Editorial: Ad agencies do not exist to promote themselves

Stop a random selection of people in the street and ask them to name an ad agency and there's little doubt about the answer you'll get.

While a smattering of those taking part in such a straw poll might drag J. Walter Thompson from the back of their minds, it's odds-on that one name will be a clear winner: Saatchi & Saatchi.

And no wonder. The Charlotte Street agency is the only one that has succeeded in building a reputation beyond the confines of the ad village. Its role in bringing Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party into government in 1979 also brought the power of advertising into the public consciousness as never before. In the process, the Saatchi brothers became household names.

Nevertheless, the agency's decision to run a consumer campaign this month to reinforce its public status, using a combination of radio and newspapers, must be seen to have practical value and not as an exercise in self-indulgence.

It's not hard to see the relevance of the famous 1970 ad penned by the Saatchis creative Jeremy Sinclair and headed: "Why I think it's time for a new kind of advertising." Nor to understand the thinking behind a further ad by the agency in the early 80s about the impeding globalisation of communication. Both targeted would-be clients and decision-makers. And the latest trade press campaign by the agency recognises that, in an agency marketplace which is perilously close to being commodity-driven and homogenous, the best agencies are those that are brands in their own right. And what better way for the Saatchis of 2005 to attempt to recreate its own brand credentials and defend its fame status than through advertising?

But what's the point of targeting consumers directly? Saatchis argues it isn't a consumer campaign in the strictest sense, advertisers are consumers too and that the initiative has won plaudits from its own clients and staff. All well and good, as long as the urge to put itself in the shop window doesn't cause Saatchis to lose sight of what it is in business for: to advance the interests of the brands and clients that pay its fees.

Meanwhile, it's as well to remember that all the PR generated by Saatchis down the years was only a by-product of doing what it believed in, rather than through investment in self-promotion.