Chris Hirst: chief executive, Grey London
Chris Hirst: chief executive, Grey London
A view from Chris Hirst

Chris Hirst: Talking ourselves up is less cool, but we are a great industry

I'm certain I wasn't alone in raising an eyebrow at Campaign's claim (Editor's Perspective, 25 May) that there are only "two or three really great London agencies".

Sadly, it is a view I hear echoed elsewhere - along with those hardy perennials "the talent drought" and, of course, "the work just not being as good as it used to be".

To me, these gripes sound like grandparents bemoaning the bad behaviour of today's youth, or how much harder A-levels used to be. I just don't buy it.

It's all too easy to take the cooler and funnier option of talking ourselves down. Talking ourselves up is less cool, less British and also much harder work.

When I look around, I see many globally renowned offices delivering innovative, creative and hugely sophisticated solutions for many of the world's most well-known brands, both London-only offices and as part of global networks.

When I talk to my clients and visit other markets, London's reputation as a hub of fresh thinking, world-class talent and leadership remains strong.

This is not to be complacent - anybody who has been into 77 Hatton Garden recently will see an agency that is anything but - rather, I think this is a balanced and positive view of our collective future.

We need a more thoughtful and modern definition of what makes a great agency. A definition that extends beyond the narrow parameters we remain obsessed by. A great agency needs to be able to do the right work and award-winning work; win pitches and retain happy, profitable clients; grow through new and existing clients; build powerful teams, not just hire "front-page names". And much more: innovate, regenerate, endure.

By this definition, there are many more than three really great agencies in London, and there are many different definitions of "great".

For me, this is the critical point. Anybody who has taken part in a recent "front-page" pitch can feel the breadth and depth of the competition - there really are no easy games at this level.

Tim Mellors, a man who knows a thing or two about the global advertising landscape, describes London as still the hardest market in the world.

This makes winning pitches hard, but it keeps us competitive, forces us to innovate and makes us strong.

With the rise of the major economies in the East, the resurgence of the US and the perilous state of the euro, I believe, geographically, London is ideally placed to develop its position as a first-choice destination for brands looking for world-class solutions.

In a Jubilee year, perhaps we should all be a little less British about our industry and make sure we are in a race to the top, rather than the bottom.

Chris Hirst is the chief executive at Grey London

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