Another week, another agency revamp. Saatchi & Saatchi wants to
bolster its top-level management, Bates UK is painfully trying to
transform itself into a fully integrated unit, and Grey is looking to
preserve small agency-type service within a big agency structure.
There’s nothing particularly wrong in any of that. Agencies must, after
all, periodically revitalise and reassemble themselves to reflect
changes in their output.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be concerned that the revamps
disguise a fundamental flaw in the UK ad industry. Namely, its long and
lamentable failure to select and nurture its future generations of
In a few brief years, UK advertising has progressed from a cottage
industry to a huge business that will get even bigger as communication
systems converge and the internet burgeons. Yet the number of highly
experienced managers in agencies remains worryingly low.
Unlike its two close relatives, the film and music industries, UK
advertising remains a practitioner business. It is brilliant at
regenerating creativity yet is nowhere near as good at regenerating its
Perhaps it’s because the industry has grown so fast that it has failed
to pick up sufficient maturity along the way. Indeed, the point was
hammered home in Channel 4’s recent documentary on the Saatchi brothers,
which showed how their hubris was allowed to spin out of control because
there were not enough managers of sufficient stature around them to keep
it in check.
Most radical restructures are the result of the short-term thinking that
persists among many agencies. This has been fostered by the seemingly
endless supply of youthful talent and over-ambitious creative teams that
regard themselves as failures unless they have a shelf-full of gongs
within two years. Nor is the situation likely to improve as long as
senior managers think of advertising not as a long-term career but as
the place to find the sort of contract that will set them up for
What has happened at Saatchis, Bates and Grey is indicative of a
shortage of natural leaders with stature and experience.
Without them, the industry will have few genuine heroes to honour apart
from David Ogilvy. He understood that a creative business like
advertising could not be effective without proper management.