I first knew that it was going to be different when the German
account director working on Patek Philippe said he had a problem with a
charming shot of a man holding a small child.
He thought the Germans might think of child abuse. An hour later, the
Italian account director told me he was very concerned that Italians
would be distressed by the picture. ’The cut of the man’s trousers is
terrible,’ he said.
National stereotypes all have a core rooted in reality. All of the
managers in all of our overseas start-ups have all bought into the
working practices of the London agency. However, the truth is they
interpret them through American, French, German or Italian eyes. The
Californians talk about ’lifestyle’ and wear shorts to the office (even
in the winter), the French smoke a lot and are very pleased that the
office is across the street from Collette, while the Germans worry and
stack all their reference magazines in neat piles - and in date
Let’s be honest, at times all this difference can be frustrating. It
would be a lot easier if they all thought and behaved exactly like we
do, and at times we can’t understand why they don’t. After all, each
office has our name on it and we own a substantial majority of the
equity of each.
When we set out on this international adventure, our major fear was that
distance would limit the degree of control we believed would be
necessary. We were right. San Francisco is a very long way away and a
bunch of ambitious, talented Californians can be as wayward as an
equivalent bunch of Brits.
But the initial frustration (on both sides) has melted as each office in
turn has become successful both in servicing the international clients
they were originally set up to handle - and then to win new business of
It is important from the beginning to replace the heavy-handed control
that British subsidiaries of multinational agencies know only too well,
with a large degree of trust and as much communication as possible.
For this to work, there are one or two rules that have to be adhered to.
Recruitment policies must demand that overseas partners are talented and
pleasant in equal measures and that they admire the output of the London
flagship. And, once that is demonstrated, they should receive a
substantial shareholding in their part of the company.
The result should be stimulating and exciting. We now find ourselves
working with a diverse group of 80 new people, all of whom demonstrated
that they could match the worst excesses of the London staff at last
year’s Christmas party - another recruitment criterion?
The risk of hiring local people to handle local business rather than
sending out missionaries from London is a necessary one. We hired
grown-ups and treated them as such. The result? A glow of parental pride
when the US talk-show host, David Letterman, spoke about our New York
Yankees campaign on network television.