Bill Tragos, the fiery Greek-American T of TBWA, will not be
reading this. Last time I met him he told me where to go. Apparently he
had listened to my description of TBWA International at its recent
conference in Los Angeles with increasing irritation.
I said TBWA’s reputation is that of a collection of mavericks within a
network distinguished by its youth, creative spirit and entrepreneurial
nature. I said TBWA is viewed as Omnicom’s rapidly growing third network
with some centres of creative excellence but little cohesion - a
deliberate policy perhaps for, uniquely, it has no international HQ. I
said Campaign had not been sold the concept of TBWA as a network whereas
BBDO and DDB (and Ogilvy & Mather, J. Walter Thompson and Young &
Rubicam for that matter) make considerable efforts in this respect.
My conversation with Tragos was quite cordial at first. He began by
cornering me and suggesting that I’d probably heard of him. He proceeded
to tell me that Campaign publishes a load of shit-stirring nonsense
about TBWA, the US, the GGT merger, St Luke’s etc.
I confess I did not put up a very good fight. ’You asked for my view of
TBWA, that’s what you got,’ I countered feebly. Hours after the debate,
my instinct was to phone Tragos and bet him my dad could beat up his dad
any day, but then I remembered his father was a wrestler in the Greek
Olympic team. Calmer reflection suggested I should explain my point
about TBWA’s maverick positioning and why, along with revenues up 25 per
cent year on year, it is actually a great asset. Unlike Bill, I will try
to use language that is printable in a family newspaper.
Lee Clow, who is profiled in Campaign this week, is the embodiment of
what is good about TBWA. Few can match him for his work - 25 years in
the business, ten to go and he’s still as driven as ever - for his
experience, his loyalty and his sheer decency. True, TBWA Chiat/Day, of
which Clow is worldwide creative director, has only been part of TBWA
International for three years. But what’s exceptional is the fact that
Chiat/Day has been bought by Omnicom and merged into TBWA without
signalling the end of the culture that defines the agency. (For the
contrary scenario, think of Still Price Court Twivy d’Souza, whose
merger with Lintas in 1989 destroyed the reason clients were interested
in the agency in the first place.)
In fact, merging with TBWA has allowed Chiat/Day to lose its
self-inflicted financial concerns, to emerge again as a powerful
creative force and win stacks of new business from Apple, Levi’s and
Taco Bell. So the very thing that makes Tragos uncomfortable - allowing
Chiat/Day, which really means Lee Clow, to go for it in his own way - is
what he should be most proud of.