If everybody in the industry who claims that they began their
career in the post room is telling the truth, over the years the
advertising industry must have benefited from having the most efficient
internal mail systems in the country.
True or not, one thing the claim does highlight is the tendency in ad
agencies for people to join at a low level and rise to the top, staying
in the same industry for their entire career.
But industry observers are beginning to see change creeping in. A career
in advertising seems like less of a life-long commitment than it used to
As Richard Hytner, the chief executive of Publicis, says: ’Once upon a
time, those who worked in advertising believed it was centre stage of
all communications. Now there is a healthy realisation that there are
many other forms of communication to offer clients.’
There are several factors chipping away at the longevity of a career in
advertising. Consolidation means there are fewer top jobs; the rise of
e-commerce has supplied lucrative alternative careers, and the
appreciation these days that communication should be central to every
company’s strategy has made advertising execs a valuable commodity.
Chris Thomas, the managing director of Lowe Lintas & Partners, agrees
that agency staff are hot property. ’It’s terrific preparation for a
second career if that’s what you want. It gives you a cross-industry
perspective on communications issues.’ This is unequivocally proved by
the range of jobs the four individuals featured here have gone into.
Thomas’ words are echoed by Leo Burnett’s chief executive, Nick
’Branding is everybody’s business now. It’s the business of the City,
media owners and more. The power of the brand means our skill-set of
strategic thinking combined with creative understanding is now in great
demand in other industries.’
The rise of e-commerce has absorbed staff from every industry, but the
thirst for skills in communications means the advertising industry has
been hit hard. Paul Simons, the chairman of Ogilvy, says: ’Dotcoms have
been tempting people away, but that has died down now. Lots of people
delved in because of the money on offer but it’s less secure now.’
He adds: ’I’ve noticed that dotcoms have made more people aware of
part-ownership of a business.’
Merger mania has also thrown pressure on to top staff. Each time two
agencies merge, one chairman, chief exec, managing director, etc become
unnecessary. Of the four people profiled here, both Carol Reay and
William Eccleshare left advertising after their respective agencies
merged with another.
However, Thomas is clear that mergers do not mean there are fewer top
jobs to be had. In fact, consolidation has led to the rise of global
accounts and the people who run them. ’The nature of the top jobs has
Now there is often more influence in running global brands,’ he
As advertising matures into a responsible money-making global industry,
there is no doubt that the work is getting harder, is often not very
creative and that individuals are becoming more accountable. It’s not
such a cosy place to work any more. But the same maturity is requisite
for the industry’s future growth.
Then: chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas
Now: a partner at the management consultancy McKinsey
The real difference is, inevitably, the people. Agencies enjoy an
extraordinary variety of human life that coexists in a state of
permanent, productive creative tension.
When I started at J. Walter Thompson, almost everyone claimed to have
started in the mailroom and an eclectic mix of backgrounds still exists
in the best agencies. There’s no consistent standard, qualification or
formal training required.
At McKinsey, nothing is left to chance when it comes to people.
Recruitment is treated almost as science. I had 26 interviews before
joining. Training is continuous and appraisal is exhaustive.
And, while I always felt we kept ourselves well informed in agencies,
I’ve been astonished by the emphasis here on building and sharing
world-class thinking. Virtually every Friday since I joined, I’ve
attended a ’retreat’ devoted to developments in one industry or another.
Real investment in this, and in genuinely proprietary research, at
levels no agency could ever justify, begin to explain the very different
economics of management consultancy.
I miss the leaps of faith, the intuition and even the ravings of an
inspired creative director. I seem to have traded those for a hugely
consistent and high level of intellect, an endless quest for proof and
the absolute conviction that the data will provide the answer.
So it can seem a bit serious at times and, of course, I miss my
And we don’t do lunch. Ever.
Then: group development director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Now: at 19 Management, responsible for launching S Club 7
I now appreciate why leaving Bartle Bogle Hegarty was a difficult
The ad industry enjoys an unfair share of talent. Agencies such as BBH
are fully resourced with extraordinary creative talent. For me, that
creativity was always at its zenith in a pitch, when people are free to
question clients’ business and brands, and everyone worked as a team.
It’s a shame that most of those ideas remain in the pitch document and
the agency relationship with its new client is downsized to one of a
pure supplier of advertising.
Agencies are capable of much more. In a sense, this broad-based
creativity is agencies’ greatest waste product.
Working with broadcasters, record companies, entertainment and
communications companies, there is an unsatisfied demand for this
We operate in a highly competitive, fast-moving business where the
consumer judges your creativity on a daily basis - be it via television
ratings or CD sales. Attracting consumers requires consumer insight and
an ability to use TV, music, the internet, merchandise, databases, video
and so on.
Maintaining a creative advantage in these categories requires at least
four capabilities: the use of consumer insight to inspire innovative
content; understanding of the opportunities presented by media
developments; understanding of brands, and big ideas.
These are truly rare commodities and if they sound familiar to you, it’s
because you work in a great agency.
Then: deputy chairman at Grey Advertising
Now: chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital
I can sum up how advertising seems to me now I’m at Great Ormond Street
in one word: shiny. Now, the fact that I am inclined to sum it up in one
word shows I’m an ad person and it also tells you something about the
I have a new job in a new world. People think I’ve gone to work in a
charity. I haven’t. I’ve gone to work in a hospital. It’s a special
place and at first there was a stark contrast to advertising. It’s so
grown up. People at Great Ormond Street Hospital deal with something
that really, really matters.
An old colleague used to say: ’This is advertising. Nobody dies.’ You
can’t say that here. At first, this new world seemed so touchingly and
painfully meaningful, I felt scared to breathe. But now I’m less scared.
I love seeing that children are children first, then they are sick
So, how do I see advertising? It’s lively, sparky, fearless,
iconoclastic, merchant, easily bored, outlawish, young, clever, noisy,
opinionated, garish, childlike, hopeful, innovative, quick and very
creative. It seems oddly insubstantial too - as I discuss the brand and
the logo with my favourite professor of endocrinology. But he
I used to think I was in advertising by accident - I now know I wasn’t.
I fitted it like Cinderella fits the slipper and I bring that spirit to
Then: board account director at Leagas Delaney
Now: founder of Tim Little Shoes on the King’s Rd, London SW1
When I left advertising it was like leaving the Moonies. I needed to lie
in a decompression chamber for a month before I could recognise my own
I had only worked for Leagas Delaney and Lowe, so I hardly had a
balanced view of the business.
But now that I look back, I see good and bad.
The incredible thing about the advertising business is the quality of
the people. From top to bottom, the average agency is staffed with very,
very talented people and it’s only when you leave and get involved with
other businesses that you realise how rare that is.
Advertising people should be head-hunted every day by their clients
because, for the most part, they are far more talented.
On the downside, I see an industry becoming more ordinary by the
As clients reduce fees, agencies need money more, they therefore give in
more easily on creative issues, they have to work their staff harder and
pay them less, the work suffers, it does less for the clients’ business
and clients end up valuing it less. The virtuous circle of the 70s has
become the vicious one of today and nobody knows how to stop it.
The only way I can explain it now is that people I know who are in
advertising seem to be more tired and less proud than they were 15 years
Mind you, they drive 911s and I ride a scooter - so what do I know?