EDITORIAL: Top management must be nurtured

David Ogilvy once observed that giving somebody a new title would

guarantee you at least two more years of satisfied service without

costing money. And it's easy to apply his cynicism to the flurry of

senior promotions being dished out by some major agencies.

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, BMP DDB, Leo Burnett and HHCL & Partners have

all moved people a few rungs up the managerial ladder and exposed them

to the tantalising prospect of running the store one day. The hope is

that they'll all succeed spectacularly. Some won't.

A combination of recession and short-term thinking in the past has

resulted in a shortage of seriously bright people capable of filling

boardroom jobs. Even more worryingly, there's every reason to believe

that the decline in senior management mentors in agencies is going to

make a bad situation worse.

How has this happened? Time was when agency powerhouses such as Ogilvy &

Mather and J. Walter Thompson saw it as a sacred responsibility to put

the next generation of management in place.

The conspicuous absence of management material may be the result of a

number of factors, some historic, some economic.

The late 70s and early 80s spawned a number of exciting new agencies

which grew rapidly while enabling their brightest people to build their

management experience fast. Few start-ups since then have expanded at

the same pace and their founders have often been more concerned with

fulfilling personal agendas than identifying tomorrow's management.

Meanwhile, big agencies opted for quick-fix solutions. As the good times

rolled, it was often easier to buy another agency - and the senior

management talent that came with it - rather than develop their own


A changing economic climate hasn't helped. When times were good, bright

young people who started out in advertising were tempted to taste other

careers, confident that there would always be a job for the asking. Now

things are less certain, cash-strapped agencies are much more likely to

follow Ogilvy's dictum than pay top dollar for top-rated outsiders -

assuming they can find any.

But if reasons for the managerial dearth are easily defined, finding the

solution is a lot harder. If there's any good to come out of the agency

jobs cull, it's the hope that the most able and ambitious people remain.

Agencies will need to satisfy their aspirations and desires.

Long term, the industry must recruit the best graduate talent. Short

term, agencies hunting for succession managements must acknowledge the

law of the jungle.


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