PERSPECTIVE: Observer could do worse than follow the FCB/Mail trail

’How many FCB managing directors does it take to change a lightbulb?’ Answer: ’Nobody knows because the lightbulbs last longer than the managing directors.’ It is a measure of the confidence of the Daily Mail and FCB in their relationship that Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers - and thus, via the Daily Mail, FCB’s longest-standing client (26 years) - was able to tell this joke in his celebratory speech at the agency’s terrific 50th birthday party last week.

’How many FCB managing directors does it take to change a

lightbulb?’ Answer: ’Nobody knows because the lightbulbs last longer

than the managing directors.’ It is a measure of the confidence of the

Daily Mail and FCB in their relationship that Sir David English,

chairman of Associated Newspapers - and thus, via the Daily Mail, FCB’s

longest-standing client (26 years) - was able to tell this joke in his

celebratory speech at the agency’s terrific 50th birthday party last

week.



I mention it because this remarkable relationship is worth commenting

on. It is a model that the Observer, which last week appointed Ogilvy &

Mather (its third agency in four years, ditto the number of editors,

relaunches and so on), would do well to emulate.



In explaining the success of the relationship between FCB and the Daily

Mail - which he put down to mutual respect and trust - Sir David touched

on the natural antipathy between agencies and their newspaper clients

which makes them such uneasy bedfellows. There are lots of reasons why

this is so, but the foremost, I suspect, is that respect and trust are

qualities not often found in abundance in Fleet Street.



If it is to pull out of its current nosedive, the Observer will

certainly need these and more.



As Sir David reminded us, FCB also produced some great advertising but,

most importantly, it created a killer slogan - ’Every woman needs her

Daily Mail’ - which gave the paper the positioning that it needed as

well as a journalistic framework within which to operate and a good

sales story for the ad team.



While it would be facile to say all the Observer needs is something

similar, a slogan wouldn’t be a bad place to start. At the very least,

it would define the paper’s position in the public’s mind and - just as

importantly - in the minds of its writers and sales staff.



Therein, I believe, lies the Observer’s problem. What, in short, is it

for? Three weeks ago, printed in red just above the masthead, the

Observer proudly proclaimed it was ’the paper for the new era’, a daft

attempt to give a paper with a long and honourable history of genuine

scoops a quasi-establishment feel. Thankfully, this risible claim has

now been dropped, but the dithering suggests the paper’s editorial

management has an acute identity crisis. And if it doesn’t know what

it’s for, is there any wonder the public doesn’t know either?



This is where O&M comes in. Just as a crucial part of FCB’s contribution

in 1970 was the outsider’s endorsement of the Mail’s decision to go for

women readers, so O&M’s first task must be to help the Observer define

its positioning. Only then should it worry about creating some memorable

advertising.



The danger, however, is any long-term advertising proposition will be

hijacked for short-term promotions at the first sign of any blip in

sales - which is exactly where the notions of respect and trust come in

to play.



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