J. Walter Thompson is celebrating 70 years in London next week, an
anniversary that offers a chance to applaud the agency’s reputation for
looking after its clients and producing excellent ads (feature, p28).
From its roots as a sales office for JWT New York, to its birth as an
18-strong agency in 1925, JWT set the pace for the US invasion of
London. Its dominance of the big US accounts came under threat only when
the other established American agencies arrived in the 50s: Young and
Rubicam, Foote Cone Belding et al. It is a testament to JWT that, unlike
many agencies that came to London from the US, it feels like a London
agency, not - like McCann-Erickson - an outpost of a bland US giant.
Undoubtedly JWT’s trump card is its continuity. While other shops have
encouraged their top management to perform the magic for clients, often
at the expense of managing staff, JWT has managed its succession with
precision. It is no accident that, for a whole year now, everybody has
known Burt Manning’s successor as global chief of the JWT empire was to
be Chris Jones.
Linked to continuity of management, JWT’s other main strength is its
ability to keep clients loyal. Its bonds with Lever (since 1927), Kraft
(since 1926) and Nestle Rowntree (since 1931) are a testament to this.
The ill-timed departure of Andrex, to FCB, is embarrassing, but it is
unlikely to dent JWT’s celebrations next week.
Until Martin Sorrell’s WPP snapped up JWT in 1987, the agency’s
reputation for making money did not match its reputation for looking
after its clients. Now, with 60 per cent of its business coming from
multinational clients, that has changed.
And its main weakness? A desire to prove, to its young people and to
rival agencies, that it is funky and therefore fashionable. That
territory should be left to the likes of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury,
leaving JWT to enjoy its new position as the number one in the billings