Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

What other business would so prostrate itself before its clients?
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The Independent Online

Have ad agencies become the patsies of the business world? Don't get me wrong. I know that no one reading this is going to lose sleep sympathising with advertising agencies when times are tough, but what other conclusion to reach in the week that McCann Erickson London is forced to resign the £60m-billing global Boots Healthcare International account?

The galling thing is that McCann never did anything wrong. As part of a corporate edict from Interpublic Group HQ, the agency has had to pull out of the pitch for BHI parent company Reckitt Benckiser's £350m global business. In real money, that is IPG telling McCann to pass up the opportunity to add some £30m in income to its books.

Why? Because the sister IPG network FCB had apparently signed an agreement with its own long-standing SC Johnson client that no other part of the vast IPG holding company's subsidiaries could handle what SC Johnson considers conflicting business.

This is nuts. Whatever possessed FCB or the beleaguered IPG to sign such an agreement in the first place? Ok, I know the answer to that question resides in the word "beleaguered". But what other business would so prostrate itself before its clients? A local farmer before the mighty WalMart or Tesco buyer, perhaps.

I know it's not the first time I have written this, but the ad industry's publicly held key players need to sort out the issue of conflict once and for all. How can one firm of lawyers (the admittedly admirable Lewis Silkin) act for two-thirds of the country's top 20 agencies, when one London agency can't work on Nurofen in the UK, because another network entirely is working on unrelated brands such as Glade or Pledge in the US?

An industry that was a byword for new-moneyed arrogance in the 1980s is now allowing itself to be treated as a doormat by clients in 2006. But the conflict issue really needs Omnicom, WPP, IPG, Publicis and Havas to stick together in order for them to fight it. Is this possible?

* ON THE subject of McCann, let me first declare my hand: my wife works for Universal McCann, the media-buying arm of the global advertising giant. So I shall probably be beaten badly for even venturing near this subject, but the seven-figure lawsuit launched in New York by 30-year McCann veteran George Hayes against Universal for "age discrimination" is one of the more fascinating stories on either side of the Atlantic this year. It's a parable for our age.

To recap: Universal has had a tough time the past couple of years. But then, which part of its parent InterPublic Group hasn't? Having fired his predecessor, Robin Kent, and left the worldwide CEO role empty for an uncomfortably long time, the new IPG boss Michael Roth appointed the Brit Nick Brien to the top slot last year with a brief to re-engineer the company.

The exuberant and bullish Brien loves a challenge like this, and also likes articulating what he believes he should do. Consequently, he has repeatedly expressed a desire that Universal modernise and reinvent itself, embracing the digital age and all the implications that that may have for the major media buyers such as Universal that have long ruled the roost, based primarily on their buying power, particularly with the big TV networks. So far, so not controversial.

Implicit in this articulation is an expectation that a younger workforce is the inevitable consequence of that desire to embrace the digital revolution - most obviously because younger people have grown up with digital in the same way that fiftysomethings can recall the big leaps that were colour television, remote controls and the VCR. Doubt this for a minute? Then try, as I did today, to nurture and train a virtual dog on the astonishingly imaginative NintenDogs game a quarter as well as my eight-year-old daughter can. (The game's up for a D&AD design award this week).

According to Advertising Age's report on the suit, Hayes alleges that "Mr Brien stated that the young people in the group 'got it' when it came to 'new media' of the digital age, that 'things will be different around here'".

As a consequence, the 54-year-old Hayes, once closely involved with the now departed GM account, claims that he was frozen out and eventually let go by Universal on the grounds t hat he "did not have the skill set" to remain employed by Universal McCann.

What a tricky issue. It's no wonder that US business is becoming increasingly hamstrung by litigation. I know exactly what Hayes is saying, while having no knowledge of his specific abilities with regards to the internet or mobile communications; his understanding of TiVo and related technologies; or his familiarity with PlayStations and Xboxes, Nintendos and MP3 players. Gr8 if he txts in code? Lol. U c wot I mean?

What I do know is that if you are over 30, you can know about this stuff, but if you ever venture to post on www.youtube.com, it is not because you want lots of members of the opposite sex to ogle you miming to pop songs in your bedroom with your gal pals. It will be to experiment, of course. For work.

I have sympathy for Brien, too. What else could he say as the new broom? Especially in the era of CEOs having to explain their every move to eager staff in the sprit of openness in the workplace. My bet? It will be settled out of court, with Hayes walking away with a tidy sum.

* BORING BUT important: there was I, starting to find Vincent Bollore a little more interesting than the average corporate raider, and believing that he had serious intentions towards not only nurturing and developing Havas, but perhaps even Aegis, too. I saw that Sir Martin Sorrell and Maurice Levy took him seriously. I bought the line that he could see the greater future co-operation between the two groups' respective media networks, MPG and Carat, and applauded his choice of new Havas CEO, Fernando Rodes.

And then, on the back of his newly increased stake in Aegis, he went and made Roger Hatchuel, former CEO of the Cannes International Advertising Festival, one of his two nominations to the board of Aegis. I offer no comment other than to encourage you all to Google him.

* IT'S NOT often that one could accuse advertising's resident bouncing Brummie, Trevor Beattie, of being backward in coming forward. However, with relative modesty, his new agency BMB is putting together a rather tasty list of household-name, very British clients, all of which present Trevor with an opportunity to create the kind of advertising that touches our collective consciousness. It's a collection that should suit his uniquely English voice. This week, he added Selfridges to the likes of HP Sauce, Carling, Lea & Perrins, Sky News, French Connection, First Choice and Virgin Galactic.

Add in Discovery Channel, Express Newspapers and the Westfield development, and it's an impressive year-one new-business performance. Now for all the creative work...

E-mail: stefanohat1@aol.com with any incriminating photographs from Wednesday night's D&AD Awards

Hatfield's Worst In Show: John Smith's

OK, it's not the worst thing on television, but this first post-Peter Kay work from TBWA is the most disappointing John Smith's ad I can ever recall seeing, and perhaps the first one in more than a decade at least that I don't actively like. The true genius of the late John Webster was evident in three great and entirely different campaigns for John Smith's (think Gertcha, Arkwright, Jack Dee). But it is as much evident through omission in this case: what's missing is the lightness of touch that defined Webster's entire oeuvre. It no longer works to have a yuppie behaving obnoxiously with the Bluetooth earpiece, and being kicked out of the traditional pub. That conceit belongs to the 90s or before. Today, it is the pub's regular clientele who are just as likely to be on the Bluetooth earpiece, if not more so. More than that, whatever that elusive "certain something" that Webster's work had, simply isn't present in this execution.

It's a shame.

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