CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AGENCY CULTURE - Difficult, unreasonable - and just what we need. Hiring a face that definitely won’t fit can pay dividends, Margaret Patrick discovers

By MARGARET PATRICK, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 17 December 1999 12:00AM

’Reasonable men attempt to adapt themselves to the world; unreasonable men attempt to adapt the world to themselves. Progress is in the hands of unreasonable men.’

’Reasonable men attempt to adapt themselves to the world;

unreasonable men attempt to adapt the world to themselves. Progress is

in the hands of unreasonable men.’



The George Bernard Shaw quote is a favourite of Paul Simons, the Ogilvy

group chairman, and one he has been using a lot since last week’s

controversial appointment of Steve Dunn as Ogilvy & Mather’s new joint

creative director.



Initial industry incredulity at the choice of such a ’difficult’ though

brilliant creative maverick to succeed the gentlemanly Patrick Collister

has given rise to more general debate about the importance of an

agency’s culture and whether it is right to bring in a radical outsider

as a catalyst of change.



Simons had no hesitation: ’Why do you think Ogilvy appointed me? They

wanted somebody completely different from outside the Ogilvy culture

because their view was that the perpetuation of historic ’Ogilvy-ness’

wasn’t necessarily the best way to take the business forward.’



Simons says the GBS reference is particularly relevant to advertising

where you have to have a streak of unreasonableness ’not in being

unpleasant, but in not accepting the status quo or a piece of

conventional wisdom’.



Tim Mellors, creative director of Grey, agrees. He has more experience

than most of being hired as a high-level creative catalyst and believes

that bringing an unexpected element into the agency mix can be

effective, though controversial.



’I think it is a good idea, obviously, because that’s what they’ve done

here with me - less radical, perhaps, than putting Steve Dunn into

Ogilvy, but when I was brought in to replace Dave Trott at GGT that was

seen in the industry as insanity.



’It’s never clear from the outside what’s going on. Publicis was my

first big creative directorship and I really shook the agency up. In

three years it doubled in size.’



He has doubts about Dunn’s appointment, however, from a ’cultural’ point

of view. ’Can even a brilliant art director succeed in such a ’writerly’

agency?’ he asks.



Another potential problem is moving from a culture of ’cherry-picking’

clients to one where the agency’s business is rather more mundane and

extensive.



Andrew Cracknell, with a reputation for revitalising Bates in the late

80s and now brought back to do it all over again, is well aware of what

it’s like to move from a smaller, sharper-edged creative environment (in

his case WCRS) to a bigger ’establishment’ agency with a broad range of

clients.



’Every agency that Steve Dunn has been with has largely picked its own

clients and there’s a huge difference between an agency like that and

O&M,’ Cracknell says. ’I don’t know how many creative directors

appreciate that the best way to measure how you’re doing is not the very

best of your output, it’s the very worst. Has he the patience to take

something that’s not terribly good and make it less bad than it

was?’



The alternative to bringing in a radical outsider to take an agency

forward is to ensure orderly succession at the top, with each new

generation of management firmly committed to the agency’s existing

culture.



Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is regarded as having achieved almost seamless

succession and ironically most of the current generation running the

agency have come via O&M. Peter Mead, who first brought in Michael Baulk

as chief executive, recognises the need for an agency to evolve but

believes it should be through individuals who are sympathetic to the

culture: ’We brought Michael in for two reasons: first because as a

serious management figure in a major agency he had more experience about

planning career paths than we did and, second, if you’ve had a certain

way of doing things for quite a while it never does any harm to have

them validated or nudged.’



For some agencies a creative maverick has been brought in not to impose

a different culture, but to restore the values that first led to

success.



Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, caused

a stir in the UK industry by transferring Dave Droga, creative director

of the network’s Asia Pacific region, to take over the creative lead in

London.



Isherwood points out that the move was actually designed to return the

company to its original culture of strong, simple ideas. ’The reason we

went outside was not the work being done by Charlotte Street, but by UK

agencies as a whole,’ he says. ’The UK performance at Cannes has not

been as good over the past few years; the work has been over-produced

and under-thought. On the other hand, our work from Latin America, Asia

and Australasia has been winning at Cannes because the ideas are very

strong, very simple and very powerful.



’Dave was used to working in markets where the production budgets are

not so big, the support of the production companies is not so great and

therefore the strength of the idea is more important.’



There is general agreement that, whatever the reasons for a

controversial appointment, it will only succeed with top management

support. As Mellors says: ’You’ve got to have the guts and clout to back

it up.’



In the end, many in the industry believe the two keys to the success or

failure of the O&M ’experiment’ will be the amount of support from top

management both here and in the US - and the luck they have in finding

Dunn the right partner.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

X

You must log in to use Clip & Save

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Additional Information

Campaign Jobs