So what’s it really like being a foreigner trying to gain acceptance in
the London agency scene? Caroline Marshall asks four ‘outsiders’ how
Is xenophobia still the only thing that unites a country these days?
Perhaps, given the ad industry’s continued disregard for international
campaigns. Too often they are dismissed as being lowest common
denominator, poorly produced tosh, while home-grown work, the
traditionalists maintain, is still the undisputed best in the world.
But these people are ignoring the facts. Not only are clients calling
for a more global approach, many international accounts are run out of
London and more top names are being lured to UK agencies from other
countries. And, as the interviews opposite show, the career prospects
for agency staff without grassroots experience of working in the UK
appear to be promising.
It is hard to find any agency people from another country who have spent
time here and not found it invaluable, professionally. Then again,
sometimes it is hard to be taken seriously. London can be a daunting
advertising village to break into. Despite the generally positive
personal accounts here, anyone considering a move should expect a
certain amount of resentment from their new industry colleagues.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s management representative, Julian Martin, who
came to London - where he had worked previously - after spending two
years running the Campaign Palace in Melbourne, recounts a typical and
frustrating response when people realise he is an Australian working in
the UK. ‘From Melbourne?’ people ask, ‘when are you going home? All
Australians go home eventually, don’t they?’
Axel Pfennigschmidt Account director, Leagas Delaney
Axel Pfennigschmidt, 38, came to London in October 1995 after spending
eight years working at three German agencies: Publicis Hamburg, McCann-
Erickson in Frankfurt and Michael Conrad/Leo Burnett, also in Frankfurt.
He left Germany to work for two years at Select in New York, before
joining Leagas Delaney as one of the three account directors on its
prized Adidas account.
‘Leaving the German advertising scene after eight years, for New York,
took some getting used to. But not as much as joining the London ad
The first surprise was the sunny blue sky on a golden October afternoon.
Have I been sent to the wrong city or is this global warming, I thought?
On my first day here, I arrived at the agency’s offices nice and early.
I figured that they would expect this from a German. From day one, all
the women I met referred to me as ‘love’ or ‘darling’ - is there
something wrong or has my luck changed at last?
Life in London was not so much a new experience as a series of
Not everyone drinks tea. My Italian colleague managed to repair the
office cappuccino machine and the man has had the status of a saint ever
I was told by an American that in England food is a four letter word. I
didn’t quite understand that, until recently. But it was untrue - the
choice of restaurants in London is second to none.
Working in an international agency on such a global account is never
dull. Most nights, I go home late, and even then I take the power book
with me. (This is a particularly useful prop, if you don’t want to talk
to cab drivers about football.)
The biggest revelation of all is that over here advertisers don’t
believe in shouting at the public to sell them something. Why shout at
them when you can make them laugh?
Humour seems to be the most effective weapon at an advertiser’s disposal
and how nice it is to see it used with care and subtlety. Advertising
people have a reputation for fast living and drugs - but who needs drugs
when you have humour?
Queuing seems to be another national sport, along with cricket. Maybe
one day I’ll understand them both.
I really enjoy working in the British advertising industry, and one of
these days I am going to get to work early enough to be at the front of
the queue outside Tim’s office.’
Fernando Sobron Art director, Ogilvy and Mather
Fernando Sobron, the Madrid-born art director, hit the headlines in
March when he conducted his search for a new copywriting partner by
putting a 60-second lonely hearts commercial on national TV. He has
worked at Ogilvy and Mather for four-and-a-half years.
‘O&M hired me after a placement. Before that, I worked in Madrid for
Ruiz Nicolli. The main accounts that I work on are Ford, SmithKline
Beecham, Lever, Seagram and the COI.
Back home, I admired the ads published in annuals like D&AD, so I
decided to come to London for a month to get work experience and learn
from the people who wrote those ads. My idea was to go back to Madrid
armed with invaluable experience and with the prospect of a better job.
Soon I learned that there was a lot to learn. I had to write a whole new
book of speculative ads. I was referred to the D&AD workshops. That led
to the job at O&M. Most people were willing to donate a few minutes of
their time to see my book and tell me what was right and wrong with it.
Once I started looking for a job, I was hooked - I knew I had to get a
job here, and it was a great challenge.
At first, my English was all right to get by in conversation, but
inadequate for any other purpose. The first time someone told me he was
‘pulling my leg’ I kept looking under the desk in disbelief.
Reviewing my Tabasco commercial in Campaign, Andrew Cracknell wrote that
my name was ‘the sort of name I instinctively check to see if it isn’t
really someone else’s backwards’. I even had to spell it out loud to
‘Can you spell your name please?’
‘Ah Fanando, like the Abba song’
I wonder if the same happens with people called Denise or Angie?
Once I went to see a creative - a potential partner - and she had
prepared the Abba song as background music. I had the pleasure of
showing my book to the creative directors while listening to that tune.
I bet they won’t forget me.
It was tough to get a job in London, but it was worth it. Despite
everything, the important thing is to do good work and I believe there
are more good creatives in London than anywhere else in the world.’
Terry Rosenquist Chief executive, Ammirati Puris Lintas
Terry Rosenquist was born at Rock Island, Illinois, in 1945. He joined
Lintas in 1972, became the worldwide client director for Unilever in
1991 and was appointed as the pan-European chairman and chief executive
in November 1994.
‘Before 1992, most people thought Europe would change, and centralise -
fast. But when I got here and began to understand the competing factors,
I saw that it would be very different. Still, it didn’t deter us from
having a central focus for the Unilever business, which I came to run
out of London in March 1991.
I’m a city boy at heart, so I found a flat in Rutland Gate. But I wasn’t
around much. I was the original man with a suitcase, flitting between
Bombay, Bangkok and Sao Paulo - focusing almost entirely on my work.
At that time, I was the token Yank at Lintas London. But it didn’t
bother me, I felt good about it. I loved the English and I never escaped
into the expat lifestyle. The only things I missed were my immediate
family, live basketball and baseball. Thank God for Sky.
I’d say the socialising is more consistently decadent in London agencies
than it is in the US, where things are more cyclical. In New York at the
moment it’s all cigar bars and Martinis, while a few years ago alcohol
was frowned on.
I met my partner, Felicity, through a mutual friend in London. She is
extremely sociable and has a high profile here. She’s introduced me to
lots of people.
In the US you don’t really have the equivalent of the English season.
There’s nothing to rival Ascot and Glyndebourne - both of which I love.
I can’t think of a single time, personal or professional, where people
were rude to me because of my nationality. I’m taking up official
residency in the UK as of this month, and when I go back to the US
people say I’ve gone native. I already dress from head to toe in Gieves
and Hawkes. Felicity wouldn’t have it any other way.’
David Warden Chairman, McCann-Erickson
David Warden is a naturalised American who spent the first 18 years of
his career in New York advertising. He returned to his native England as
chairman of McCann-Erickson in 1994, and is currently buying a house in
Kent - where he was born.
‘I don’t mind some people assuming I’m American. In New York they think
I’m Australian - so I guess I’m making some progress.
The biggest difference coming from New York to London is that the
industry enjoys a much more privileged place here. Advertising is as
much a part of the culture as, say, theatre.
I think the reason this is possible is that there are fewer ‘tribes’ to
reach and less media fragmentation, which means it is still possible for
the whole country to come together around an event - a TV show or even
an ad campaign.
Only in England could the Gold Blend couple’s first kiss make the front
page of a national newspaper. At the same time, I think the industry has
held up its end of the bargain with advertising that tends to be more
thoughtful, more intelligent, and that finds interesting ways around the
public’s radar to make a sale. Selling is second nature to Americans,
but bad manners to the British.
Having said that, I do think that too much British advertising is self-
indulgent and seems to be aimed at friends, family and the agency across
the street, rather than the consumer.
A bad US ad still has some value in telling you what the product does. A
bad English ad evokes nothing but head scratching and, to add insult to
injury, is probably justified on that basis. I can see why planning was
invented in London.
I also admire the far stronger sense of there being an ‘advertising
industry’ here. The work of organisations such as the Institute of
Practitioners in Advertising and NABS, and the willingness of people in
this industry to get involved in issues, is something we should be proud
of and work to preserve.
There are real differences outside the office. Far more New York ad
people commute out of the city and the client lists of the typical
agency tend to be geographically dispersed.
People work much later in the day here, too, with a lot more
socialising. The steaks are a bit dodgy and nobody knows how to mix a
Martini, but you never have to look far for drinking partners after
Eventually, the only differences will be longer hours and better beer.’