CAMPAIGNDIRECT: Review/ISP Awards - Client-focused specialists send agency invaders packing/As one of the judges for the ISPs, Andy Blackford saw adland’s pretenders lose to an array of newcomers

Was it one or two promotional years ago that I scanned the ballroom of the Royal Lancaster Hotel and was astounded to have spotted Jennifer Laing, tipping back the old methode champenoise like a good ’un?

Was it one or two promotional years ago that I scanned the ballroom

of the Royal Lancaster Hotel and was astounded to have spotted Jennifer

Laing, tipping back the old methode champenoise like a good ’un?

That the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi should deign to slum it

with the ’plastic daffodil boys’ (that’s what they called us in the late

80s) had an almost surreal quality about it - as if the Queen had

stopped off at Spud-u-Like on her way to Balmoral. But then, Saatchis

had just announced its decision to drop the ’advertising’ from its name

in order to become a fully integrated agency. And to rub it in, it

walked off with a shelf-load of Institute of Sales Promotion golds.

HHCL & Partners was there too - and it looked horribly as if, at last,

the sales promotion industry’s blinkered complacency had finally

exceeded adland’s snobbery, and the ad agencies were going to beat us at

our own game.

Creatively, at least, we’d left them an open goal. (I remember a suit at

a famous promotional agency staring at me uncomprehendingly when I

suggested he should hire some more copywriters. ’How many copywriters

does it take to spell FREE?’ he wanted to know.)

But on the strength of this year’s ISP awards, the threat of an

advertising invasion seems to have evaporated. Saatchis managed a couple

of bronzes, HHCL a silver.

What’s more, the other much vaunted ’trend’ of recent years - the

emergence of a new wave of sophisticated below-the-line specialists -

seems to have faltered too.

IMP, for instance, down from six very noisy tables to three rather more

sedate ones.

Claydon Heeley took just one gold, FCA! wasn’t there at all and

Triangle, which effortlessly dominated the recent SPCA awards, was

barely discernible.

So who stole their glory? Well, the Grand Prix (for the Clorets Free

Curry promotion) went to ... Meteorite. ’Who?’ someone whispered

incredulously in my ear. ’You know,’ I chided, ’the consultancy founded

by Hugh Bishop, ex-Wunderman Cato Johnson and Marden Kane; six people

based in Putney.’

I only knew this because I’d already cornered Bishop by the lavs. ’It’s

no longer about big agencies with lots of clients,’ he said. ’It’s about

little ones with real, in-depth knowledge of the client’s business.’ I

wanted to know: ’Doesn’t this make you rather vulnerable?’ He replied:

’We should live by being vulnerable.’

That’s easy to say (I thought but didn’t say) when you’ve just won the

ISP Grand Prix. Bishop continued: ’We’re not consultants - we believe in

being totally inserted into the client’s business.’

Well, it’s a point of view. Personally, I can see the trees getting in

the way of the wood. Is there no value left in objective expertise and

dispassionate advice?

Meteorite staffers have no titles. They all sit around one big desk.

They have no in-house creative resource. While I applaud its success, I

hope its methods don’t catch on. I’ll be out of a job.

The real dark horse of the night was Biggart Donald. It took four golds

and so many silvers and bronzes, they’ll have to pay excess baggage on

their flight back to Scotland. Ghill Donald and Willie Biggart are

ex-Bass men who set up in Glasgow eight years ago. ’We kept our light

under a bushel,’ says Biggart, ’until we were sure we had it all in


Their heartland is booze - they took golds for Bacardi and Ballantine’s

17 Year Old. But they also won an art direction award for their Reebok

Ryan Giggs Doppelganger promotion. Business is brisk - from regional

origins, they’re increasingly winning pan-UK accounts and, most

recently, European projects for Reebok. They’re opening a shop in London

later this year.

Look out, I’d say.

Another little giant-killer was Dialogue Marketing Partnership, which

took two golds for promotional merchandise (Save the McVitie’s Jaffa

Cakes from the Orangey Tangs) and loyalty (Action Man Power Points). Who


I only know because I was there when they split away from IMP to darkest

Surrey in 1992.

Not all the honours went to cheeky upstarts. The big agency gong winners

were the real old guard - the agencies that were mopping up ten years

ago - Promotional Campaigns, Clarke Hooper, Geoff Howe.

So a funny old evening, really. Success was polarised between the big,

old ’safe pairs of hands’ and a raft of small, aggressive newcomers. The

gold for innovation went to Dynamo for putting T-shirts in Coke tins -

an instant win for the vending machine which, while undeniably smart,

doesn’t have the ring of a quantum leap.

I judged the art direction category and was pleasantly surprised by the

better half of the entries. None of them would have made it past the

door of D&AD, but at least they looked professional and paid lip-service

to production values. Copy, as always, is a problem, but until schools

start teaching English again, we’re stuck with it.

Altogether the event had a certain air of weariness about it - not

helped by oversubscription and an awards presentation so interminable

even Rory Bremner struggled to keep up the momentum. Perhaps I’m getting