OPINION: MILLS ON ... NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS

Picture the scene: it’s 1992 and there’s me having lunch with the chief executive of a top 20 agency that’s having a bad time and, frankly, needs some drastic action. Lunch is hard going. Me (desperate for something to say): ’What do you think of the idea of non-executive directors?’ Him: ’I’d love to be one. I can think of a lot of companies I’d be really good for.’ Me: ’Er, I meant the other way round.’

Picture the scene: it’s 1992 and there’s me having lunch with the

chief executive of a top 20 agency that’s having a bad time and,

frankly, needs some drastic action. Lunch is hard going. Me (desperate

for something to say): ’What do you think of the idea of non-executive

directors?’ Him: ’I’d love to be one. I can think of a lot of companies

I’d be really good for.’ Me: ’Er, I meant the other way round.’



But what hubris anyway! It won’t surprise you to hear that this

particular individual lost his job shortly afterwards and has not been

heard of since.



I thought no more of this conversation until last week when the clothing

company, Hay and Robertson, which also owns the Admiral sports brand,

announced that it had appointed McCanns’ chief executive, Ben Langdon,

as a non-executive director (no jokes about Admiral diversifying into

boxing equipment, please). MindShare’s Mandy Pooler, too, has recently

landed a non-executive’s job at the fashion retailer, New Look. While

one hesitates to say this is the start of a trend, at least it proves

that Martin Boase (non-executive chairman of Kiss FM, Maiden, Heals, two

investment trusts, Legal Week and non-executive director of Emap) no

longer holds the monopoly on such jobs.



Whatever, it is unquestionably a good thing. So why doesn’t it happen

more often? Well, one reason could be that ad and media agency people,

even at the senior level, are often surprisingly narrow-visioned. I

don’t just mean this in the sense that they think the world ends at

Soho’s perimeter, but that many of them have spent their entire working

lives in advertising or the media. Other than through contact with

clients (about advertising issues anyway) they have little or no

knowledge of the way other businesses are run.



Not everybody agrees that agency people should take on non-executive

jobs, however. There seem to be three principal objections: one, running

an agency is a full-time job; two, the fiduciary responsibilities are

onerous in the extreme; three, client conflict (what happens if your

agency is involved with a competing client?). All these seem to me to be

valid objections - but not so strong they counter the obvious benefits

to be had from exposure to other business cultures.



By now you may have spotted a flaw in my argument: if agency people

aren’t very good at business generally, what qualifies them to be

non-execs of other companies? One answer, of course, is that some of

them are good at business, but their real contribution lies in

understanding and communicating with customers. What business today

doesn’t need some of that? But the fact that so few companies turn to

the ad world for non-executives seems to suggest they don’t value those

skills particularly or, worse, those sorts of individuals, very

highly.



Equally, too, it seems obvious that this should be a two-way street:

agencies should put outsiders on their boards. But they don’t. Apart

from the public companies where they must, a straw-poll failed to turn

up a single instance. Shameful, really.



Still not convinced? Well, let me paraphrase Kipling: ’What should they

know of advertising who only advertising know?’



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).