Who gives good service?

Agencies boast of glowing credentials as supreme client-service businesses, but how good are they? In the first of a two-part investigation, Damian Lanigan posed as a potential new client to find out

Agencies boast of glowing credentials as supreme client-service

businesses, but how good are they? In the first of a two-part

investigation, Damian Lanigan posed as a potential new client to find


It would have been too easy to send a Campaign journalist to interview

agencies on how good they are at introducing themselves to potential

clients. ‘Seamless’, they would have said, ‘super efficient’, ‘highly

responsive’ and the rest.

Instead, Campaign posed as a marketing consultancy advising Far-Eastern

companies on inward investment in the EC. Specifically, the consultancy

was charged with gathering information on the European advertising

industry on behalf of a Japanese client ‘with interests in fmcg markets

and financial services’ that was about to launch a range of products and

services into the EC.

A named employee at this consultancy sent a one-page questionnaire to

agency ‘business development directors’ informing them that they had

been long-listed to advise as marketing advice suppliers. The note said

that advice on apportioning a dollars 38.5 million budget between nine

markets and different communication channels would be key.

Agencies received the questionnaire by fax at lunchtime on 2 February

and were asked to respond by noon on 6 February. Ten agencies were

contacted, seven responded.

On this fact alone, an industry observer could be forgiven for thinking

that agencies do not seem to know what business they are in or where

they are supposed to be doing it. Most seem unable to express how they

differ from their competitors, and some did not display even a basic

administrative competence.

The most immediately remarkable feature about the responses was the

variation in punctuality and standard of presentation. The quickest

responses tended to be the fullest and most professionally presented,

with J. Walter Thompson the undisputed champion, providing a full

response within six working hours of the fax being sent. Lowe-Howard

Spink also eased in comfortably ahead of deadline. Only these two out of

the ten agencies selected met this most basic of requirements.

As the clock struck noon on deadline day, the receiving fax machine

almost collapsed under the pressure, with three top international

advertising agencies managing to give the impression of being on the

back end of a collective essay crisis. Grey’s magnum opus squeezed out

first, followed by more slender dissertations from Ammirati Puris Lintas

and D’Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles.

A reminder fax was sent to the remaining five agencies at 3pm that

afternoon. Publicis asked for the original fax to be sent again to a

different number, claiming that the first one had not got through. (Odd,

as the follow-up fax had been sent to the original number, with the same

heading, and had provoked a response within three hours.) ‘Ms Amy Lutos’

dutifully re-faxed the questionnaire, extending the deadline by a day,

only to be a little wounded when the response was addressed to an ‘Amy


The reminder fax also stimulated signs of life from Ogilvy and Mather’s

fledgling new-business director. Apologising for the delay (‘I have only

just received your initial fax!’) at 3.02pm on 7 February, in came the

response. It scored highly on brevity (to the point of Trappism),

informality (jauntily hand-written) and bizarreness: the response was

dated 1 November 1995 - three months before the original request was


The initial fax explicitly indicated that the agencies were being

contacted as marketing advice suppliers for a launch in nine EC markets.

Only Grey scored on both the need to talk about more than just

advertising, and to do that internationally - for instance, responding

specifically as Grey International and citing examples of international

competence, also pointing out that 30 per cent of Grey turnover comes

from non-media advertising. No other agency appeared to have read the

brief as closely.

JWT made it clear that it was responding on behalf of JWT London rather

than all the European offices, despite the European nature of the

request. The agency’s famous campaigns quoted were also UK-based.

Furthermore, it responded very obviously as an advertising agency,

claiming only 5 per cent of turnover from non-media advertising. Why

then has the famous JWT mission statement now become ‘To create the most

distinctive and effective communications in the marketplace’?

Indeed, out of the seven responses, none of which indicated a percentage

of turnover from non-media advertising above 30 per cent, only one

explicitly mentions the A-word in its mission statement: APL. The

further irony here is that APL’s biggest single brand in the UK, Rover

Cars, is held up to the industry as a unique example of integration.

After a while, all these mission statements merged into a haze of

marketing motherhood and apple pie. One longed for the abrasive

pithiness of ‘We sell, or else’, which at least implies focus.

Lowes cited some of the famous campaigns it has created over the past 15

years: ‘Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’, ‘Reassuringly

expensive’ and others. Work to be proud of, with distinctive, focused,

branded ideas at the heart of each campaign. Lowes’ own vision

statement, by comparison, is not just bland and tortuous, giving no

sense of the agency’s personality and creative nous, it is also

grammatically incorrect: ‘Our aims [sic] to produce an outstanding

creative product which is both [sic] effective, likable, talked about

and campaignable.’ Pardon?

The unsolicited fax may not be the slickest way of putting agencies to

the test, but such requests must arrive each week at most agencies. If

this was for real, which six agencies would go through to the next

round? As only seven responded, that list will now slim down, and two

agencies will be invited to compete for the account. First, Lowes,

because the work is excellent, and appears to have the stuff of which

integration and international extension are made. But why no mention of


Second, Grey, because it was responsive, thorough, and because it showed

an understanding of the international and non-advertising issues.

There was little to choose between the five remaining agencies, apart

from JWT which, curiously, seemed the most parochial, and O&M, which you

would have no hesitation in recommending to your fiercest competitor on

this showing. The three agencies who didn’t respond in any way were

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury and Saatchi and

Saatchi. Were they wise to the spoof?

Next week: clients offer their views on agencies as service businesses.


1. What was your turnover/revenue for 1995?

2. What is your turnover from non-media advertising?

3. What are your most famous campaigns?

4. Does your agency operate the EC Equal Opportunities Policy?*

5. How many Japanese speakers are there in your UK office?

6. How many German speakers are there in your UK office?

7. What is your vision statement?

J. Walter Thompson

Martin Jones new-business director

1. Turnover pounds 370m. No revenue figure offered

2. 5 per cent

3. Oxo, Andrex, KitKat, Philadelphia. Four quoted from 51 clients

4. Yes

5. One

6. Ten

7. ‘To create the most distinctive and effective communications in the



John Shannon president, Grey Europe

1. 1995 billings dollars 2.8bn, gross income dollars 291.4m. Both for

Europe, both estimates

2. 30 per cent

3. Lee Jeans, Pantene. Two quoted from 2,500 [sic] clients

4. Yes

5. Four (not completely fluent)

6. 75 (ten fluent)

7. ‘Through the boldness of our ideas, together we build strong and

durable brands’


Dominique Whitehead business development supervisor, Europe

1. Only billings figures given dollars 2.1bn for Europe, dollars 332.1m

for UK

2. 20 per cent

3. Mars Bar, Bounty, Umbro, Fiat Cinquecento, Philips, Australian

Tourist Commission, P&G-Always. Seven quoted from over 30 clients

4. Yes

5. One

6. Two

7. ‘Creativity that builds brands’

Ammirati Puris Lintas

Sarah Hazell public relations director

1. Billings figure dollars 2.32bn, revenue dollars 278.3m. Unclear what

region they cover

2. 10 per cent

3. Impulse, Axe/Lynx, the Economist, the Captain, Coca-Cola Light, J&J

Baby. Six quoted from list of 14 multinational clients

4. Yes

5. 0

6. Five

7. ‘Build an agency of talented, passionately committed people. Foster

teamwork as a way of life. Work with smart clients, never forgetting

that servicing their interests is why we exist. Develop strategically

sound, brilliantly executed advertising. Strive for the best, never

accept mediocrity, never tolerate complacency. Create an environment of

permanent change’


Mark Robinson new-business director

1. Only UK group turnover figure of pounds 190m was given

2. 17 per cent

3. Renault Clio, Asda, Access ‘Flexible Friend’, Hula Hoops, Perrier.

Six quoted from 46 clients

4. Yes

5. To be confirmed. [Never was]

6. Ten

7. ‘To create enduring campaigns for all our clients with sustainable

creative edge’

Lowe Howard-Spink

Charlie Parkin new-business director

1. pounds 173.8m to 31/12/94. Unclear what region they cover

2. No figure quoted. Mention of the Brompton Agency

3. Vauxhall (Vectra, Astra, Frontera and Corsa), Heineken, Stella

Artois, Tesco, Weetabix. Five quoted from 23 clients

4. Yes

5. None

6. Five

7. ‘Our aims [sic] to produce an outstanding creative product which is

both [sic] effective, likable, talked about and campaignable’


Tom Vick new-business director

1. Only UK turnover figure of pounds 308m was given

2. Figure not given, reply stated ‘separate DM, SP and PR agencies

within group’

3. Bupa, Guinness, Ford, Amex, Shell, Golden Wonder, First Choice,

Duracell, Huggies. Nine quoted from 47 clients

4. Yes

5. Three

6. Eight fluent, 25 ‘good/adequate’

7. ‘To be the agency most valued by those who most value brands’


Who performed best? (part one)


Agency             On time?            Standard of        Fullness of

                                       presentation       response

Grey               6/10, right on         10/10             10/10

                   the deadline

JWT                10/10, six working     10/10              9/10


DMB&B              6/10, right on         10/10             10/10

                   the deadline

Lowe Howard-Spink  10/10, well before      8/10              5/10

                   the deadline

Publicis           2/10, over a           10/10              7/10

                   day late

Ammirati Puris     6/10, right on          5/10              5/10

Lintas             the deadline

O&M                1/10, well over         1/10              2/10

                   a day late          hand scrawled     bare minimum



Who performed best? (part two)


Agency                 Aptness of                      Total


Grey                   10/10 Good on European angle    36/40

                       right noises on integration

JWT                    5/10 UK focus, little           34/40

                       on integrated capability

DMB&B                  6/10 Better on European         32/40

                       issue than on integration

Lowe Howard-Spink      4/10 UK biased                  27/40

Publicis               5/10 Unclear on                 24/40

                       European issue

Ammirati Puris         3/10 Felt                       19/40

Lintas                 very pro forma

O&M                    2/10                             6/40