A view from Claire Beale

The agency of the future? Ecclestone may disagree

There was a moment, pretty early on, in the talk between Sir Martin Sorrell and Bernie Ecclestone at Advertising Week Europe when it seemed the...

You’ll know by now that Ecclestone was painfully outrageous. Putin should be running Europe, Trump would make a fantastic president, immigrants have made no contribution to the UK, women would not be taken seriously in Formula One – oh, and Ecclestone himself wouldn’t buy an F1 ticket because it’s a lousy show. After an hour of this, he was trending at number three on Twitter and had given the national news media some juicy headlines for their next dispatch.

What any of it had to do with advertising, Brexit (the theme of the talk) or even real life is impossible to fathom. But it sure was car-crash viewing. Ecclestone will probably be the thing that people remember about AWE 2016 long after programmatic trading and native advertising have fallen from fashion. But at least the session underlined how desperately we need to find compelling new voices to talk about our industry.

Dentsu Aegis Network’s new initiative, Fortysix, is a move in the right direction. Billed as an agency staffed by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it’s a genuine attempt to do something fresh and liberating. It won’t be a 100-strong office from day one, and exactly what type of work it will end up doing will be found in the pudding at a much later stage. But it’s a bold step to invest in a team of untried, inexperienced (in the ways of advertising, at least) young people and just let them have a go, supported by the wisdom and resource of their parent.

What’s particularly fresh about the model is that it doesn’t just embed the odd one or two tokenistic people into an agency in order to tick the diversity box. Dentsu Aegis Network’s UK chief executive, Tracy De Groose, reckons recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds can struggle to fit into a regular agency. By starting a new agency, albeit a tiny one (for now), De Groose is giving the recruits the freedom and space to be different. In fact, that’s what they’ll actively be encouraged to be, because that’s the other problem with embedding your diverse talent within your main business: they end up wanting to do what everyone else is doing, and can lose the perspective that makes them fresh and unique. 

The people who end up working at Fortysix might not know what programmatic trading is, they might not know who Martin Sorrell is or what Barb does. And that’s probably a good thing. They will know about ad-blocking and what real people think and how social works now. And – if they’ve heard of him – they probably hate Bernie Ecclestone.