PERSPECTIVE: Bean counters have buried eccentrics in the top agency roles

Wear lime-green suits and bow ties. Develop an interest in modern art of the type that gets Daily Mail readers spluttering into their cornflakes.

Become an expert yukka thrower. Never ever allow yourself to work for others. Even if you make a mint, don't relax - better to die than stop working. This is the kind of advice you'd not offer a young person before they try to get a job in advertising.

Yet these qualities typify some of the most admired creative thinkers in and around the advertising business today. Robin Wight, Charles Saatchi, Graham Fink, Leslie Butterfield, Tim Delaney, John Hegarty, Nigel Bogle, Chris Ingram, Frank Lowe ... what is it that unites them? They are all just a little, in the nicest possible sense, um, misfits. To put it more politely, they are driven to the point of obsession. But, by God, they are exciting to observe and write about.

This column is inspired by Campaign's "Where are they now?" series. Tony Brignull, the one-time head of copywriting at CDP, now happily reading English at Oxford, is this week's subject (p19).

It's interesting how easy it has been to compile a list of candidates.

Peter Scott, Indra Sinha, Eddie Shah, Kevin Morley, Malcolm Gluck, Richard French, Peter Mayle, Edward Booth-Clibborn, Stephen King, Ronnie Kirkwood, John Meszaros - the wishlist goes on.

I wonder if the editor of Campaign would find it so easy to put together a similar list in 30 years time. Based on the characters who dominate London advertising these days, I doubt it. The lack of characters in the ad business becomes more evident every time someone like David Ogilvy passes away or someone like John Bartle steps back from the front line.

These days, most leading agencies, client and media companies are publicly held and, appropriately, run by bean counters.

Many of today's big names are shrewd, smart businesspeople who know their way around a balance sheet better than their forebears. Is their motivation, perfectly respectably, money, where the earlier generation was motivated more by an exacting standard that others almost inevitably disappointed on?

The colour has drained from agencies but also from media companies and marketers. Ron Miller left LWT years ago, but mention his name to any media veteran and the first thing they'll say is how much television misses his showbusiness style. Bert Hardy stepped out of the limelight years ago but the newspaper industry has no personality to match him today.

In the 80s and 90s, John Meszaros brought a flamboyance to the client community that had nothing to do with Volkswagen's huge advertising budget.

The power of personality in this business cannot be underestimated. There's a character-building lesson in there somewhere for today's aspiring leaders.


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