OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - A case of too much style and not enough content

The scene is familiar. Very important people from a top-ten agency and a bunch of us from Campaign are enjoying an end-of-year lunch. With these mysterious and fattening events comes a chance to thank us for the Picks of the Week, to defend the Turkeys, to plug one another for stories and opinions and generally let rip after the hurly burly of putting together magazines and making ads.

However, we are here to work and both sides know this. First, does the restaurant reflect the way in which the agency would like to be regarded?

Neither ties and solemn conversation nor too young and frisky, the choice is spot on. We are at once relaxed, comfortable and stimulated by the environment and the company, and all is going swimmingly.

The time to bring up the subject of the agency's year is traditionally at the beginning of the event, over something fizzy. At this point both parties know perfectly well what is happening. If the year has gone particularly well the agency is about to bid for a seven or higher in the Campaign Top 300 report, currently well underway for publication next year. If both sides know the year has been less than glorious, there is the chance to sow a seed of doubt in the minds of the Campaign staff present by showcasing the work. This agency has seen its founder's blood spilt on the carpet this year and emotions are clearly still running high, so showing some of its best work seems the right thing to do.

Now the question of which ads an agency should include on their reel at these events is a controversial one. Ignore the FMCG campaigns churned out anonymously in a gulag underneath the building as a means of subsidising the wonderful work created by artful creatives on the higher profile accounts and Campaign will see right through it. Show only the work created for high-profile clients in one market with next year's awards in mind, and ditto.

This particular agency boss took another approach, and one that I still find quite baffling. He showed a reel of other agencies' work. There was Volkswagen "bollocks" (BMP DDB's viral), the Telegraph (Clemmow Hornby Inge), Lynx Pulse (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), Adidas Beckham and Wilkinson (by 180), a graduate recruitment commercial (TBWA\London), Honda "cog" (Wieden & Kennedy), and I think I saw John Smith's in there too.

Over the lunch table, I look my minders in the eyes and ask them straight: how did the tribute to other agencies play with them? They have been well schooled or else they have very well-honed survival instincts. I push a bit harder. And harder still. They offer me more wine and ask how old my children are now. They might have put their doors back on but they are certainly not going to tell me what they really think. (Not that I would necessarily advocate such a course of action when dealing with a six-foot creative legend whose imposing physical presence is only enhanced by his shaved head and earring.)

The consensus in the office afterwards is that this is a PR stunt by an agency head who revels in his image of part-missionary, part-madman.

But said CEO, fearless and driven, is making a serious point to his staff and his trade press. The corporate lessons are immediately obvious, but I wonder whether the net effect is to generate fear or to raise the bar.

I wonder too if the agency is really as ashamed of its current work as it seemed to be. I hope not, for, recent political shenanigans aside, it still has a reel and a heritage many others would kill for.


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