THE NAME GAME: Advertising's ultimate recognition

LONDON - Ability is rewarded in advertising, with money, titles, cars and equity all up for grabs. But having your name on the door, the writing paper and the receptionist's lips is the ultimate thrill, Lucy Aitken reports.

"People continue to believe that names imbue objects with meaning. They don't. Objects imbue names with meaning." So says Jeremy Bullmore, Campaign's wise agony uncle.

Shame he didn't get to have a quick chat with Ben Langdon before Langdon knocked on John Dooner's door to suggest that McCann-Erickson London's office should be rebranded as McCann Langdon, followed by the names of the agency's other principals. This rebrand, according to Langdon, would play a major part in rejuvenating the agency and grafting local character on to the amorphous international brand; the new perspective would act as a huge talent magnet. Dooner, the McCann Worldgroup chairman and chief executive, did not agree.

But Langdon had a point. Having your name above the agency door is the ultimate recognition of the fact that, despite consolidation and internationalisation, advertising remains at heart a people business. And seeing your name in lights is also, of course, the ultimate ego trip ... at least for as long as the name is a kitemark for success.

But even ego trips can be a bumpy ride. First the delicate negotiation of whose name goes first above the door (losing this particular powerplay inevitably means that the agency will always be commonly referred to as your pushy colleagues who names sit on the left). Then there's the added pressure and responsibility that becoming a brand confers; not only is your very identity tied up with the fortunes of an organisation way bigger than your individual talents, but you'll always fear deep down that your more anonymous colleagues somehow resent you for it. And if that isn't pressure enough, just think of all those colleagues' families whose economic wellfare now depends on your ability to perform alchemy with your own name.

Of course, having one's name above the door is, for most, merely a temporary high. If your agency is very successful, you will ultimately be bought by a bigger player and eventually written out of nomenclature history.

If you're not very successful you will either limp on, wistfully remembering the days when the cloak of anonymity meant you could always blame someone else for the misfortunes of your business, or see your name removed from the building to be replaced by Starbucks.

Here four "names" give their perspective on the ups and downs of becoming an advertising brand.

BEN LANGDON - Former regional director EMEA, McCann-Erickson

"The reason I wanted Universal McCann to include my name above the door was because I thought we'd completed phase one of the journey. When I joined McCann-Erickson in 1996, the agency was ranked 14 and the ambition was to be top three. I felt we'd cemented this by becoming the second-biggest agency in 2002, so phase two was to shift perception qualitatively and make the agency's reputation as strong as it could be.

"Undeniably, the best multinational US agencies have had to make local acquisitions to improve their London reputation. BBDO is a great agency in London but only because it bought Abbott Mead Vickers, and Young & Rubicam because it acquired Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe.

"The basis for my argument was Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, a French company (which added Wnek and Gosper above the door in 1994). I also said: 'Look at Y&R and DDB Needham: there's a whole history of this happening in the UK.' I also wanted to attract stronger local talent. I wanted to offer some great ways of getting names over the door and to make those people part of turning the agency around in a bigger way. John Dooner did ask to think about it, but he didn't take very long.

"I think it's less important for English-based multinationals, such as the WPP-owned JWT or O&M networks. You don't have to have your name above the door if you're running a domestic agency, as Soul and Mother have proved. But, equally, Clemmow Hornby Inge has shown that there's no harm or disservice in it at all."

MARK WNEK - Chairman and chief creative officer, Euro RSCG Partners

"Shortly before me and Brett Gosper arrived, Euro RSCG was the only agency to have no stars in Campaign's school reports. There was a question mark over whether it was still going to be in business by the end of that year.

We then made it more successful and, in 1994, Euro RSCG suggested that we had our names above the door. We were taken aback by it. We did go through those twinges of ego where you think: 'Can you imagine? It'd be quite funny.' Brett and I had this big punch-up because we both wanted our name to go second. But within Euro RSCG, the creative always goes first.

"Strange as it may sound, back then I was still struggling with the idea that my personal profile was something I had to push. We felt unworthy.

My heroes such as (BMP DDB's executive creative director) John Webster had never had their names above the door, so why should I? And once you are cursed with that kind of responsibility, you can't then be a shrinking violet. This is advertising and we were forced into becoming the people we became.

"I've wanted my name off the door for years. It's deeply stressful as the buck stops with you. If your name's on the door, it's your business and anyone who has not had their name on the door does not understand the meaning of the world 'stress'."

RON LEAGAS - Chairman, Edge

"There was more ego in the decision to start my own agency than was necessarily commendable. I don't think I'd even considered anything other than our names when we launched Leagas Delaney, so it was only a question of name order. There's no hiding place when your name's above the door and that can be a positive thing, as I wanted to be running a business rather than doing the business.

"But I made a mistake in having a partner I'd never worked with before and after a while we found the partnership intolerable. It's long enough ago now that I can depersonalise it, and, frankly, I managed to do that long before leaving anyway. I can remember a meeting where a client was sat across the boardroom table from me saying 'Leagas said we should do such and such'. It was the first time that I had the very sharp realisation that my company could be talked about as my surname and that felt weird.

"Does it feel weird still having my surname above the door at Leagas Delaney? It would do if I thought it was a terrible company, but the fact that it's maintained high creative standards means that I don't feel too bad about it. If I could choose, however, my name wouldn't be on there and I would have preferred it if the name had changed to Haines Delaney.

"After Leagas Shafron Davis finished, I did consider another Leagas agency but two is enough and things have moved on. If you can find a name that is relevant and communicates the agency's proposition that's preferable, as a surname cannot possibly be the proposition. For a small start-up, names above the door can have client value, but once you get past a certain size, a proposition is the better thing to have."

PAUL BAINSFAIR - Chairman, TBWA UK Group

"I stand by not having names above the door. It's easier to say that when you've had the experience of doing it and then moving on and not having it any more. I completely understand the desire that anyone in our business has to see their name over the door because everybody has got an ego and it makes you feel like you've achieved something - it gives you a warm feeling when it happens for the first time. But it doesn't change anything: you've still got to be good at your job when your name becomes part of the brand.

"The first few start-ups that rejected the names-above-the-door tradition, such as Soul, St Luke's and Mother, stood out because they were notable for being disruptive. But now it's not so attention-grabbing to call an agency Mountain Stream or Green Green Grass and it can sound a bit daft.

"Although agencies are often criticised for putting names on doors, there's a long heritage of professional service companies such as lawyers and accountants and it's worked for decades. But now you're not being different by having a wacky name anymore. Johnny Hornby, Charles Inge and Simon Clemmow reverted to tradition when they launched their start-up and it will always be a factor in the ad business. It's a combination of ego and the desire to be famous.

"Advertising is a personality-driven business and agencies are identified by the names of the people who run them. Having done it, it's nice, but it doesn't change your life and, moving into the position I'm in now, I don't feel that I'm disadvantaged by not having my name above the door any more."

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