Stefano Hatfield On Advertising

For the big agency groups, the times they really are a-changin'
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The Independent Online

Worryingly, this past week, readers have started taking my advice. For example, Robert Campbell, the McCann-Erickson creative director, quit to launch his third start-up. I had only just asked why any seriously talented senior ad executive, with enough credibility, youth and energy, would spend their days being beaten up by corporate masters and clients in a network agency job, rather than set up on their own and sell for squillions just three or so years of fun later.

In the interest of full disclosure, Campbell is a good friend of mine; and not just a lunch-at-The Ivy, advertising-type friend, but the real deal. His growing disillusion with the big-agency corporate life he had signed up for in 2003 had long been apparent. Many took his recent ennui to be an affectation rather than his honest feelings. But, that's not the real Campbell. This was a situation that couldn't continue, particularly once the birth of his first child this summer had prompted the inevitable priorities rethink.

Mystifyingly, the prospect of life as McCann's European creative chief, hopping around Europe to attend endless fire-fighting meetings, didn't appeal, particularly with a new family waiting in a lovely Notting Hill home.

Beyond the depressing reality of an international network role, Campbell's exit can also be seen in the context of the McCann parent company, InterPublic Group's continuing travails. It's the inevitable trickle-down effect of the ineptitude, lack of innovation and mismanaged public relations that have characterised the last five years or so of IPG's descent from industry leader to laggard. Not to mention a share price that is still languishing.

Given Campbell's track record with clients such as Virgin, The Times, Volvo and others, and in setting up Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, there will be a host of senior agency talent prepared to throw in their lot with him. Clients will not be too far behind.

Seen in the wider context of client defection from big agency groups (this week, Panasonic dumped Grey, despite the success of its latest campaign), we may be seeing a belated revolt against the increase in control of Wall Street over Madison Avenue. The worm may not quite have turned but it has found a way into the (Big) apple.

SIR FRANK LOWE is not a personal friend - although we have broken bread at several glamorous establishments, and had many run-ins over the years, some quite good-natured. Almost uniquely in my experience, these usually revolved around Sir Frank's obsession that I should understand what good advertising was, and that his agency was trying to create it.

Mostly, though, he wasn't seeking self-promotion. He didn't need it. His long track record as boss of Collett Dickenson Pearce in its Seventies glory days, and then the extraordinary success of what became Lowe Worldwide involved his being associated with more great advertising campaigns than any single figure in British advertising history.

He is not a creative person in the sense of the old-fashioned definition: copywriter or art director. Instead, he was the advocate of extraordinary talents such as Colin Millward, John Salmon, Adrian Holmes and Paul Weinberger. His willingness to battle for exceptional advertising has created numerous client business transformations, most notably for Hamlet, Heineken, Stella Artois and Tesco.

Having sold out to IPG, however, Lowe appeared to be a less wise King Canute, desperately trying to hold back the philistine tide of clients who only wanted ads on the cheap, and agency executives who cared only about appeasing shareholders and misguidedly timorous clients. Lowe was an early critic of IPG, at a time when, in the US, he was dismissed as a difficult British eccentric - a relic of a bygone age when agencies told clients what was best, and delivered work in their own time. There appeared to be a dwindling number of clients prepared to "put up with" his personal style.

Recent rumours that he might buy back Lowe therefore seemed unlikely. If anything, that balance between shareholders and quarterly profits and creating great advertising had shifted even further in favour of Wall Street. Why risk his reputation?

So, news that Paul Weinberger has quit Lowe London to set up a new UK agency with Sir Frank, and that Lowe's Tesco account was likely to follow, held more credibility. This, despite the fact that Lowe's former agency has not put a foot wrong on Tesco for over a decade. It would seem very harsh on the staff there, except that many of them may end up joining Lowe and Weinberger.

Tesco or not, with the readiness of large advertisers all over the world to consider adding smaller, more creative agencies to their rosters in rebellion at being forced into unwanted agency alignments, there may be a niche for Sir Frank again, although in trying to find it, he will polarise opinion like no other.

WHAT A GOOD choice Toby Hoare is to run JWT London. He is exactly the sort of wise, experienced, urbane and client-friendly leader that the agency needs right now. Hot from his last role as leader of the Team HSBC group by which JWT managed the banking giant's global account, he has exactly the kind of stature that this agency requires of its leader. He will be able to assuage some of the fears of the staff about the future, while not being afraid to change key personnel if need be.

Hoare will also know that JWT cannot and should not throw away its heritage; that it can never be Mother. He will be savvy enough to know how to build upon such self-recognition. Hoare has begun well, pointing out correctly that JWT is not in crisis. He should know. He previously took command first at Young & Rubicam and then Bates London. His choice of chief executive and whether he sticks with the talented but tricky creative director Nick Bell will be crucial.

AT LAST, SOME real news from Ogilvy. The group chairman Gary Leih's restructuring of Ogilvy's 11 agencies under one management team is a fascinating attempt to offer clients a simplified choice of the group's impressive integrated offering. It's a good, if overdue, first public move from Leih, although the agency itself still has to raise both its game and profile.

ON THE SUBJECT of WPP companies: a clarification. Discussing, on this page, the comparative dearth of senior management talent two weeks ago, I put some of the blame on agencies cutting back on graduate-recruitment programmes. I actually meant that the wider industry should be taken to task for this. WPP and its agencies have maintained a graduate-recruitment programme that is industry-leading. And, no, I haven't been threatened by any nasty WPP lawyers.

Email Stefanohat1@aol.com with Sir Frank Lowe anecdotes

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