J Walter Thompson
Type of agency
New York, NY
Number of UK staff
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Despite its US heritage, no agency had such an aristocratic bearing or seemed to represent the British establishment better than the London office of J Walter Thompson.
Its account handling department resembled a public-school common room and double-barrelled surnames abounded among the directors. Harry, Lord Tennyson, a direct descendent of the poet, was among the senior executives.
Maybe its posh persona was because of its long-standing place on the UK agency scene. In setting up an office in Bedford Street, Covent Garden, in 1899, JWT became the first US agency to have a UK outpost.
The shop had less than half-a-dozen staff who serviced European advertisers wanting to run campaigns in the US. It closed in 1916 as staff enlisted when the US entered World War I but reopened in 1919 shortly before moving to Bush House in Aldwych – its home until World War II.
By the early 20s, the agency was handling British advertising for five US clients, the biggest of which was Sun Maid raisins of California.
However, the agency really began hitting its stride under the leadership of the American Sam Meek, whose brief was to boost turnover and encourage European expansion. By 1930, half the London office’s accounts were British. Six years later, Advertising World had ranked it as Britain’s top agency.
JWT London was very much an early adopter, pioneering commercial radio advertising in the 30s and, from its famous home at 40 Berkeley Square, was one of the first agencies to set up a department in 1953 to prepare for commercial TV’s arrival. And in Stephen King it possessed one of account planning’s founding fathers.
Part of the WPP empire since 1987, JWT London’s collective intellectualism has sparked a string of iconic campaigns from “Persil washes whiter” to “Have a break, have a Kit Kat”.