Stefano Hatfield On Advertising

The seeds of this creative brain drain were sown 15 years ago
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the land of the bland, the one-stop total integrated marketing solution is king. With the smaller, independent, avowedly creative and multi-disciplinary independent agencies appearing to be more attractive to even the largest global clients, many of our larger networks' local offices are in various stages of decline.

Is there ever to be a return to London glory for the likes of FCB, Lowe, Ogilvy, Euro RSCG and others? Is the future for the likes of JWT, Y & R, Grey, McCann-Erickson, Saatchi and the rest slow decline by a thousand budget cuts and local clients rebelling against unwanted network alignments?

So, what are the larger networks to do? At the risk of a platitude: advertising is nothing but a people business. Agencies can come up with all the proprietary and supposedly exclusive systems they like, but all they really have is their human talent. Sadly, this week again proved in just what short supply this talent has become.

In New York I once met Simon Bolton in the 42nd St office of the mercurial Irish-American CEO of FCB Worldwide, Brendan Ryan. Bolton was then in charge of FCB San Francisco. I think the newly minted VCCP co-founder Rooney Carruthers was then his creative partner in an unlikely business marriage. Bolton seemed nice enough, a regular mid-level suit.

When - to the amazement of the London ad community - he was named as JWT's London chief executive in 2001, across the pond I was as bemused as everyone else. Running JWT was once the preserve of some of the industry's finest: Jeremy Bullmore, Chris Jones, Dominic Proctor and William Eccleshare, to name but four. And, no offence to Bolton, but he is simply not in that league. The news that he will step down after the loss of Persil/Omo and the failure to land BA, among other recent bad news, will surprise no one.

JWT has been the UK's biggest or second-biggest agency for ever. When it hasn't been, there was an assumption that it should have been, and would be again. But, in microcosm, what has happened at JWT London and its WPP cousin Ogilvy & Mather provides some insight into what appears now to be the clear talent drain that UK advertising has suffered over the past two decades. And I don't mean merely star names leaving for New York.

Ogilvy, too, seems a shadow of its former self. Virtually the last time anything was heard of the unknown Gary Leih was when he was appointed group chairman in March - which is still the latest news on the Ogilvy UK website. Don't they even do fun runs at Canary Wharf?

Again, no offence to agency chairman Paul Jackson, but this is the iconoclastic agency David Ogilvy built. Ogilvy and JWT were not only dominant forces in the UK industry, but they had distinctive and influential cultures. What happened?

It is not satisfactorily explained by the commonplace adland urban myth that Sir Martin Sorrell and his network CEO peers have somehow squashed the personality and derring-do out of their agency executives.

To my mind, the root cause of the talent dearth lies in the successive rounds of savagely swingeing job cuts that agencies have made over the past two decades in almost perfect unison with the recessions of 1989, 2000 and more.

The first thing to go each time has been agency graduate recruitment and training programmes. The talent that should now be running agencies simply wasn't being hired 15 years or so ago. And, in subsequent downturns the layer of middle management that should have stepped in when the top tier hived off to form the likes of CHI and Mother were made redundant.

In truth, this is the result of big agencies now all being part of publicly held network groups, and the need to report positive news every quarter. And, in short, the ad industry is now reaping the rewards of its own short-termism and short-sightedness.

AS WINTER breezes in and fuel bills begin to mount, we all start huddling together for warmth. This past week alone HOW, Ken Hoggins and Chris O'Shea's new-born agency has sought a safe home for its coveted Waitrose account at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, which can happily afford the cost of insulation.

If that was inevitable, given MCBD already had 50 per cent of an agency that was never going to fly by itself, Lowe London's move to absorb DFGW is just a little sad. Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters is the agency that never quite was. It was the agency that wasn't HHCL or Simons Palmer or later Rainey Kelly in the so-called third-wave of British agencies that flourished in the early- and mid-90s.

Nicknamed GGT Lite, they were good people, but not the exceptional talents (Gary Duckworth aside) of its above-named illustrious contemporaries. At Campaign we would all draw lots to see which reporter would have to call Michael Finn and inform him that yet another of his peer group had sold out to a big network for gazillions. The silence was deafening, before - falteringly - the typical bluster would return: "Of course we turned them down. Not enough money."

The advent of Mother, Fallon, Clemmow Hornby Inge and the rest further upped the ante. DFGW now has an air of yesterday's agency about it. Still, like I said, good people. I hope Lowe proves to be a decent home.

THANKS TO readers who wrote in after last week's Marmite piece with other products that denigrated themselves in their own marketing - such as Laphroaig whisky. Skoda was mentioned more than once, but in acknowledging that people thought it was crap, was argued that it wasn't. Marmite acknowledges that it will repulse some consumers - and that really is unique.

GIVING AWAY £5 notes in London's Elephant & Castle shopping centre must have seemed a great idea to some bright spark at the Blac agency. It was a wheeze on behalf of Oakmayne Properties to promote investment in the local Walworth area. Blac stuck £1,000 in fivers on a 48-sheet poster, and people were supposed to walk away with one note each. Inevitably, it turned into a mini-stampede - even the agency's ladder was stolen. Is there really any wonder that people have such a dim view of the "immoral" ad industry stoking an ever greedier society?

Comments