Remember Liz Taylor and her eighth husband, the construction
worker, Larry Fortensky? Like everybody else I wished her the best on
news of her marriage to a fellow alumnus of the Betty Ford Clinic. Like
everybody else I wasn’t the least bit surprised when they divorced.
I write here not out of a sense of smugness, but more as a voyeur.
Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, but don’t you go to a boring party
and try and work out who’s in a couple with who? Or, if you’re in the
local park, dogs and their owners?
From here it is but a short step to working out those clients and
agencies which make natural pairings and those which don’t. For example,
why do US multinationals always get it on with US-owned multinational
Answer: because the defining characteristic of success in each
organisation is pragmatism. Since we all like to hire in our own image,
it’s no surprise that the likes of Grey and D’Arcy handle the likes of
P&G and Mars. And why do financial services companies hire agencies with
’good’ creative reputations (eg Barclays and J. Walter Thompson, or
Lloyds and Saatchi & Saatchi) but always produce work that disappoints?
Simple: they start off knowing they need great work, but when it comes
to the final decision, they can’t quite handle it.
What, therefore, should we make of two appointments last week - Marks &
Spencer hiring Bartle Bogle Hegarty for a winter food campaign and Sky
handing St Luke’s all its business?
Well, I’m worried. Let’s start with M&S and BBH, which is a bit like
hearing your granny has found a toyboy. Dowdy old M&S is desperate for a
bit of advertising excitement. For its part, BBH has never quite hit the
jackpot with retailers (eg Asda and W. H. Smith) and has got something
to prove. What could be more natural than they should be thrown
But let’s be realistic. At the end of the day M&S isn’t the kind of
place that takes advertising as seriously as BBH likes its clients to. I
mean, what else are we to make of an organisation which, having promised
the City it was going to advertise its way out of trouble, hires a
Vauxhall Conference agency like Elliott Borra Perlmutter?
If you think that’s weird, how about St Luke’s, the quintessential New
Labour agency, and Sky, the ultimate ruthless capitalist client. This is
a pairing so radical I can only explain it as the attraction of
Ordinarily I’d predict disaster, but perhaps underneath its tree-hugging
skin St Luke’s has as mercenary a heart as Rupert Murdoch. How else do
we explain Andy Law saying in Campaign last week this ’will take our
billings from pounds 80 to pounds 100 million’? Is that the only thing
St Luke’s is focused on these days?
Rightly, agencies make much of their unique culture. Yet they take on
clients with cultures everybody knows are diametrically opposed to
Of course, I could be wrong. Last week in Richmond Park I saw a bloke
with the build of a second-row forward walking a chihuahua.