Advertising’s Age-old problems: Jeremy Bullmore, the president of NABS and a non-executive director of WPP, reports on this year’s NABS Monitor and reflects on its implications for advertising

Writing in Campaign last year, Andrew Cracknell described the NABS Monitor as ’advertising’s wine bar, its suggestion box’. And so it is.

Writing in Campaign last year, Andrew Cracknell described the NABS

Monitor as ’advertising’s wine bar, its suggestion box’. And so it is.

It’s also a big focus group - with agency people, for once, taking part in

the discussion rather than just watching through a one-way mirror.

In case you’ve missed it up to now, the Monitor is run by NABS in

association with Campaign. It’s a survey, and what it wants to find out is

just what’s going on in your mind. What gives you a buzz, what bugs you?

What do you hope for, what do you dread? What help do you need - and what

wrongs would you like to see righted? What do you know about NABS - and

what would you like from it?

Last year was the first year it was run. This year, twice as many people

responded. Though open to the entire ’marketing communications industry’

(there should be a lavish prize on offer for anyone who can think of an

alternative to this cumbersome term), 59 per cent of respondents worked in

advertising agencies - almost certainly reflecting the fact that the

insert in Campaign generated the majority of the replies.

As always, interpretation must be cautious. But it’s the only survey of

its kind and some of the findings are fascinating.

Almost everyone thinks that older people in the business are discriminated

against. Not surprising, perhaps, that the over-35s feel this, but it’s

just as much an issue with the under-35s. (See tables, right.) And they

all believe that age discrimination kicks in at 45 or sooner.

Ninety per cent of people may be wrong but it’s very unlikely. So what are

agency managements up to here? Most clients want the benefit of experience

- gained the hard way at other clients’ expense. Who wants an apprentice

neurosurgeon or a teenage defence counsel?

Perhaps it’s just competitive posturing. All the new young agencies are

staffed by new young talent so, hitching up their skirts, the established

agencies chuck away their biggest single competitive advantage and start

boasting that the average age of their management group is 17.

Or does discrimination exist because it deserves to exist? Are people in

our business really past their best at 45, clogging up the corporate

arteries and blocking the career paths of the lean and hungry?

It would certainly be odd for me to think so, but if they are, this is a

hugely important issue - for the business itself, for the IPA and other

trade bodies, and for NABS. (Maybe it’s just creative people who stop

being creative on their 35th birthday. In which case would John Webster

kindly explain himself.)

Though it doesn’t jump out of the survey, one big question for the next

few years is going to be: who do clients look to for brand strategy?

Ten years ago the answer was obvious: the traditional, full-service

advertising agency. Today, there are many contenders. Most agency people

are fairly dismissive about the management consultants - but they’re

serious players with deep pockets and enviable margins. The appointment by

McKinsey of William Eccleshare earlier this year should have made the most

confident agency stop and think. And, even without the management

consultants, there are design and identity consultants, brand strategy

specialists and media investment companies - all with strategic resources

and competence.

So if one of the new battlegrounds is going to be the profitable provision

of total brand strategy, common sense would suggest that those with

experience and accumulated wisdom are going to be in some demand.

Indiscriminate youth worship could lead to the traditional agency becoming

little more than a finishing house. If so, the NABS Monitor respondents

are right to voice such universal concern: age discrimination might prove

to be not only human injustice but rank bad business.

Over half of those respondents - men and women both - also wanted to see a

better balance between the sexes, particularly in positions of


I can’t remember a time when this obvious imbalance wasn’t a worry - yet

there seems to be no discernible improvement.

Again, we ought to ask why. Part of the answer, perhaps, comes from the

response to another, unrelated question in the Monitor. More than half of

you claim to be working longer hours than you did two or three years ago.

The heat is hotter, the competition is more intense. And so, inevitably it

seems to me, is the competition between work and home.

However good New Man may be at bringing up wind and nappy-changing, he is

never going to experience the conflicts felt by working mothers. I do not

have the slightest doubt: it is infinitely harder for women to manage the

competitive demands of firm and family than it is for men.

Yet it is still thought unmanly of women to mention it - and men seem

curiously reluctant to acknowledge it.

But despite the pressures, you’re still having fun. Two out of three of

you feel happy and fulfilled in your work - and even more would actively

encourage your children to follow in your footsteps. (You may think it

pretty odd that there are some of your colleagues who would encourage

their children to enter a profession they themselves are unhappy in but,

as you know better than I, you have some pretty odd colleagues.)

But nobody loves you! Particularly clients! Despite the commitment and the

long hours and the sacrifices you make, people continue to undervalue the

contribution you make - and that’s the view of the great majority.

It may even be true. In fact, it probably is true. But I suspect it’s no

more true for our trade than for any other. The whole world feels

undervalued and under-rewarded and under-loved. One of the characteristics

of people who are very good at what they do is to believe that what they

do is more important than it is. It’s part of what gives them their drive

and determination.

And you do still want to be good at what you do. When asked about

ambitions, you give standard, predictable answers. You want to run your

own business, you want to make a lot of money and you want to retire

early. At least, that’s what you say. Maybe you only want to retire early

because you think that if you don’t, somebody will do it for you. But

behind those work-a-day answers lie strong feelings I recognise.

High standards matter. To earn respect matters. To feel a sense of

achievement matters - even if not conventionally measurable. And that is

why, in your place of work, you’d like to see less politics and more

investment in technology, more time for deep and fruitful thought, more

openness and consultation.

For all its superficial cynicism, our trade seems to recognise that for

fun and diversity we can still beat the daylights out of bond-broking.

There are some odd divergences taking place. The concept of integrated

communications has taken time to take hold. Older readers may remember

Ogilvy Orchestration, The Whole Egg, One Voice: it’s 15 years or more

since several respected full-service agencies first started preaching the

integrated message - and very little happened. But now more and more

clients are taking it seriously. More and more want all their marketing

messages to meld melodiously above, below or through the line. And what is

the response of the marketing services industry? A flurry of de-coupling

and specialisation, that’s what.

Media and creative agree to divorce. Even the largest of agencies no

longer offers packaging, corporate identity, public relations, sales

promotion, direct marketing or sponsorship as an in-house option. A few of

the new-media specialists have sprung from the loins of the old-media

specialists - but a great many have not. And everybody jumps on the


So precisely at the time that clients are looking for over-arching,

all-encompassing, media-neutral brand communicators, they find themselves

faced with a 100 different splinter groups, each evangelically convinced

that theirs is the only discipline that matters.

This last development has prompted NABS to spread its wings a bit.

According to Monitor, the services NABS offers are now more widely known.

Two-thirds of you know about the Helpline and nearly half about Welfare

and the Career Consultancy. Many of the young know about the Flatshare

service and about a third have heard of the retirement home at Peterhouse.

But none of you mentioned FastForward.

Since FastForward is less than a year old, this came as no surprise.

It started with a prompt from Ken New, Terry Wheeler and the Media


They were getting concerned that young media specialists could come into

the business, spend a lifetime in advertising and never meet a


It turned out that creative agencies were feeling the same sort of loss

about media people, too, and that just about every trade was worried by

the increasing isolation that specialisation inevitably involved.

So NABS put together a series of four evenings, open to young people from

all disciplines, at pounds 100 a head all-in. Supported by the IPA and

Marketing, it was called FastForward, it was assembled and run by Mike

Tunnicliffe, it attracted greatly respected speakers from all branches of

the business (including clients) and on the final evening the competing

multi-talented syndicates presented their vision for the Ideal Marketing

Agency of the Future.

Feedback was so enthusiastic, from companies and delegates alike, that

there’s another FastForward, run this time by Simon Mathews, coming up

later this year. (Details from NABS.)

The emerging NABS is one that’s adapting rapidly to the changing world it

serves, crossing the boundaries of the different skills: helping the young

to progress as well as the old to enjoy company and security.

There’ll be another Monitor Survey along soon. Please join in: it helps us

keep on course.

Do you think that this industry generally tends to discriminate against

older people?

Respondents        Yes (%)     No (%)

Male                    87         12

Female                  95          5

Up to 35 years          90         10

35+ years               90          8

Would you like to see a better balance between the sexes in your place

of work?

Respondents        Yes (%)     No (%)

Male                    54         28

Female                  58         38

Up to 35 years          55         39

35+ years               56         38

Account handlers        54         34

Creatives               83         17