It’s unlikely that William Blake had the ad industry in mind when he wrote: "Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence." The friction caused between the opposing and alternating emotions of love and hate has undoubtedly helped and continues to help drive the industry’s creativity. No grit, no pearl.
On a human – and business – level, perhaps, the consequences of an imbalance between the two can be rather less helpful. It was pleasing, therefore, to see that flushed with its success at Cannes, FCB appears to have struck a blow against the haters this month with its resignation of the Beiersdorf account. The move severed what is probably the longest-ever relationship between a client and an agency.
While not quite stretching back as far as Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, it’s still more than 110 years since Beiersdorf, Nivea’s manufacturer and a company founded by the chemist Paul Beiersdorf in Hamburg in 1880, appointed the then Centrale ads Office William Wilkens to handle its account. Following accusations of homophobic behaviour by a member of Beiersdorf staff, FCB quietly resigned the account last month and the ties to FCB Wilkens – Germany’s oldest agency – were cut.
While it has not addressed the specific allegation directly, Beiersdorf has stressed that the hateful reports do not reflect its own values. In a statement, it said: "No form of discrimination, direct and indirect, is or will be tolerated. We are strongly committed to diversity, mutual respect, equal opportunity and tolerance – this stance and belief is shared and lived throughout Beiersdorf." It’s a sad end to a relationship that has endured for more than a century, made sadder still by the fact that long-term partnerships are becoming increasingly hard to find.
More than one year since resigning, Sir Martin Sorrell shows no sign of letting go of his beef with WPP, the company he effectively brought into being in 1985. His strategy of raking over the past – and in doing so bringing back to the fore the unsavoury allegations, which he denied, that led to his resignation – might seem a strange one. But there is clearly not a lot of love between him and his successor Mark Read, who to his credit just gets on with the job – calmly and quietly in a rather Zen-like state.
But how refreshing to hear the other side of the story from Mel Edwards, global chief executive of Wunderman Thompson, after Sorrell sniped that "a lot of Wunderman people seem to have been promoted" at WPP because of their closeness to Read.
Speaking at a Campaign Breakfast Briefing, Edwards said that she found Sorrell’s comments "just a bit rude and just a bit offensive". She also said that they weren’t true, given that "when Martin ran WPP, he would’ve seen the performance of what I did when I ran EMEA, so that comment I found slightly offensive on a personal level", and that she had to go through a rigorous interview process with external headhunters to get the job. In other words, Sorrell’s depiction of Read and Edwards as the two besotted characters from the Kim Casali "love is…" cartoon strip couldn’t be further from the mark.
We’ll have to wait and see if this is enough for Sorrell to rein his antipathy towards WPP. But past evidence suggests his antipathy is perhaps a larger personal motivator, and indeed incentive for the existence of S4 Capital, than anyone could have previously imagined. Still, it continues to make for good headlines.
In other WPP news, the company has announced the creation of a campus in Manchester in order to be less London-centric. Of course there are accompanying economies of scale – and the cost of living is significantly lower than in the capital – but at least it is a tacit acknowledgment that cities outside of London have a serious economic and cultural impact.
Whether WPP can persuade its London-based staff to make the move north is a different matter, if the Channel 4 experience is anything to go by. Recent reports revealed that up to 90% of affected Channel 4 staff were choosing to take advantage of redundancy rather than move to the new regional base in Leeds, or its satellite offices in Bristol and Glasgow. Moreover, none of its board will relocate to the new office, which is located close to Leeds railway station so that any visits by them can be fleeting as well as regular.
Maybe perceptions of the "frozen north" are still hard to shift and some feel there can be no love in a cold climate.