COMMENT: Britain has a lot to learn from foreign invasion of talent

Were one so minded, in a Little Englander kind of way, it would be tempting to draw a parallel between the British motor industry and British ad agencies. For Rover, Vauxhall, Jaguar, Rootes (remember them!) and Lotus read Abbott Mead Vickers, GGT, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Manning Gottlieb, Banks Hoggins O’Shea and, last week, Partners BDDH (and those are only the ones who’ve sold up in the last 18 months). Just as the titans of British manufacturing fell to foreign invaders when it became obvious they could no longer compete on the world stage, so, one might say, the same fate has befallen the cream of British agencies.

Were one so minded, in a Little Englander kind of way, it would be

tempting to draw a parallel between the British motor industry and

British ad agencies. For Rover, Vauxhall, Jaguar, Rootes (remember

them!) and Lotus read Abbott Mead Vickers, GGT, Bartle Bogle Hegarty,

Manning Gottlieb, Banks Hoggins O’Shea and, last week, Partners BDDH

(and those are only the ones who’ve sold up in the last 18 months). Just

as the titans of British manufacturing fell to foreign invaders when it

became obvious they could no longer compete on the world stage, so, one

might say, the same fate has befallen the cream of British agencies.



Rubbish. That view is, of course, pure nostalgic nonsense. Don’t laugh,

though. Although we may have long since moved into the era of

globalisation, there are still some corners of British advertising

dogged by a pernicious British-is-best insularity. You can see this

every year at Cannes where, funnily enough, it’s evidently not true, as

well as in the nastier personal jibes at individuals such as Steve

Rabowski, Brett Gosper and Dave Droga which are underpinned by the

assumption that foreigners can’t cut the mustard on the London scene. So

let us not shed any tears for the passing of an era but instead think

about what it could mean for the future. Here, the most important

questions are: what can we learn from those with experience of other

markets and, to a lesser extent, what can they learn from us? But for

either side to learn from the other requires a degree of humility, a

quality which is not necessarily in abundant supply in this

business.



My guess is that agencies such as Partners BDDH will gain immensely from

first-hand experience of Arnold and Snyder Communications. Generally

speaking, and at the top level, my experience of American admen is that

they have a better all-round understanding of the pressures that afflict

their clients and are, therefore, more comfortable in the boardroom than

their British counterparts. In short, as one British adman says, ’There

is a lot they can teach us about how to run business and how to run

relationships.’



Equally, however, it is also true that there are some things that

outsiders can learn from British agencies. There can be no question, for

example, that DDB has transplanted BMP ideas and people throughout the

network. Planning, although it is already a very successful export, is

one British phenomenon that can be developed further overseas.



The paradox, therefore, is that, far from narrowing the horizons, the

takeover of British advertising by foreigners actually offers us all a

bigger stage on which to play. And we all support that.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com



- with all that that means for communication strategies - Similarly,

British agencies’ experience of working in the world’s most

sophisticated and complex media economy will be crucial elsewhere.



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