It's time dull O&M loosened the tie and grew a beard
A view from Jeremy Lee

It's time dull O&M loosened the tie and grew a beard

Ogilvy & Mather seemed to pre-empt our School Report last week. In the same issue that we suggested a period of management stability at the agency wouldn't go amiss, the stars aligned and the news that the relatively unknown Cheryl Giovannoni would take over the chief executive position after a nine-month interregnum suddenly broke.

Perhaps the announcement that the Landor Associates president was joining was a clever attempt to take the sting out of the observation that O&M has been on a seemingly endless and dizzying management merry-go-round. With her impending arrival, the clouds broke, bathing 10 Cabot Square in broad sunlight. Well, maybe not.

Unfortunately, it was also in the same issue that question marks appeared over O&M’s 60-year relationship with Mattel after it approached agencies with a view to call a pan-European pitch. The decision of the Barbie manufacturer to go party after all these years showed that even its long-standing relationships with creatively unchallenging clients may not be safe.

An oft-quoted criticism of O&M is that it has never established an identity of its own. Instead, received wisdom goes, it’s still the Canary Wharf-based subsidiary of a big and dull corporate monolith, whose location is designed to appeal to flying visits on global tours via London City Airport and to service those equally faceless corporates of its environs.

Critics say O&M languishes as a ziggurat of global mediocrity, churning out bland work for corporates

While its sister WPP agencies Grey and (to an extent) JWT have managed to create a distinct UK non-network identity that has allowed them to foster increased creativity and jostle themselves on to new-business pitchlists, critics say O&M London languishes as a ziggurat of global mediocrity. It towers over the Thames churning out bland work for corporates such as Grant Thornton and American Express. This is odder still given that its sister agency OgilvyOne consistently delights with the quality of its work and a formidable new-business record, and the calibre of some of the executive creative directors who have passed through O&M’s doors over the years.

It’s an exaggerated view, of course – there has been the odd highlight beyond O&M’s consistently effective work for Unilever brands in recent years (such as the playful debut work for Kronenbourg 1664 , which is at least as good as anything that came before it) – but, as in all these things, there is a kernel of truth.

Giovannoni is said to be a corporate but steady pair of hands that already sounds of the O&M ilk. Not necessarily one to provide the excitement that the agency is so lacking, one might think. But given that its board meetings must look half-empty with all those vacant seats, she at least has the freedom to bring in the people to make this happen.