CLOSE-UP: COMMENT/ARCHIE PITCHER - Industry veteran remembers 54 years of life in advertising. The former O&M president recalls when agencies had a bigger role with a brand

I'd known for a long time that I wanted to make a career in advertising, before I was demobbed from the RAF, having completed two years doing my national service in Singapore as a wireless operator.

In the popular jargon that applied to ex-servicemen at the time, I'd been "bowler-hatted". Even by this time the headgear had lost its pre-war popularity and I found myself entering an industry suffering the constraints of postwar austerity.

The business was constrained by rationing. Production was still largely under government control, there was a newsprint shortage and agencies were lucky to get a four-inch double column space. The most sought-after spot was a half-page black and white ad in Lord Beaverbrook's Daily and Sunday Express.

The agency I joined was Mather and Crowther, destined to become Ogilvy & Mather. The vice-chairman was the one-legged Gordon Boggon, a legendary new-business getter and confidant of society.

The agency was in Brettenham House on Waterloo Bridge, adjacent to the Savoy hotel where a regular table was booked at the Savoy Grill. One of Fleet Street's most senior ad directors dropped into the agency daily for a pre-lunch glass of Champagne with Gordon en route to the Savoy.

Later, the fact that Gordon had died didn't deter him for one moment and younger directors had to work out a roster to host him.

In the 50s, responsibility for advertising within client organisations varied from major advertisers such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Mars, which had brand manager structures, and other clients who had a media expenditure liaison executive or an advertising manager.

The responsibility for strategic marketing plans, the developing use of market research and psychology, including sales promotion, point-of-sale material, merchandising and even exhibitions, was delegated to agencies as well as the key creative assignments.

At that time, agency people were better paid than client personnel and tended to set the pace. Sometimes an agency's control over a piece of business was total. For one client I acted as not only his agency account director, but also his marketing director. Subsequently, clients acknowledged their responsibility for marketing and recruited bright graduates to work with their agency contemporaries.

Now the pendulum has swung completely in the opposite direction. Clients are often better paid than their agency counterparts, leading to changes in the balance of power. Agencies continue to be valued for their creative expertise but they've lost their place as strategic advisors. Clients now call the shots and, perhaps, rightly so. After all, they pay the money.

The industry began to change in the mid-50s. Competition increased and in 1955 commercial TV was launched amid considerable controversy. Agencies hadn't got the talent to work in the new medium. Producers, writers and production companies were recruited. Some were ex-BBC, many came from the US.

These were the days when some TV commercials were broadcast live. There were also advertising magazine programmes. A famous one was Jim's Inn featuring the actor Jimmy Hanley and set in a pub. A vast range of products were featured, but only some were relevant to the setting. Others were totally unbelievable. Like the character turning up with his vacuum cleaner which he then proceeded to demonstrate. To make matters worse, rapid rehearsal time meant the actors weren't necessarily word perfect.

As US companies began to develop their business in the UK, so US agencies either bought into UK shops - a trend which has continued - or set up offices of their own.

Ford put its passenger car business up for pitch in the late 60s. Collett Dickenson Pearce won the account. O&M came second. Nine years later Ford left CDP. James Benson, the O&M chairman, wrote to Sir Terence Becket, his Ford counterpart, pointing out that the agency had pitched for the business previously and would like to have another go.

Crossing in the post was a letter from Becket saying he'd like O&M to handle his account. Even more remarkably, the Ford team which originally received the presentation and the O&M team which pitched were both still intact.

It's a situation which is unlikely ever to be repeated and I fear that today's industry has lost the means to retain its best talent in the way it used to. Not only is poaching rife, but talent has the means to be more mobile. What's more, today's best people often prefer to build their reputations running international accounts rather than agencies.

At the same time, there's been a change of attitude between generations.

In the past people wanted job security and a clear promotional ladder.

Now there's no such security and people know it. That's why they change jobs so fast. I think the time has never been better for the emergence of entrepreneurs who will be innovative and different.

The fragmentation of media, the development of interactive business and mobile phone marketing will shape the worlds of advertising and marketing throughout the next decade.

I hope that great characters such as Leo Burnett, Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy emerge to meet its challenges. These men were leaders and teachers ready to pass on their knowledge through their books and writings. Sadly, nobody seems to have the incentive to do so any more.¬ - Archie Pitcher, a former president of Ogilvy & Mather, has retired aged 74 as the executive director of the International Advertising Association's UK chapter.


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