THE CONFIDENCE BAROMETER: Andrew Cracknell, who has spent many years in the business and worked on both sides of the Atlantic, assesses the findings of new NABS research on the mood of the industry

You know who you are - you’re the assets. You must be, you go up and down in the lifts every day. How are you? What are you thinking about your job, your colleagues, your career, your industry?

You know who you are - you’re the assets. You must be, you go up

and down in the lifts every day. How are you? What are you thinking

about your job, your colleagues, your career, your industry?

Imagine it’s 6.30pm, Friday night, in an agency wine bar near you. In

one corner, saturnine and sullen, a small group of creative people sips

its bevies and mutters venomously about account men equipped only with

reverse gear and the taste of cardboard.

A crowd of twentysomething account handlers, shining hair and flashing

eyes, act breathless and enthusiastic in front of the two or three top

managers who haven’t left for the country. The top managers arrived

separately a few minutes ago but soon gravitated to each other for

warmth and comfort.

In brave defiance of all the evidence known to them, they smile broadly

and swap jokes as if there’s nothing wrong, ’for the benefit of the


At a table on the borders of shadow, a planner, visibly drunk and in

purple-faced rage at the imbecility of management, harangues a small

warren of trapped baby planners who are terrified to stay, but too

terrified to leave.

And deep in another corner, the finance director and his deputy gaze

around in silent contemplation, and wonder after all about that job that

was going as FD at Amalgamated Buckets or Consolidated Buns.

Not your wine bar? Perhaps not. Maybe your planners are more docile or

your creative people don’t even go there. But what other snapshot is

there for a view of how your agency really feels at the moment?

And how would it be if the wine bar were host to all fourteen thousand

people currently employed in advertising?

NABS’s idea for an ’industry monitor’, conducted for the first time this

January, is the only way we’ll ever know what’s truly getting up the

noses, or worse, of the rank and file of the business. Sadly, not enough

people responded to make it truly representative, but nonetheless it

does give some fascinating insights into the hopes and fears of the

average agency worker.

What would you say, for example, is the biggest irritant in agency


Salary disparities? Creative ponces, perhaps? Actually, it’s inefficient

use of time.

Late meetings, the constant altering of dates, and systems not

functioning quickly, all contributed to this major well of


Working for, and with, people who are bad time managers, and working for

amateur clients - there, it’s been said - also featured.

It surfaced again in a resentment of ’presenteeism’ - the tacit, but

palpable, pressure from management for you to start early and work


This is all part of the generally accepted belief that due to staff cuts

on both sides, clients now ask depleted agencies to do even more of

their work. So as some respondents said, in 1998 the business was harder

working and less fun than before. But for the more positive, this wasn’t

necessarily a symptom of clients dumping work on their backs. It was far

more the glass-half-full notion that the growth of activity in areas

comparatively new to agencies - direct marketing for example - was

adding creditably to the tasks.

There is another possible reason for the increased pressure. Although

many creative people might disagree, far more agencies today show at

least a little more conscience about their work. Three decades ago there

were probably only three centres of excellence in the London agency

world. Everywhere else was giving clients what they wanted - usually a

couple of stiff gins, lunch at Mortons and a round of golf. To many, the

ads were just an unfortunate by-product of the client service process.

Now good work can come, and is expected to come, from anywhere and

everywhere, which puts pressure on everyone.

It’s long been suggested that the most creative agencies are not

necessarily the happiest due to the fact that, if you’re constantly

breaking new ground, you’re constantly being taken into the unknown, and

that shreds the nerves of those averse to risk-taking.

It would follow, therefore, that the more agencies there are trying

harder, the more uncomfortable the business as a whole becomes. So be


On the subject of work, the ’tasteless’ (in their words) Tango and

Bird’s Eye Regent Street Christmas lights came in for a slagging off,

which, when you think about it, shows an interesting sensitivity. It

isn’t as if it’s an ad that’s being criticised, it’s a way of going

about advertising that caused concern. It was as if to say ’hang on,

this isn’t what we should be doing in our business’. Unspecified

’indulgent TV ads, particularly cars’ also incensed those surveyed, and

the air was filled with the sound of grinding axes.

Among the personalities who stood out in 1998, Maurice Saatchi featured

’because he always does’ as did Martin Boase ’for the continued success

of BMP’. David Abbott and Trevor Beattie were recognised for reasons

that couldn’t be at further ends of a spectrum. There is clearly deep

respect for David.

Graham Hinton also attracted attention but probably shouldn’t use that

as a justification for defying the barber any longer. Curiously, Lyndy

Payne also featured - curious, not because she doesn’t deserve it, but

because the survey was conducted before the Campaign feature on her was

published. She has previously tended to be a behind-the-scenes figure,

familiar more to senior people and new-business managers. Perhaps this

shows a keen interest in new business.

The two major events in the year of the World Cup were seen to be big

agency and client mergers - TBWA/GGT/Simons Palmer, and Chrysler/Daimler

Benz - and the launch of digital TV.

What a responsible lot we are. A take-over of Chrysler by Simons Palmer

or the launch of digital TV from an old Daimler ambulance would have

been far more fun. Campaign’s most memorable stories were its birthday

special, the series of top client interviews, the agency of the year

issue and the extract from Andy Law’s book, which doesn’t excuse him

reading from it to potential clients during new-business pitches.

Nothing does. Incidentally, it’s interesting that that list of top

stories in Campaign aren’t actually stories at all, they’re all

features ...

... Dear Campaign, if you care to think about it, you might conclude

that that list supports the argument, further emphasised in the survey

by comments about the magazine such as ’less superficiality’ and ’more

in-depth articles please’, that we value the features as much as hard

news. If we’re learning from the trade press that something has

happened, it’s clearly too late for us to do anything about it, so its

’news value’ is devalued. You’ve devalued that anyway with the launch of

CampaignLive, seen in the survey to be ’a good thing’ last year. What we

want to know is why an event has happened, the background, the possible

ramifications and lessons for the future, at which, it has to be said,

you’re often very good. Yes? No?

Well, at least put a specific question, like ’What is the purpose of

Campaign?’ in the next survey. Yours, The Business ...

Anyway, as a warning to all, agency complacency, including bureaucratic

structures and arrogance, together with agency oversupply, were

ominously laid-out as the major threats to the business.

At the same time, concerns over ’poor quality management at all levels’

brought demands for more home working, a little illogical perhaps unless

implying that management is so dreadful that everyone would be better

off not coming into the office.

’Poor people management’ reared its head in the form of ’waste of older

people’ and ’waste of women’. Has anybody yet resolved the conflict

between the high pressure and continuous demands of so many advertising

roles and the high pressure and continuous demands of motherhood?

It also included ’little commitment to management training’ - a problem

which is known to vary widely from agency to agency. The solution to

this, it is currently argued, could be supplied more centrally with

training schemes and qualifications written and perhaps run by the


It is heartfelt issues like these last few that make the survey so


It’s advertising’s wine bar, its suggestion box. And it’s perfectly

appropriate that it should be conducted by NABS, which is being

repositioned as a self-help network for the business as well as its

welfare guardian.

But it has to be said that this year the survey suffered a couple of

hiccups and the sample size was smaller than hoped. The questionnaire

could be improved, specifically to try to extract more of the

inventiveness and imagination of so many of the people who work in this

curious business.

But properly advertised and conducted, with the maximum possible number

of respondents, it could be a tremendous tool in helping NABS, and

everyone working in advertising, to understand and improve their

environment, performance, job satisfaction and, therefore, personal


The next survey will be launched at the end of this year, with the

questionnaire as an insert in Campaign. Fill it in, and perhaps agency

bars at last will thrill to the sounds of mutual praise, constructive

comment and communal interdepartmental love.


The big memories

Two features of the industry in 1998 dominate:

- big agency (TBWA) and big client (Chrysler/Daimler Benz) mergers

- the launch of digital TV, and the ITV challenge

Some pet hates linger:

- the ’tasteless’ Christmas lights in London - Tango/Bird’s Eye

- ’indulgent, ineffective TV ads’ - particularly in the car category

The most memorable people

Some lesser known industry people feature here. Among the well-known

names coming through, in no particular order, were:

Graham Hinton

Lyndy Payne

Maurice Saatchi: ’Because he always does.’

Trevor Beattie

The retiring David Abbott: ’He showed us how to do it brilliantly and


Martin Boase: ’For BMP’s continued success and the Royal Albert Hall


Stefano Hatfield: ’He colours opinion in the industry.’

How the business has changed

The big three trends in 1998 have been towards:

- Greater use of technology

Computers for all, intranet, e-mail etc.

- Changes in top management

Restructuring existing management, bringing new management in.

- Increase in workload

’No more fun’ in some cases. In others this was symptomatic of buoyant

growth, for example in direct marketing.

Improving the quality of life

The industry demands three things for the future:

- More flexibility

Calls were for : ’being able to do some work from home’, ’working a four

day week’, ’being able to go home or to the gym at 5.30pm’ and ’more


- Better use of resources

Comments included: ’more staff per account’, ’working with people who

know how to manage people and process better and more effectively’,

’more help!’

- Better remuneration Staff wanted: ’better margins across the industry’

and ’more money’.

The main stresses of the job

The one overriding stress of the job is the inefficient use of time

which is widely reported and which includes:

- late meetings

- constant changing of meeting dates

- other people not meeting agreed deadlines

- presenteeism - being always made to feel that you have to start early

and work late

- systems not functioning quickly

- working for, and with, people who are bad managers of themselves and

their teams

- working for ’amateur clients’

Threats to the industry

The three big threats to the industry (in no particular order) are:

- Complacency

Included ’bureaucratic structures’ and ’agency arrogance’.

- Oversupply

Indicated by ’many players, too few big-bud-get clients’ and ’saturation

of ad vehicles’.

- Poor people management

Namely ’waste of older people and women’, ’little commitment to

management training’ and ’poor quality management at all levels’


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