigger - way, way bigger in their horizontally striped golf-shirts - men sniping about Sorrell behind his back. You should see them fawn when they actually meet him. Or when they eagerly take the cheque when he comes acquiring.

What is it that they really have against him? You could be generous and buy their line that it's black and white: that Wren nurtures his network's agency management and the creative ethos of his agencies, while Sorrell is "only" in it for the money, is somehow more ruthless. This last point is laughable. Or, then again, it could just be plain old xenophobia directed at the Brit who has amassed four of America's most famous advertising brands: JWT, Ogilvy and Mather, Young and Rubicam, and Grey. What's more, a man who disdains golf for cricket.

But, good lord, what's eating Ron Berger? He can be charming company, but has always struck me as a stray remark away from being borderline-miserable-git whenever I meet him - usually at events like the 4As. Agency bosses never talk like this. Perhaps he had this building up for years?

That would of course be those same years during which his ultimate boss, Alain de Pouzilhac, the CEO of Euro RSCG and Havas in turn, was consistently outdone by the same Sorrell in their respective quests for global domination. It was a relative failure that hindered Berger's own network's growth, left Havas trailing a long way behind the "big four", and ultimately cost de Pouzilhac his job.

Most surprising of all, somehow Berger's speech forced me indirectly into writing an article defending Sir Martin Sorrell! What are they putting in the Scotch down there, Ron?

WELL, AT LEAST there will be one supposedly ignorant trade press journalist in a stronger position to defend those much-maligned Brit admen over there: Jonah Bloom, the long time deputy to the widely-respected Scott Donaton, finally got the top editor's job at Advertising Age, a position of considerable influence in the business. Jonah, formerly editor of Haymarket's PR Week (American edition) and Campaign media business when in the UK, will bring some flair and fun to an excellent publication (OK, I used to work for Crain, the publishers) that is prone to taking itself a touch too seriously. Luckily, Jonah likes a Scotch. He'll be offered enough.

FURTHER EVIDENCE, if ever any were needed, that accounts so seldom move because of the quality of the creative work came this week via Yell's decision to part company with AMV BBDO and stage a pitch for its £20m account. This ends a 23-year relationship marked by consistently outstanding advertising. Most recently there was the good, not great, Cold Feet star James Nesbitt's series of Yell spots, but most famously of course, there was the JR Hartley "fly-fishing" spot in which an elderly author used the Yellow Pages to track down a copy of his own out-of-print book. Apparently, AMV's BT client is now to launch its own competitive classified directory, and so the two have parted. It's a real shame that advertising as an industry can still not resolve the issue of conflict.

E-mail if you have ever found yourself unexpectedly defending Sir Martin Sorrell


OK, let's get this straight. Marmite is disgusting. I mean everything about it: the smell most of all, but its colour, its texture and I would say it's taste. I can't even get near a jar without retching. But Marmite does have wonderfully distinctive packaging and has enjoyed consistently excellent advertising. This is no different. Having spent much of this week working with someone who broke their collarbone skiing I can relate to the hapless guy's thwarted attempts trying to get, one-armed, into the old-style Marmite jar, if not his desire to lick the disgusting product off the kitchen floor before his wife arrives with the new product in her shopping bag. That smell, that taste, that new squeezy bottle - it will be everywhere.