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
... 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
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
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.
A SNAPSHOT OF 1998
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:
Maurice Saatchi: ’Because he always does.’
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’,
- 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
- working for ’amateur clients’
Threats to the industry
The three big threats to the industry (in no particular order) are:
Included ’bureaucratic structures’ and ’agency arrogance’.
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’