QUEEN LYNDY STEPS DOWN - Caroline Marshall interviews Lyndy Payne as she bows out of one of advertising’s most powerful and enduring monopolies

All the world’s a stage, but few in advertising can hope to play quite so many parts as Lyndy Payne: secretary, account handler, headhunter, founder of the successful agency/client match-maker, the Advertising Agency Register group, secretary of NABS, fundraiser for the Royal Marsden Hospital and Childline, WACL stalwart, respected confidante of senior clients and agency staff and, by popular consent, a warm-hearted and loyal individual in a cut-throat business.

All the world’s a stage, but few in advertising can hope to play

quite so many parts as Lyndy Payne: secretary, account handler,

headhunter, founder of the successful agency/client match-maker, the

Advertising Agency Register group, secretary of NABS, fundraiser for the

Royal Marsden Hospital and Childline, WACL stalwart, respected

confidante of senior clients and agency staff and, by popular consent, a

warm-hearted and loyal individual in a cut-throat business.



It could all have been very different had Campaign had its way, back in

the 70s, when the AAR was starting out. As Payne recalls,

matter-of-factly: ’We used to take Campaign’s name in vain, promising

clients confidentiality and impartiality and that we would help them

avoid exposure in the trade press. Then one day I got a call from

someone insignificant at Campaign, a young guy trying to make himself a

hero, I can’t remember his name. The line was ’sell us your business or

we close you down’.’



The approach was rebuffed, of course, thanks partly to the intervention

of some of Lyndy’s powerful friends - Martin Boase (at Boase, Massini,

Pollitt), Peter Warren (then at Ogilvy & Mather), and Peter Mead (then

at Peter Mead & Partners) - who registered with the AAR for three years

as a gesture of support. If anything, it served to sharpen Payne’s

ambition: ’I was young, green and naive and Campaign’s ’offer’ made me

grow up a bit,’ she recalls.



At 54, Payne is leaving the company she founded, having completed its

sale for an undisclosed sum to her number two, Martin Jones. To mark the

occasion, we arrange an interview. Discreet to the last, Payne declines

my request to meet at the AAR’s offices behind London’s Oxford Street,

preferring instead to visit Campaign’s offices.



Born in Wimbledon to an Army family, Payne left school with few

qualifications but having lived happily all over the world - ’I was slow

at school, to put it mildly’ - and headed for secretarial college and

then to SH Benson, the university of advertising of its day.



After three years as a secretary, the pitch for Gossard bras and girdles

served as her first real introduction to account handling. On hearing

that the agency had won the pitch, she set about persuading her boss to

take away her typewriter and make her a full-time account handler. All

this, remember, in a climate of business done man-to-man on the golf

course: ’I got a lot of ’clients don’t like females on their business,

it’s a man’s game,’ ’ she recalls.



There followed a stint at Gerald Green Associates and its later

incarnations, plus a brief first marriage and divorce. With an overdraft

and mortgage payments to meet, Payne chased a higher salary in

headhunting. But she was itching to start her own business. The idea of

an agency/client matchmaker was born over lunch with a former SH Benson

director and RHM Foods marketing director, John Bittlestone. ’He arrived

late, ranting about agencies,’ she recalls. ’So we talked about ways to

short-circuit the selection process.’



The capital came from a loan and from Alan Lifford, her second husband

and partner in the business. They met when he was finance director at

Kimpher and she was there to sell him the concept of the AAR. An initial

partner came in the form of Joan Millington, who had worked with Payne

at the Berkeley Staff recruitment agency. Millington later moved to the

North, but the pair began by canvassing agencies and clients with

research claiming that their service would cut down the costs incurred

in reaching a shortlist.



At first, clients were more keen than agencies. ’We don’t need an

intermediary selling us,’ was a typical response, as was: ’Who needs

you, little lady?’ But she persisted, and Michael Bungey & Partners was

the first agency to register, in July 1975. Bungey paid an annual fee of

pounds 200. Clients paid pounds 25 for an initial list of ten agencies,

and pounds 50 for another ten, plus further confidential information and

the famous ten-minute tape.



The arrival of BMP, which signed up a year later, was significant. Not

only was it the hottest shop in town, but by refusing to join the IPA,

it had been instrumental in shaking up a new-business culture still

coloured by an IPA edict which smacked of restrictive practice.

(Somewhat unrealistically, the IPA at the time prohibited agencies from

soliciting business from rivals - imagine! - on pain of being thrown out

of the association.)



In all, 28 of the initial 70 agencies approached agreed to register.

Others resisted, including French Gold Abbott and Kirkwoods. ’We believe

in being selective about new-business approaches and we have plenty of

contacts for this purpose anyway,’ sniffed a Kirkwoods director at the

time.



But the concept was too good to fail. By the end of 1977 there were 39

agencies registered. The same year Payne struck her first international

deal as a minority partner in a French version of the AAR. She teamed up

with Alain Carrette, the former country manager of McCann-Erickson. But

a dispute over money led to Carrette creating a rival, Videotheque, and

Payne teaming up with Sabine Gibory in Gibory Consultants. ’France

taught me that being a minority shareholder in a foreign country in a

service industry does not work,’ Payne says. Other associate deals were

struck: New York in 1980 and later Bangkok, Brussels, Dusseldorf,

Madrid, Singapore and Sydney.



Significantly, these are affiliate companies in which the AAR has no

equity.



Now, 24 years on, the AAR has 75 agencies on its books and a turnover of

pounds 1 million. Agencies pay between pounds 7,000 and pounds 10,000 a

year and clients pay a fee, typically pounds 1,500, for the privilege.

Blue-chip clients have given the AAR further legitimacy by signing up as

corporate members paying an annual fee of about pounds 4,000: the COI

was the first in 1988 and Van den Bergh and BT followed.



Unarguably, the AAR has evolved into a hugely successful private

business with quasi-official status, almost like the IPA and ISBA. So

what’s Lyndy’s secret? ’I have three,’ she replies. ’Don’t believe your

own publicity, never take anything for granted and give back value. I’ve

always believed that we’re not just here for new business alone but to

help with new ideas, to point out how something could be done

differently. And our fees have been modest all the way through; we’ve

never been greedy.’



One thread that works its way through conversations about Payne is a

respect for how she has represented both sides of the divide - agencies

and clients - earned money from both sides, and yet given both great

service.



Martin Boase, a founder of BMP, says: ’Lyndy’s a curious combination of

being totally indiscreet and totally discreet at the same time. She

tells you things that are privileged but never damaging to the other

person.’



Competitors also bear witness to her skills as a diplomat: ’My view of

Lyndy is that she is probably a genius in all sorts of ways, but mostly

because she treads so expertly the dividing line between clients and

agencies,’ says Andrew Melsom, who left BMP Business to set up Agency

Insight in 1995.



While Payne inspires paeans of praise from some in the business, others

admit privately that they loathe what they consider the ’Lyndy’s mates’

networking coterie. They resent Payne’s iron grip on their short and

curlies - but they will never say so on the record because they still

have to do business with the AAR.



Bruce Haines, the group chief executive of Leagas Delaney, says: ’People

who dismiss Lyndy as biased probably aren’t good at winning new business

so they look for excuses.’ Perhaps he’s right, but in the interests of

balance let us throw some of the charges at Lyndy and record how she

responds.



The charge: ’Lyndy has her mates, her favourites and those who aren’t on

the list don’t get a look in.’ The reply: ’Rubbish, absolute

rubbish.



Of course I’ve got mates. I’m proud of it, but equally the record shows

that I wouldn’t have the cross-section of agencies I have on my books if

I only had my mates at the AAR. Some people fail to realise that the AAR

is a two-way street, that we can only be as proactive for them as they

are with us. If agencies don’t tell us what’s active and what isn’t, if

they’d like to substitute one account that’s no longer spending for

another that is, how are we supposed to find out?’



The charge: ’The AAR charges agencies to recommend them while some of

its newer competitors (Agency Assessments and Agency Insight, for

example) don’t.’ The reply: ’True, but totally unfair. We are running a

business and from day one it’s been positioned as like taking out an ad

for a year. If we didn’t have agencies paying we really would have the

licence to be biased, and then the AAR would lose one of its main

qualities which is impartiality.’



The charge: ’If you fall out with Lyndy, that’s it, she’ll never give

you any more business.’ The reply: ’I’m a realist. I know people say

that, but I also know that I’ve been very fair in running my business

and that if an agency was meeting a brief they would go on the list

irrespective of my personal feelings; that’s how we’ve kept

successful.’



Nonetheless, the criticisms allude to one of the extraordinary things

about the AAR: for many, Lyndy is the AAR and the AAR is Lyndy. Does

this concern Martin Jones, the former J. Walter Thompson marketing

director, Payne’s successor as managing director and the owner of the

AAR since January?



Not really, and to illustrate where the potential of the business lies,

Jones turns the question around: ’The advertising industry knows the AAR

as a brand, but lots of clients don’t know about us because we can’t be

seen to be creating churn. So I’ll be concentrating on marketing

ourselves more fully in a subtle way; we’re there if you need us. We

have the potential to become a one-stop shop for all client needs.’



By her own admission, Payne failed to react early enough to the cult of

personality thing: ’My biggest business mistake was not bringing someone

like Martin in early enough, and thus allowing the AAR to feel like a

one-woman business for too long,’ she says. ’Truth is, I had wanted to

pull back for five years. I wasn’t being turned on in the way I was

before, there wasn’t a client problem I hadn’t heard before.’



The AAR now offers advice on a broad spectrum of marketing services,

including PR, direct marketing and media buying. New media is next on

Jones’s agenda. Should Payne have diversified earlier? ’Not really,

we’ve been doing other things for years,’ she replies. ’It’s just that

Martin’s made it more focused.’



She is ready to start a new life but not ready to leave advertising for

good. ’I want a break and to sit and think about my life for a bit. I’ve

had three delightful offers and two other interesting conversations. I

might go down the non-exec route too.’



Would she work for one agency? ’No, no way. I’ve seen a lot of agencies,

good and bad. Working for one, you get into their way of doing things

and I’d soon lose the edge of what I can bring, my objectivity.’



Payne is far too inquisitive to slow down for good, of course. So it’s

just as well that, following a two-week break in St Lucia, she’ll be

concentrating for a while on what she calls ’stupidly personal’ things.

’I want to learn Italian, play the piano, play bridge, that sort of

thing,’ she says with undisguised glee.



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