You would have thought, would you not, that any agency group
launching an initiative such as a second-string shop (let’s take the
example of FCB last week) would go to enormous lengths to get the story
plastered all over the front page of Campaign. Not so, at least not with
FCB, which went to enormous lengths not to get the story on Campaign’s
front page last week, or indeed on any page.
Funny that. Or is it? For all FCB Productions’ brave talk about using
the move as a means to lever the Mail on Sunday account out of Bartle
Bogle Hegarty, you don’t have to be particularly adept at reading the
tea leaves to conclude this is a defensive measure to hang on to the
Daily Mail business.
Nor is FCB the only group to have gone down this road. Last month Abbott
Mead Vickers trumpeted the launch of AMV Advance, a specialist unit
divorced from the main agency, to handle the local marketing and
advertising for Sainsbury’s and Savacentre. We all know that the
relationship between AMV and Sainsbury’s is analogous to that between
FCB and the Mail.
Expediency might be one way to describe such initiatives; admission of
failure could be another.
There is a broader point, however, and speaking of analogies, let’s try
this one on for size. Wild animals that get a leg caught in a trap often
gnaw off the offending limb to escape. Is it fanciful, therefore, to ask
whether agencies that resort to this kind of tactic are effectively
I don’t think it is. For all the superficial attractions of setting up
’specialist units’ to handle certain clients or certain types of
business, the concept is surely a flawed one, perhaps even
’Ah well,’ FCB and AMV will say, ’you’ve got to realise that these kinds
of clients have got special needs.’ Indeed they have, but then every
client can legitimately claim that it has some kind of special need.
What, for example, do FCB or AMV do when other clients start demanding
their own specialist units or shops? Every time they accede to such a
request they hack off another limb from the main body of the agency and
devalue its currency.
More tellingly, they are admitting to the outside world that the main
agency is incapable of handling clients in sector x or y. And what does
it say about the work processes of an agency when it acknowledges that
the mother-ship finds it so difficult to manage the quick-and-dirty
creative work a newspaper or retailer demands, that it has to farm it
out to specialists? Won’t such initiatives concentrate the client
relationship with specialists, and weaken the parent’s hold on the
There is a more general point to be made about specialists and
The best agency staff - from creatives to account managers - are
enriched by the experience of working on the widest possible number of
What they learn from a car or telecoms client can, and should, inform
their work for a retailer or vice versa. Sensible clients recognise
By definition, specialists limit the canvas on which they operate. Why
would anyone who’s any good want to do that?