Ogilvy & Mather is a very lucky agency. In Ian McAllister, the
chairman and managing director of Ford UK, it has a client who not only
understands advertising but also believes in the role of his agency in
keeping Ford at the front of the UK car market.
The funny thing is that not everyone at Ford's agency will appreciate
this - McAllister has a reputation for being a bully. But those who know
him well, including the former Ogilvy & Mather staffers Leon Jaume and
Johnny Hornby, agree that it's more correct to say that he doesn't
suffer fools gladly.
Mike Moran, the commercial director of Toyota, used to work for him. He
explains: "He's a typical Ford senior manager in that he is something of
a bully but what's unusually refreshing is that he's almost always
McAllister says of his reputation: "I guess clients always bully
agencies. The only time I've ever thrown anybody out of my office is
when they showed me an ad and I said I didn't like it. I said 'I want
this changed' and they had booked it for that night. That's putting me
in a position where I'm not able to make decisions. They didn't do it
twice. I hate guns to my head."
He's not interested in being schmoozed by his agency, a characteristic
that some no doubt confuse with grumpiness. In the 90s, O&M had two
highly paid international suits, Kelly O'Dea and Wally O'Brien,
following McAllister around attempting to cater to his every whim - an
unwise tactic. He refers to overly fussy account men as "flesh
pressers". As a busy man, he has no time for flattery and would rather
that his account men concentrated on the quality of the advertising. "I
always say to them, 'Don't give me an ad that you think I will like -
give me your best quality. If you think I'm a boring old fart say so.
Tell me I won't understand it.'"
"You're not going to get ads 100 per cent right, you're going to have a
few bombs," he chuckles.
McAllister believes it's very important to make his agencies feel
confident that there is not an account review constantly looming. "I try
to remove that issue because you always get the martinet within the
marketing department who would threaten the agency. The agency will
never know the level on which these people are, and whether or not they
can implement these threats.
In our business the only person who can fire an agency is the
Period. Agencies need the confidence to say, 'This is what I think you
should do', without fearing they might be upsetting someone or that the
account might be on the line."
There will be people at both Young & Rubicam and O&M who will choke at
those words, however. In 1998, Ford of Europe handed lead status,
including the Fiesta and Focus brands, to Y&R. The latter agency had
produced beautiful work for both Galaxy and Puma, the mention of which
bring beams of pride to McAllister's mainly inexpressive face.
Meanwhile, O&M produced a Campaign Turkey of the Year for its "If Ka
made football boots" spot timed for the World Cup. Observers compared
the leap to Y&R with moving in with a mistress, leaving O&M, and its
list of the more dowdy Ford brands, with the role of the less exciting
But before Y&R had time to get to grips with the bulk of Ford's dowdy
brands, the company did an about-face and moved back to O&M last
McAllister skirts over the events. He says the switch to Y&R was guided
by a policy of realigning agencies on brands and the switch back
occurred because Ford discovered that this was expensive owing to
"hidden costs associated with the smaller countries". However, he adds,
on a global scale the revenue streams for the two networks were not
affected by the changes.
But you can forgive McAllister the odd large-scale agency shift as the
moves were substantially dictated by international Ford policy and
because he has such a heartfelt belief in advertising and agencies.
The company divides its marketing budget into variable and fixed
Above the line, below the line, incentives and motor shows all fall into
the latter category, which commands a $120 million budget. Of
that, about 80 per cent is spent above the line, and the share spent
above the line has risen from 68 per cent to 82 per cent over the past
two years, give or take. "We decided we needed to get our brand more
across the globe to the public so we've cut back on things such as
motorsport and made savings in administration to use more of our funds
above the line," he explains.
He's planning to leave budgets more or less where they are over the
recession, however. "I don't think in a recession that you're going to
persuade people to buy when they don't want to buy, but what you can do
is make sure your brand is salient. Ours already is salient and it's
just a question of maintaining that presence. I'm not cutting back in a
recession, but we're not increasing either."
McAllister, a graduate in monetary economics, approves of agency
consolidation and globalisation of networks. For him, WPP's acquisition
of Y&R last year ironed out a little problem. He says: "I run a strategy
meeting every six months and Y&R and O&M both participate. As far as I'm
concerned this is WPP. The merger made it a lot easier from our point of
view in the sense that an unhealthy rivalry was eliminated and became a
He thinks the bigger the agency, the bigger the scope of talent
available to solve a client's problem. "They're more of a marketing
machine," he explains, but he adds: "It's the creative thrust and
ability of the people that's important and that is very much dependent
on individuals, not on size."
He admits that globalisation creates conflict on agency account lists,
but is unexpectedly accommodating. "It's not an insurmountable
If the account is in, say, South America I'm not sure that it's a
problem as long as the agency is capable enough to keep those operations
He is also a little fatalistic because he's noticed that agency staff
move to rival agencies with rival car accounts "with remarkable
Another agency-friendly point of view is that despite the benefits to be
had from consolidation, McAllister doesn't believe in regional
"Our market is so fragmented and our brand positioning in each market is
so different that what I can say about the product in Britain is not
what I can say in Germany and Spain," he explains.
He doesn't believe that being globally aligned with a network offers
cost savings to the advertiser. "When you get on to that sort of global
level you get hidden costs in making sure the stakeholders are happy,"
he says. Ford introduced a payment-by-result bonus system with its
networks last January. "We measure the strength of our brand against 15
brand metrics with questions that we ask consumers," McAllister
He believes ad agencies are essential advisors on strategy. "They are
the voice of the consumer in the marketplace.
Because of their other clients they get exposed to a whole range of
consumer insights that our people would not normally be exposed to and
that's why we use advertising agencies."
He believes that the Ford media network, MindShare, is perfectly capable
of guiding the company through the increasingly fragmented media
landscape and does not see much value to be had from management
consultants. "We never use them. Except I think they did an audit on our
photography," he divulges. "I couldn't find anyone who knows the market
as well as we do. I regard the advertising agency as consultant in both
representing the consumer's point of view and advising us on media
McAllister is paying attention to the growing antagonism toward global
brands and multinational corporations, and the company is taking steps
to imbue its image with a social conscience. The vast reception of
Ford's Essex-based headquarters is hung with giant pink ribbons,
advertising the company's commitment to fighting breast cancer. Female
staff can use a Ford screening programme, which has already uncovered
several cases of breast cancer.
Staff can also take two days off each year to devote to a charitable
cause of their choice.
Following his economics degree - "specialising in the Chicago school of
monetary economics at a time when most people hadn't heard of what the
hell it was. Margaret Thatcher's gurus later took it on" - McAllister
joined Ford's finance department as a graduate trainee in 1964.
In the 70s he crept into the marketing department and has held numerous
subsequent roles including director of marketing plans and programmes
between 1984 and 1987. He did his stint in the US as the general
marketing manager of the Lincoln Mercury Division between 1989 and 1991
before becoming the chairman and managing director of Ford UK in
His unusual fascination, for a chairman, in advertising no doubt relates
to his years in the marketing department. He devotes a seemingly
impossible amount of time to Ford's advertising. Jaume says: "We would
present virtually every ad, even small press stuff, to him. He would
always be modest and say, 'I don't know much about advertising', and you
knew he did." Jaume, in fact, had to meet McAllister before he signed
the contract to join O&M, which illustrates the importance both agency
and client hold for each other.
For this interview, McAllister armed himself with a selection of Ford
ads over the years which he was proud of, another indicator of his
esteem for advertising. When showing Y&R's launch work for the Galaxy he
proudly recounts the story of how he called the British Airways
chairman, Colin Marshall, to ask his permission to use the music so
readily identified with BA's advertising.
Most chairmen wouldn't notice what music is spliced on to their
advertising, let alone value its role highly enough to take the trouble
to secure it.
McAllister gets annoyed if his agency shows an ad to a brand manager,
who then takes it to a marketing manger, who takes it to a director and
eventually it winds its way up to McAllister. "It takes weeks," he
He prefers all parties to see the ad in one sitting, thereby saving
However, he is aware that his marketing department is unlikely to
encourage the agency to have regular direct contact with him, and says:
"I say to the people on our account that if any of my people are giving
you problems in terms of getting through to me pick up the phone and
call me and I will make sure they never know who called. I will answer
questions and dig in to the situation. You have got to have that
relationship with the agency." Patrick Collister, another former O&M
staffer, confirms: "He expected a lot from his agency but gave a lot in
return. He always made himself available."
In times when clients in general are regarding their agencies with
increasing scepticism, and sometimes contempt, attitudes such as
McAllister's are gold dust. He has a clearly defined role for his
advertising agency and it is not under any threat from in-house
capabilities or management consultants. His understanding should enable
O&M to create some powerful advertising. As Ford responds to poor market
conditions, especially in America, by ousting its global chief
executive, Jac Nasser, some powerful advertising is exactly what the
Lives: Stock (Essex)
Drives: A V6 manual Mondeo estate at the moment, but owns "a range of
Family: Three sons, one daughter.
Spare time: Doesn't relax, "I'm always on duty", but enjoys watching
soccer when he can.
Most recent read: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Jonathan Margolis.
Favourite TV: Ten O'Clock News, Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister, Only
Fools and Horses.
Favourite ad: Hamlet cigars "photo booth".
Favourite car ad: "One starring Paula Hamilton discarding her fur coat.
I forget what the brand is."
Dream job: "I've got it. It's all I ever wanted to do. Well, not quite.
The job I really wanted was to be managing director of Ford France, but
that slipped by me."