CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AGENCY ADVERTISING - If advertising works, why don't agencies advertise? Why ad agencies seldom employ the services they provide

For the 30 years of Campaign's history, one question has nagged successive editors: if advertising agencies believe - as they surely do - that advertising really works, why do they so rarely advertise themselves?

For the 30 years of Campaign's history, one question has nagged successive editors: if advertising agencies believe - as they surely do - that advertising really works, why do they so rarely advertise themselves?

Over the years, there have been some fine examples of agencies using their creative talents to sell themselves, and last week's house ads from Lowe Lintas and TBWA/London served to beautifully underline the credentials that won them Agency of the Year and runner-up respectively.

But such investment in self-marketing has always been the exception rather than the norm. When it comes to promoting their wares, agencies have all too often relied on PR or let their work speak for itself rather than investing their own money in advertising campaigns. For companies founded on the principle of advertising's effectiveness, why are agencies so reluctant to turn their skills upon themselves?

Peter Mead, the group chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, laughs, his tongue firmly placed in his cheek: 'It could be because few of them actually believe that advertising works!'

'It's a bloody good question,' Ogilvy & Mather's chairman, Paul Simons, stalls. 'It's certainly not because they are shy. I've sat in many meetings over the years watching the agony of people trying to develop an advertising campaign for themselves.'

Tim Delaney, Leagas Delaney's chairman, expands on this apparent attack of bashfulness: 'Agencies find it difficult to write about themselves. They don't apply the same discipline that they apply to their clients - that objectivity isn't there, and you need that.'

'The strategic reasons are harder to explain,' Delaney continues. 'Our agency used to advertise at the beginning, and this worked. But we haven't used it lately.' In fact, Leagas Delaney's last extended campaign graced the pages of Campaign in the early 90s, when the agency invested in a series of six award-winning ads.

Yet, if this campaign worked, why hasn't the agency put its chosen trade to good personal use since? 'The amount of money that it costs to advertise is fairly expensive against agencies' promotional budgets so they tend to rely on professional bodies like the AAR,' Delaney explains.

'Advertising is expensive and I don't think anyone really knows whether it's been successful for them or not other than on a tactical basis.'

Believe it or not, and despite the commitment that so many agencies make to the IPA Effectiveness Awards, this doubt seems to be the key problem.

'Most agencies don't have a strategic plan, marketing plan or a communication plan,' Delaney says. 'They use other means of marketing like direct calling and events and don't seem to believe that ads can work. It is ironic.' And then some.

Mead has flirted with in-house ads as well: 'We did a lot when we started and I'm sure it was central to the awareness we got in the early days. It worked enormously well for us in giving a flavour of the place. Agencies should advertise more. Paradoxically, the less Campaign writes about you - the more you need to advertise in it!'

Kenny Nicholas was the creative director of the UK office of the Japanese agency Hakuhodo Inc, in the early-to-mid 90s. The agency produced some acclaimed advertising to try and persuade potential clients that they were a viable alternative to the UK big-hitters. The results were, unfortunately, far from spectacular.

The AAR's boss, Martin Jones, explains: 'As a new-business tool, it's a waste of time. Does it affect clients' views? No. I rarely meet a client who spots this stuff.'

At least above the line he doesn't. Outside the world of press and poster ads, things could be different, though of less benefit to Campaign's coffers.

Jones cites an HHCL & Partners brochure as a great piece of direct mail advertising to target new business. It gives three options for the reader to find out about the agency. One takes one second, another one minute and the last five minutes. 'I wish I had done it. It absolutely understood that clients don't have much time to look at these things.'

O&M is an example of an agency where the emphasis is on events rather than traditional advertising. Simons has a list of 25 clients that he wants to bag and these clients, over the course of the year, will be invited to between 12 and 15 O&M organised events.

'We are trying to build a familiarity with all of these people. We are able to tailor the message to the company - which we can't do if we have an omnibus piece of communication,' Simons says.

Bernard Barnett, the former Campaign editor and now director of corporate affairs for Y&R Europe, lays it on the line: 'When it comes down to it, they don't have the money for advertising. It's not a huge return business.'

Barnett adds that when agencies do take the plunge, they end up breaking every rule in the book: 'In doing house ads, agencies transgress the common rules of advertising that they try to impress on their client. The ads tend to be one-offs, tactical ads, something they are always telling their own clients not to do. We also tell our clients - don't do your own ads, you're too close to it.'

Barnett stresses that agencies should be advertising though: 'What agencies preach to their clients is that advertising brings results. Agencies themselves must believe in advertising.'

However, the head of one such agency, WCRS's chairman, Robin Wight, seems disinclined to make this leap of faith. 'Agency business is built on reputation,' he says. 'The basic position for most agencies is 'our ads are our ads'. Unless there is a specific opportunity (like TBWA's 'fuck'), there's a sense that like a good restaurant, if you see an agency advertise you suspect there's something wrong with the advertising. Tactical ads are an injection of visibility that has to be done with wit. Unfortunately for Campaign, it'll be an infrequent event.'



Topics