Having articulated several versions of its name since its inception in 1864, last week J. Walter Thompson returned to its most succinct iteration, JWT, at the instigation of its worldwide chief executive, Bob Jeffrey.
The network head, who is the first in its 140-year existence who does not have a history entrenched in the agency, is determined to transform what has widely been considered an old-fashioned agency whose power lies with servicing blue-chip multinational clients, into a creative hotshop.
And Jeffrey firmly believes the most clear-cut signal of a company's intention to effect change is a commitment to change from the outside in.
Along with a fresh corporate identity, Craig Davis, the network's newly named worldwide chief creative officer, has produced Hold My Skateboard While I Kiss Your Girlfriend, a substantial tome that outlines JWT's creative agenda and is designed to inspire both staff and clients.
The book is comprised mostly of images. One is of a fawn lying in the middle of the road, apparently having been knocked down, with the word "surprise" discreetly placed near to it.
The book also lists ten new creative standards against which JWT's work will be assessed, from "damaging" through "predictable" to "world-beating".
Davis says: "We want people to be excited and inspired by this book and understand that we value creativity very highly. It is now at the centre of all that we do."
In a bid to guarantee that such creative enthusiasm filters down to 8,000 employees in 310 offices in 86 countries, every JWT staffer will be required to sign the JWT creative partnership contract.
But, as one employment affairs consultant puts it, the book may be more relevant in New York than in New Malden. The first point states: "Either you are making a measurable contribution or you're in the way and on the way out." The consultant adds: "US culture is very individualistic, whereas in Europe there tends to be more emphasis on working as a team."
But as Mark Roalfe, the executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, says: "It's a statement of intent by an agency to improve its creative output, which can only be a good thing.
"A set of criteria by which to judge the work is probably more important at a larger organisation such as JWT. It will pull the agency together. At least it is recognising that the work is the goal."
It would be difficult to overestimate the problems involved in reinventing a network as big as JWT. Lintas and McCann Erickson have both attempted similar feats, but neither made much ground. JWT does have some important factors in its favour, however. Nick Bell, JWT's London creative chief, has made up some ground in improving the agency's output, while in New York, the network has imported Ty Montague, one of the US market's leading creative lights.
JWT is attempting to take a big step. It has decided to reposition itself as a creative hub and is trying to create a sense of excitement.
At an agency of its size, such a transformation is always going to be a steady, if not protracted, process. The book, the logo tweak and the rules are mere trappings, however. The important part of the equation is more likely to be Davis' elevation to the global creative helm.
The network's vast multinational client base means it must build a creative reputation using global campaigns. Davis' ability is not in doubt - he has already been credited with putting Saatchi & Saatchi Asia-Pacific on the map.
Ultimately, though, it will be Davis' ability to oversee creatively respectable work that can cross international borders that will determine the network's creative standing.
- There seem to be two schools of thought for the agency brochure.
Either route one, "our greatest hits", or route two, "we're achingly trendy".
I even did one recently for Campbell Doyle Dye.
JWT's new tome clunked on to my desk and, as I understand it, recent "greatest hits" would be a slim pamphlet, so you can understand it taking route two. Sure enough, all the symptoms of "achingly trendy" are here: the vernacular typography from the Layer Cake posters; the "what-are-you-looking-at, alienated-yet-real people" photography style; the hand-written "this is what I'm really thinking" style over those alienated people; some KesselsKramer-style art direction weirdness and some handy stickers to put on your agency's concepts. These range from "damaging" through "boring" to "world-beating".
It strikes me that people who didn't know old JWT might be encouraged or even intrigued by this piece, however bafflingly presented it may be.
Heaven knows what current clients will think. Maybe they'll be scared sh**less and run for the hills. Maybe that's the idea, though.
Personally, the best bit for me is the title - Hold My Skateboard While I Kiss Your Girlfriend. But if I were judging this as a piece of communication, I'm afraid I'd use JWT stickers four and five on it: "competent" and "a bit predictable".
- Michael Johnson is a partner in the design company Johnson Banks and a former president of D&AD
WHAT'S THE LOGO LIKE?
Richard Seymour, creative director, Seymour Powell
I seem to remember seeing a TV show about someone going though "gender re-assignment" and telling their work colleagues they "wanted to be called Julia from now on". Is JWT aware of the fact we've all called it JWT since the beginning of time? Or has there always been a fiendish corporate Nazi telling everyone within the agency: "It's J. Walter Thompson, actually ..."?
Handsome is as handsome does. If you want people to see you as a creative uber-agency, striding across continents, spewing genius, act like one.
You'll be judged by how you behave. And how you behave is what puts meat on your corporate image.
To me, the new logo has a faint whiff of 90s TV ident to it ... but that's just subjective carping.
First, be what you want to be. Otherwise a frothy new logo is just your Dad at the disco.