Tony Douglas’s resignation as chief executive of the Central Office
of Information caused a stir, and not just because it left surprised
new-business directors muttering about the time they’d wasted schmoozing
His return to the agency world is not that big a surprise - Douglas was
previously linked to Grey and the glamour of Lambeth had begun to
Clearly he missed agency life. It was more the choice of agency that
It’s been a long time since FCB, the largest agency in the US, was
number one in London. As far back as 1982 the agency learnt from the
front page of Campaign that it was losing its flagship British Airways
account to Saatchi & Saatchi.
Since then, successive FCB London bosses have managed its slow decline
to 26th position. But to be honest, they have all had to function with
the advertising equivalent of one arm tied behind their backs.
Unquestionably, the unsuccessful European alliance with Publicis held
FCB back. It was never clear to the outside world how it worked (it
wasn’t that clear to many within the two agencies, either).
Now Douglas must build on the first tentative steps taken through FCB’s
acquisition of the Wilkens network, and set about building a proper
European network two decades after most of its contemporaries.
Douglas likes a challenge - most famously, working with his erstwhile
partner, Graham Hinton, to build a formidable agency out of the
potentially disastrous merger of D’Arcy MacManus and Masius and Benton &
Then, two years ago, he took on the challenge of the COI post ahead of
what he knew would be a time of dramatic ’restructuring’. While the last
Government eased back on advertising ahead of the election, Douglas
reviewed his creative and media agency rosters. He made it clear he was
looking for greater integrated capabilities among those on the new
creative roster. In so doing he proved to be, along with his head of
advertising, Peter Buchanan, one of the more influential clients of
His new job will provide a similarly daunting challenge. As with his
last, its success lies not entirely in his own hands. This time he
relies not on a new government, but the genuine commitment of his
Chicago parent to provide him with an acquisitions war chest. FCB can’t
afford to get it wrong again.
The demise of Yardley can’t just be blamed on its advertising. But it
can be blamed on marketing in the wider sense of the word. What it
proves is that you can never rest on your laurels.
Yardley in the late 60s wasn’t quite the ubiquitous fashion brand that -
say - Nike is today, but it was hot, via Twiggy, in the way Nike is
through Michael Jordan. Although it continued to be successful, it never
regained its cachet. The desperate Linda Evangelista campaign was too
little, too late.
As Nike - and to some extent Levi’s - have discovered, it is difficult
to be both fashionable and ubiquitous. The surest thing about being
fashionable today is that tomorrow fashion will move on.