Mission Incomprehensible

A company's mission statement is meant to capture the strengths that set it apart from its rivals, but they often end up as a lecture in corporate double-speak. John Morrish puts ten of adland's finest to the test.

Mission statements have become so ubiquitous that sometimes it seems every last market stall should have a stirring statement of principles, ambitions and objectives, displayed above the socks or electrical accessories.

The term itself was popularised by the management guru Peter Drucker, who said that any good mission statement should be short enough to fit on a T-shirt. But even pre-Drucker, many organisations will have had some statement of policy or declaration of aims, intended to provide a disparate workforce with a sense of common purpose. In this, they reflect the historical roots of the idea of "mission", which began as a religious duty.

Some, most notably the author of a management handbook (a genuine, published management handbook) called Moses CEO, consider the Ten Commandments to be the first mission statement, though it is more a statement of principles than a commitment to action. But it is true that the word "mission" comes from the Latin mittere, to send, and traditionally that sending has been done by God, or someone close to God.

The problem with mission statements is that they tend to deal in generalities, and mundane ones at that. The really exciting stuff these days tends to appear in a separate "vision statement". Your vision might be world peace: your mission will be to become number one in affordable knitwear.

That is why mission statements almost invariably refer to quality, service, market leadership and putting the customer first. They are a triumph for non-specific commitments and unanchored promises, wrapped in committee prose. Brainstormed at length, argued over and negotiated line by line, they find their way into the annual report and a frame on the office wall, never again to be looked at. No wonder Scott Adams' Dilbert was able to define a mission statement thus: "A long sentence that demonstrates management's inability to think clearly."

It is no surprise to discover the existence of software packages that will write a mission statement for you. Agencies that make an attempt to sell themselves, whether via mission statements or other marketing-speak plastered across their websites, should be able to do better. But do they?

JWT - Welcome to the land beyond the now

As pioneers of advertising, it is time for us to trail-blaze again. We passionately believe advertising has a future, but only if we stop interrupting what people are interested in ... Time is the new currency, and the audience is the new client. We are going to be pioneers in the land beyond the moment.

A curious Calamity Jane motif tops and tails JWT's statement, as if life in a modern advertising agency was in some way akin to saddling up the Palomino and heading out on to the range, where "seldom is heard/a discouraging word". Sadly, life's not like that. The authors of this statement should know that when the Bonanza imagery is removed, their Western Union cable from the business badlands has the elegance and grace of a three-legged mule. Ending a sentence with a preposition may not be illiterate, but it doesn't make for vigour: and JWT does it twice in succession. Still, the statement gives the impression of an agency that thinks hard, even if its conclusions are questionable: if the audience is the new client, how is anyone going to get paid? JWT "passionately" believes that advertising has a future, although the fact that it needs to tell us that suggests a certain anxiety.

MCCANN ERICKSON - Truth well told

At McCann Worldgroup, our mission is to be recognised as a Category of One in our ability to create demand for our clients, brands and services.

To do so, we know we must bring together the right mix of capabilities invisibly in order to deliver visibly powerful results in the marketplace.

We have the power and the passion to achieve this vision, because we have: a leading global agency; world-class companies in seven marketing communications disciplines and top-tier talent in each; a full range of capabilities - more than most holding companies; a winning culture - people who love the business, who don't give up or give in; key clients who understand the vital role of marketing communication and want our help.

Our strategy for achieving this vision is built on our commitment to a core principle: "To be the best in each market and in every discipline in which we operate."

Brevity is the soul of wit. A lesson there for McCann Erickson, which has a perfectly good T-shirt slogan in its last line, but before that chooses to spend 150 words telling us how great it is.

As it states in its opening salvo, it wants to be recognised for its unique brilliance, not to do anything for anyone else. And how will it achieve that recognition? A second sentence, apparently translated from the Inuktitut, attempts to explain, but instead offers an ideal opportunity for students of English to practice their parsing skills. One definition of good writing ("Truth well told", if you like) is that the reader can navigate it without hesitating. I challenge anyone not to trip over that "invisibly" and then again over "visibly".

Sadly, that doomed and barely comprehensible antithesis is the sole spark of originality in this tired litany. After that, it's self-regarding cliches all the way: power, passion, global, world-class, range of capabilities, winning culture, commitment to a core principle. Wake us when it's over.

FALLON LONDON - We are Fallon London

We think it's better to outsmart the competition than outspend them.

We think ads should be part of an idea rather than ideas part of an ad.

We think ideas are only big enough if they work wherever they land.

And we think the answer is more important than how you get there.

Repetition is a good way of making yourself stand out from the competition, especially if you fancy yourself as a bit wacky.

Repetition hammers home your points, some of which are really rather thought-provoking and well expressed, especially the ones that have a nice symmetry about them.

Repetition makes for memorability and has the side-effect of discouraging people from spending too long pondering on the precise import of each individual commitment.

But repetition can seriously get on your wick.

STARCOM MEDIAVEST GROUP - Fueling brand power

Fuel. Nothing in this world happens without it. From cars to rockets to the human body, fuel powers everything. It is the energy that begets vitality and triggers forward motion. Brands need fuel for the very same reasons. To power advancement. Stimulate growth. And to provide the momentum behind a well-planned journey. At Starcom Mediavest Group, we are the fuel that powers brand growth.

Hanging all your goals and policies on a single controlling analogy is bold, but Starcom has decided to go for it. The premise is unarguable.

Fuel does power things, exciting things like cars, rockets and human bodies, and less exciting things, if you follow the analogy, like chocolate bars and beer and shampoo. All these things have a trajectory: they move forward, they accelerate, they journey onward and upward to brand heaven. And behind all this, working tirelessly, selflessly, unglamorously, is that fuel, in the shape of a media agency. A nice idea, crisply executed, but perhaps not entirely environmentally sensitive. What happens to fuel, by the way?

It burns up and disappears, leaving a nasty smell. Perhaps we shouldn't push this analogy too far.

PUBLICIS - Viva la difference

At the heart of Publicis Groupe, there is La Difference ... each specific approach builds our strength as a Groupe. Across each brand and entity, each team, we dedicate all our energy to the success of our clients ... the values that lead us are: pioneer and challenger; multicultural and creative; innovative and agile; humanist and accountable.

Let's not be too hard on poor Publicis. English is not its first language - and it seems to be having trouble deciding what is. La Difference is no doubt intended to conjure up a bit of Gallic joie de vivre, but calling yourself a Groupe comes squarely within the "pretentious, moi?" category.

Yes, you're French: get over it. Thereafter, any link with normal, idiomatic English begins to unravel. Holding the empire together are values, presented as a pick-and-mix bag of fashionable nouns and adjectives that may make more sense in the language of Racine. Memo to Publicis: charmingly inept English might work for Abba, but a mission statement is not a Eurovision entry.


Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy is a privately owned advertising agency with 16 clients, billings of £70 million and 60 staff. We're six years old and already a top-30 agency. We hire people with brains, passion and integrity. We like to have fun. We want to be remembered for producing outstanding creative work.

It must have been a serious struggle, but Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy has managed to come up with some marketing blurb that is longer than its name. But a mission statement ought to announce the lasting values and long-term direction of an organisation. It's not a news flash. When Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy acquires a 17th client, will it rip up this faintly boastful bulletin and start again?

On the positive side, it's good to see an agency that's proud of its brains and its integrity. It's passionate, too, but isn't everybody? More worryingly, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy tells us that it's six years old and that it likes to have fun. But won't some clients prefer an agency that's in long trousers?

As for wanting "to be remembered", it suggests a team that is happiest when contemplating its own glorious past. Strange, at only six.

SAATCHI & SAATCHI - The Ideas Company

You might expect a mission statement at this point. We don't have one.

Instead, we have a Purpose, with four components. Our Inspirational Dream: to be revered as the hothouse for world-changing creative ideas that transform our clients' businesses, brands and reputations. Our Greatest Imaginable Challenge: to win our revenue and profit race by selling the most highly valued ideas. Our Focus: to create and perpetuate Lovemarks. Our Spirit: one team. One dream. Nothing is impossible.

Oh, clever. Very clever. Looking for an agency with a keen interest in semantics and the splitting of hairs? Look no further. Rebranding an unremarkable mission statement as "a purpose" goes beyond the realms of the merely attention-seeking into serious pretension. On the other hand, perhaps Saatchis is only being accurate, because what we have here is really a set of aspirations rather than anything so mundane as achievable targets. Once again, vanity is the key. This is an agency that wishes to be revered, even while it is changing the world and winning something called a "revenue and profit race". "Lovemarks", meanwhile, sound like something you'd pick up round the back of the bicycle sheds. And as for that final peroration: bring it back when you've finished setting it to music.

INITIATIVE - Expect More

Media communications is a highly competitive industry. Initiative is a leading global media communications agency, providing world-class media management services. We create integrated communications solutions that produce results. Our services cover the full spectrum of communication needs - channel strategy, planning and buying, consulting, post-campaign analysis, financial control and ROI.

Our success is based on looking beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary. Strong strategic understanding underlies everything we do, and our business is built on the foundation of relationships.

We aim to exceed your expectations. We ask more questions, take the initiative. We expect more. Our clients can always expect more.

So, media communications is a highly competitive industry. What a challenging idea. By the way, my grandmother will be joining us later. Do you by any chance have a few tips on egg-sucking? Initiative adopts the time-honoured "more is more" strategy of incorporating everything it can find to say about itself into this statement, in the hope of boring its readers into submission. But if such a statement has any purpose at all, it surely ought to say something specific about the merits of the organisation that spawned it: there can't be a media agency in the world that doesn't claim to create "integrated communications solutions that produce results". The fact is that just listing your unremarkable capabilities won't inspire anyone, which is why, midway through this epic piece of prose, someone decided to change tack. It is, after all, possible to be too dull. So, "the extraordinary" sounds good; let's claim special expertise in that. Let's be good at strategic understanding and relationships. Let's ask questions and take the initiative. Our clients can always expect more. But after a mission statement as comprehensive as this, do we have anything left?

OGILVY & MATHER - An agency defined by its devotion to brands

We believe in brands. In their power.

Their value. Their increasingly important place in consumers' lives.

More than just a goodwill entry on a corporate balance sheet, a brand is the single most important asset any company has.

We believe our job is to help clients build enduring brands that live as part of consumers' lives and command their loyalty and confidence. How we go about doing this is through a proprietary way of thinking and working that we call 360-Degree Brand Stewardship.

We believe our role as 360-degree brand stewards is this: creating attention-getting messages that make a promise consistent and true to the brand's image and identity. And guiding actions, both big and small, that deliver on that brand promise. To every audience that brand has. At every brand intersection point. At all times.

Ogilvy & Mather is so busy, so purposeful, so damn macho that it doesn't really need grammar. Verbs and that. All unnecessary. Still, at least it knows what it believes in.

It believes in brands. Yes, it does. Brands. That's what it believes in.

Unfortunately, when it comes to tell us what it does with brands, things rather fall apart. Has there ever been a less attractive concept than "a proprietary way of thinking and working"?

Oh, yes there has, and here it is: "360-degree brand stewardship." A steward, even one with 360-degree vision, is someone who serves drinks on a ship.

Do you really want such a person looking after your brand, even if he is going to create "attention-getting messages" at every "brand intersection point"? Because he is. No, really. At all times.


In a world where the Prosumer shapes the marketplace, marketers need more than good advertising and promotion. Marketers need Creative Business Ideas to drive profitable growth. Ideas that transform the product, the brand, the company ... and what allows us to deliver these ideas is the Power of One.

Short and sweet, Euro RSCG's manifesto has the considerable advantage of being written in what is, grammatically at least, a variant of English.

However, it blows that by recourse to what O&M would no doubt call "proprietory language". We can all work out what prosumers are, but do we really think jargon-lovers are the best people to be speaking to them? It is amusing also, that Euro RSCG thinks marketers (another unlovely word) need Creative Business Ideas, when most people would be happy with creative business ideas. Sorry, team, emphasis through capitalisation is best reserved for humorous effect, except if you want to look like people with Very Small Brains. As for the Power of One, is that a religious reference? Otherwise, mightn't the Power of Two, or Three, or Half-A-Dozen be even better?