Stefano Hatfield On Advertising
How is it that successful agencies can suddenly spiral downwards?
Monday 17 July 2006
A curious reaction to DDB's new chief executive, Stephen Woodford. "Is this good news for them Stef?" says not one, not two but three callers. The question reveals much both about the affectionate esteem in which the one-time BMP agency in London is still held, and about the relative insularity of Stephen Woodford's reputation after his long-term tenure of senior management positions at WCRS, and its new parent company Engine.
I wrote recently about how extraordinary it was that the chief executive's job at DDB London had been vacant for so long in the wake of previous incumbent Paul Hammersley's departure. It had been left unfilled for even longer than the Lowe post, but one could understand the hesitation of any potential CEOs of that battered agency in taking the job.
Perhaps the drift at DDB had been worse than any of us had realised. This week it formally lost the Guardian account for the second time in its history. (That pitch now appears to be between Wieden & Kennedy and Red Brick Road). It's an unsatisfactory state of affairs that one of the once-plum jobs in British advertising was so little wanted.
However, Woodford, a former IPA president, is a positive appointment. He is clearly someone who did not need to take the job, but rather chose to. This is particularly the case as he was one of the management buy-out team that as recently as 2004 bought the WCRS (now Engine) group out of Havas. Woodford himself had almost six per cent of Engine. And yet, despite the change in ownership, it was still essentially the same group of people he had been working with for the best part of a dozen years. Despite the extraordinary resilience and enthusiasm of Robin Wight and his band, it will be a considerable time before the Engine group is built up again to the level where its principals can cash in, laughing.
Who knows how much DDB is paying Woodford to switch over? Maybe a Langdon or Morris, perhaps even as much as a Lace? His calibre is not in question, but it will be interesting to see if he has the ambition, hunger and drive to inspire DDB to its former glories. He has always seemed one of the more laid-back of our leading ad-men - perhaps that's why he has been such an apposite foil for the ever ebullient Wight all these years.
It is harder to know what DDB London now is. What is DDB globally with Chuck Brymer at the helm rather than Ken Kaess or Keith Reinhard? What is it locally without the influence of the urbane Chris Powell on his phone or feet, or the irreplaceable John Webster at his drawing pad?
For what it's worth, I think Woodford's a good choice. He is a figure of enough stature to reassure clients and is a decent and able enough leader to be able to manage his troops in an agency where morale needs improving fast. But that first day in Paddington without Wight barging into his office flailing his arms about while proffering his latest genius idea will be an odd one. Step up to the plate, new partner Jeremy Craigen.
ONE SLIGHTLY unexpected side effect of Woodford's departure is the return to full-time mainstream advertising of Peter Scott, the "S" in WCRS. Scott who had been executive chairman of Engine, now assumes the chief executive role that Woodford is vacating. Perhaps years of polo and mining for mineral water have finally taken their toll, and Scott needs the adrenalin rush of advertising. One thing's for sure the Engine group will feel the force.
LIKE I said last week, one of the great puzzles of the advertising industry is how an agency like JWT can suddenly find itself in a downward spiral of bad luck and lost business. This week, in addition to the already departed Reckitt Benckiser, Rice Krispies and Weight Watchers and the threat posed by Pfizer globally, it now has the worry of First Direct seeking ideas from other agencies.
It is perhaps a little surprising given that the agency only won the entire HSBC account in 2005, but less so when you realise that First Direct is still running a campaign by its old agency WCRS. Either way, this is not an account that JWT can afford to let slip, particularly in the midst of its current headaches.
THE RED Brick Road has now landed the global Heineken account - a considerable coup. The inevitable sniping has ensued, as with their Tesco win last year, that the appointment has only been made because of a long-term relationship; this time between the The Red Brick Road founder Sir Frank Lowe and Charlene de Carvalho, the daughter of the Heineken boss, Freddie Heineken. It is one of the more bizarre criticisms of the ad industry. Would you be more inclined to give your business to a lawyer you trusted or not? How about going to see a doctor you respected, or not? So why is it so weird in connection with advertising? Sir Frank is absolutely not landing the account because he can sit de Carvalho between Sir Cliff Richard and Cilla Black at the Stella Artois Final. That may be tough to take for the losing agency's boss, Strawberry Frog's Scott Goodson. "Doing great work isn't always enough to keep a relationship together these days," was his bitter comment. What great work was that again Scott? The stuff that was so good Heineken decided it would pull it off television?
TREVOR BEATTIE is a sucker for punishment. Having been dumped by one long-time lover FCUK, he has rekindled his relationship with another, the Labour Party. Last week he created an ad that ran in The Times featuring 40 prominent Labour donors, alongside a line from each about why they donate to Labour. You can't fault the timing of the ad, but it's all a bit earnest for me. Why not try something a little more daring? Two Blair babes having a bitch-fight in wet T-shirts perhaps?
AH! THE power of the press. I know you will all be agog to discover the outcome of my recent spat with Habitat (slogan: "make yourself at home") over trying to obtain the furniture I had paid for seven months previously. After the rant in the column induced a flurry of obsequious communications from the press office, last weekend my Hana Tallboy was delivered - and in some style. The flat-packs came out of the back of a blue saloon car, not a white van, and they were delivered by the most polite and articulate deliverers you ever met.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the next famous brand name you would like me to prick into action
HATFIELD'S BEST IN SHOW SHREDDED WHEAT
One watches this ad peering through a squint at the screen. This is not, as you might imagine, in an attempt to decipher some of the proposed uses of Shredded Wheat, but because of the sight of a former sporting hero trying to reprise one of his former roles (as a Shredded Wheat salesman). So how did Ian Botham do? Really well, if you ask me. He's still a bigger personality than all but a couple of our modern-day cricketers, and for a while he was famous for eating three Shredded Wheat too. A lot of you have moved on since then, and maybe you will again, but this ad chimes well with my worry about all the sugary nonsense that passes for cereals. It is still a shock to see how Beefy has aged, though.
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