Agencies' bundled team solutions have a human cost
A view from Jeremy Lee

Agencies' bundled team solutions have a human cost

With holding companies offering bundled team solutions to advertisers, the people who work on such accounts are often just human collateral.

How pleasing to see Ogilvy & Mather UK, which for so long languished as a staid and sleepy outpost of its wider network, manage to trouble the new business league and produce some decent work – its insightful Time to Change spot being a fine example – for the first time in recent memory. 

For many of its previous management teams, the agency’s problems seemed intractable, leading to them throwing in the towel. So real credit is due to the grit and determination of Charlie Rudd, Mick Mahoney, Clare Donald and Kevin Chesters (although whether it’s also due to the latter’s pastoral visitations to the "wilds" of Torquay, Oldham and Eastbourne is up for debate). The untangling of the previously complex reporting structures and account baronies that hamstrung Rudd’s predecessors perhaps seem to have been a rather bigger factor. 

Hot foot on the shop winning Bulmers, it has also picked up Vodafone and Boots – the latter through one of WPP’s beloved (and undeniably potent) team arrangements. Following the success of Mother’s 13 years running the account, evidenced by the almost unprecedented praise lavished on the agency by Boots’ senior vice-president and managing director of UK & Ireland, Elizabeth Fagan, expectations on Ogilvy are undoubtedly high. 

While hearty congratulations are due to Rudd et al for reinvigorating this most venerable of British advertising brands, sympathy should also, of course, be afforded to Mother and Lida. As is always the case when a major account moves, as well as having to reconfigure their businesses accordingly (despite their great work), there usually is a human cost beyond the ephemeral headlines. Hopefully it will be minimized on this occasion. 

It was revealing that each of the CEOs of the holding companies were (rightly) quick to speak out against Donald Trump's attempt to restrict the legitimate movement of people into the US – one of his first policy decisions. To a man – and all the holding company bosses are men – they cried: "Our people are our only asset", and while I'm sure that their comments were heartfelt, it does seem that when it really comes to the crunch, the industry as a whole can be a little more ruthless with people's careers. 

With all the holding companies now seeing the efficiencies in offering bundled team solutions to advertisers’ increasingly complex communications needs, the people who work on such accounts at smaller agencies are often just human collateral – to be dropped or moved about just like any other commodity or component. It’s the brutal reality of business in any sector, I guess.

It possibly also helps explain Sir Martin Sorrell’s rather warmer words about Trump at Mobile World Congress when he praised his pro-business agenda as being "good news" for the world economy. But given some of his other policies, the benefit to humanity might be something quite different.