Opinion: Perspective - Berlin's well-timed crusade against adland cliches

Look round the reception area of any big London agency at lunchtime and it has all the buzz of a film set. Casually dressed creatives mix with suits and production people and there is a tribal buzz that's unique to the ad business. It reminds you of one of the more solemn cliches in advertising; the real assets of an agency are the people who work in it.

Yet look at the structure of most agencies and it still feels as if they have stocked a zoo of some sort. Creatives are still billed as the most exotic yet unpredictable creatures, always to be treated as if they are not suited to the orderly routine of office life. Famous for being intransigent and highly opinionated, they are supposed to sulk easily and take criticism badly, and they are often curiously inarticulate when it comes to justifying those opinions.

Account directors, not to mention their serried ranks of account supervisors, account managers, account executives and assistant account executives, are another cliche. At their worst they are glorified bag carriers used for ferrying messages back and forth between agency and client with all the interpretational skills of a yo-yo. Hands up the account person who has ever stood up holding a piece of work in front of a client and said anything other than this is great and it will work for you.

It's encouraging to see that one of the most admired agencies around - the WPP-owned Berlin Cameron New York - is doing its best to slay some of the cliches. First up, mirroring what Mother has done in the UK, is the idea that account people should be used to sell ads and creative people should be insulated from clients. As Andy Berlin says in next week's Networkers interview: "The idea that account people should sell ads is bullshit. Creatives and clients should work together."

Stirring stuff but Berlin has other, even bigger issues on his mind.

He recently stepped up to the unenviable challenge of turning WPP's Red Cell network (of which Berlin Cameron and HHCL are the wheat and various former Bates outposts are the chaff) into WPP's creative network. A cursory glance at his CV reveals that Berlin's had his name over an alarming number of doors, but a slower perusal shows that they've all been good ones.

Still, it is a tall order. WPP's 2002 annual report reveals the convoluted mission statement for Red Cell that once served as its new business calling card. Red Cell was to be the "challenger network". In other words, it was looking for clients who were not and would never be market leaders. Clients who, in annual report-speak, were "willing to challenge normative behaviour, incumbency and the status quo". Both pompous and vague, this summed up what to date has been wrong with Red Cell.

Berlin's agency bills $800 million with a staff of only 80, and is a place where people kill to work, so his views are worth a closer look.

He argues, for example, that advertising has mispositioned itself and he's right. Things have happened to the business - the commission system has come to a grizzly end, media and below-the-line functions have been unbundled, interactive agencies have been started and closed down - but none of these amount to a strong positioning for a business that prides itself on finding just that for its clients.

Advertising could be a client's growth consultant, he says, leaving McKinsey and Co to excel in structural issues. It's stirring stuff - and all that remains is for me to direct you to next week's Campaign for more details.

- caroline.marshall@haynet.com.


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