Robin Wight was a man attempting to walk tall last week while all
around him people were pointing the finger. Here was the pariah, the
wolf in sheep’s clothing, who was invited into Bates Dorland as a
consultant, hoovered up ideas and then sneaked out of the door with the
Land Rover account under his arm.
Or did he? The same cast of characters with the same script but a
different director could create a different story equally well. One, for
instance, where Rover’s new foreign owner, BMW, brings in an outside ad
expert because they know and trust him. After doing his best, Rover asks
him to implement his own suggestions. His only crime - this version of
the story runs - is that he didn’t say no.
There were as many rumours about Land Rover’s decision to drop Dorlands
last week as there are hangovers at Cannes. But all of them ended up
with Wight’s agency, WCRS, picking up Land Rover’s pounds 6 million
advertising account (Campaign, last week). And this after nearly two
years of Wight acting as an adviser to the board on advertising and
So far, Land Rover has maintained a dignified silence over the affair;
Wight himself has fended off accusations of foul play but has not
confirmed whether the account is heading his way.
The more scurrilous rumourmongers nevertheless painted Wight as a man
who had deliberately abused his position as consultant to line his own
pockets. The Wightists, on the other hand, said Rover went into the deal
with its eyes open. It hired the chairman of a top 20 advertising agency
because it wanted the insights of ... well ... the chairman of a top 20
It’s hardly surprising that if the deal went well the agency itself
might become involved.
Either way, Dorlands is now without Land Rover, and Rover’s other roster
agency, Ammirati Puris Lintas, must be feeling a shade vulnerable. On
the record, Dorlands is graceful in defeat, and Lintas is feeling
confident about the future.
But, in their private moments, both agencies are bubbling with
resentment that business has been whipped away by a cuckoo in the
Yet this phenomenon is not new. It has existed in one form or another
since marketing first began, and in some areas, notably media, back-door
business wins have regularly caused a stink.
Pattison Horswell Durden (now New PHD), set tongues wagging on more than
one occasion. It picked up Prudential’s pounds 13 million account, for
example, and the BBC Network Radio’s pounds 5 million business, both
after a period of consulting for the client.
To take the point further, how many top advertising people can say
genuinely that they don’t court conflict when they take on outside
interests? Did Martin Boase decline the chairmanship of Heal’s or Maiden
Outdoor because he still keeps an office at BMP DDB? Did Bill Muirhead
take onhis advisory post at Millennium Central because it opened doors
for M&C Saatchi?
Boase, one of the founders of Boase Massimi Pollitt, says history is
peppered with instances of agency people on client boards and vice
versa. The important thing is to appear to keep the two things very
separate. If you don’t, you will invite criticism.
The best example of this he can remember is back in the 60s when a
top-level marketing man quit the then British Overseas Airways
Corporation for FCB, and the advertising account followed a few days
’If it doesn’t really look right, then one suspects an arm’s length
decision has not been made,’ Boase says.
It’s a theme taken up by Nick Phillips, the director general of the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, who, like Boase, feels that
you can combine the roles of adviser and supplier as long as the ground
rules are well laid out.
’The rules of the game have to be very clear,’ he says. ’Quite often in
this business, people will wear more than one hat, and you have to be
careful which hat you are wearing and when.’
The tidiest way of handling a dual role, according to Phillips, is to
lay it out in law. An agreement, say, under which the adviser cannot
take business to which he has been privy for a set period of time. This
is the system recently used by the COI when it used consultants on a
A second route is to be sure that the hirer and consultant each know
where the other is coming from. Declare all your interests and bow out
if there is a conflict at any stage. This, he says, is the practice in
creative judging panels. If his own agency’s work appears, you trust
that a jury member will retire gracefully, and return once the coast is
This is a situation which often confronts Winston Fletcher, chairman of
Bozell Europe. As chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, he
has to take a back seat if there are ever any complaints against his
Fletcher has also held consultancy or directorship roles, but like
Boase, they’ve never, he says, translated into business for the agency.
Quite the reverse. He says these days clients are so scared of looking
nepotistic that it’s a disadvantage to your agency being too close to
the board of a client. The only time it happened to him - at the
cleaning giant Sketchley - he took a seat on the board and promptly lost