CAMPAIGN REPORT: CHOOSING AN AGENCY - How to get contract publishing out of the dark ages. Just as ad agencies managed to escape the clutches of the chairman’s wife, so can the contract publishers. But it does take time and patience, Mark Jones ad

By MARK JONES, a former editor of Campaign,, Friday, 12 September 1997 12:00AM

In the 70s, the following joke used to do the rounds of London advertising agencies:

In the 70s, the following joke used to do the rounds of London

advertising agencies:

A client rings three agencies to ask the time. He rang Colletts and they

told him to sod off. He rang Allen Brady and Marsh, and they put it into

a jingle and sang it to him. Finally, he rang McCann-Erickson, who said

’what time would you like it to be, sir?’

Let me apologise at once to McCanns, who are much less supine than they

used to be, and any youthful readers who do not know that Allen Brady

and Marsh was a singing, dancing agency famous in its time for setting

slogans to tunes. But the joke says just about all you need to know

about the history of British advertising over the past 25 years. Once

the world was dominated by huge US agencies, pack-shots, the hard sell,

the prejudices of the chairman’s wife and an approach to client service

that would have struck Louis XIV as sycophantic. Then the world was

shaken up by a small bunch of independent spirits led by Colletts, who

had a pride and passion in their creative work and weren’t afraid to say

so. They slaughtered the pack-shots overnight and sent the chairman’s

wife grumbling back to her Women’s Institute committee.

Actually, these new spirits were as committed to client service as the

old lot. They just didn’t see why that precluded them from sticking up

for their work; and for treating their audience like humans. One by one,

encouraged by the experience of Gallaher, Whitbread and others, the

clients began to agree. Now the renegades and their followers run many

of the top agencies in the land.

The point is this: compared with the ad industry, contract publishing is

in about 1975.

But the breakaway is happening. There is a small group of magazines and

publishers that are compelling, creative and innovative. In advertising,

it was Hamlet, Heineken, Fiat and so on. In publishing, it’s

Sainsbury’s: The Magazine, Hot Air, Saab Magazine and, some are kind

enough to say, High Life.

The British Airways people we deal with on High Life believe the more

corporate propaganda we shovel down people’s throats, the less likely

they are to read the magazine. Conversely, the more creative freedom

they give us, and the more they encourage us to take risks, the more

likely we are to be read.

Then there is a much larger group of magazines where the editors ask the

client what time he’d like it to be. And what photograph he’d like on

the cover, which layouts he wants and how many dozen pictures of himself

and his product he’d like to get in.

The divide is as much financial as creative. We, and BA, are in the

happy position of publishing a magazine that we have developed into a

strong advertising proposition and it turns in a healthy profit.

We are in a minority. Let’s take an example. I went to a meeting with a

company that wanted us to take its tired, off-the-peg title and

refashion it. But this costs money. You have to hire proper writers and

designers, commission original photography, think, plan and rework.

There was no way the revenue generated was going to be enough.

So the choice for my friends was simple. Stay with a publisher that kept

its editorial costs to the bare minimum and sold their ads as a package

with God knows what else, or pay to develop a magazine that meets their

marketing objectives. So they will have to sweet-talk the marketing

director. Convince him to make an investment; persuade him that a

well-produced, readable magazine can work harder, more successfully and

more measurably than anything in his promotions budget. Suggest that

once the magazine has a strong, lively presence, it might become

self-funding and even make more dosh. Tell him that a magazine can be

several marketing media rolled into one. Something that creates a

relationship with its existing and potential customers. Something that

people really want to read.

In this instance, I’m not confident. Sometimes you can push change

along, sometimes you just have to wait for it. This is 1975, after


So why did I move into this problematic world? Well, why does anyone

move jobs? More money and more fun, mainly. But there is also a very

sound journalistic reason.

Good journalism is all about knowing your readers. The editors of the

Daily Mail and the Guardian know who they are and how they will react to

any story, any issue. Others go by hunches. James Brown had a hunch that

there was a market for a laddish magazine, and, thanks to IPC, Loaded

was born. IPC had a hunch that the same lads wanted to read about food,

and Eat Soup was born. Loaded sells 380,420 copies; Eat Soup has closed,

with reported sales of 10,000. Research or no research, it’s hard to

read your readers’ minds.

With a customer magazine, though, it is a lot easier. Good companies

really know their customers. As for the rest, it’s a question of having

a bloody good argument about cover photographs, layouts, pack-shots etc.

So, if anyone rings to ask the time I will say: just past 1975, but

going further past all the time.

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