Rumour has it that Labour, so recently responsible for making Trevor Beattie the most famous adman of his generation, has hit a spot of bother in its efforts to recruit. CHI & Partners, Beattie McGuinness Bungay and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO are among the agencies said to have shunned the prospect of helping Prime Minister Gordon Brown secure at least another four years of office.
This seems incredible when you consider what political accounts have done for the profile of agencies in the past. Saatchi & Saatchi's "Labour isn't working" was an agency-defining piece of work. Political briefs are so complicated, that when handled well, they can show an agency at its best in a very high-profile arena. They can be the ultimate proof of an agency's ability. Additionally, handling political accounts gives agency chiefs access to the centre of power, just ask Lord Saatchi.
It's going to be very interesting to observe which agencies the parties manage to persuade to handle their respective businesses. At the moment, it seems unlikely that either party will be able to form a shortlist composed of London's leading communications shops. The result is that neither party will be likely to have much of a choice when the time comes to make an appointment.
So why the reluctance? What has changed? The first hurdle is staff morale. Although it's hard to imagine the Saatchi brothers ever losing too much sleep over such a consideration, the members of any agency's management team are unlikely all to vote in the same direction. And even if they did, there's no way the rest of an agency's staff would follow suit in its entirety. Few agencies today would be willing to force Labour-supporting staff to help get the Tories into power, for instance.
But even if an agency still wants to pursue the account, its management must be willing to make a financial loss on the business; TBWA's successful campaign for the Labour Party is said to have wiped £1 million from the agency's bottom line.
Today, agency belts are tighter - an independent shop is unlikely to be able to afford to do it, while a network-aligned agency will already be fighting to meet holding company targets.
It takes the finest creative and strategic brains to run a political advertising account. An agency has to put its best people on the business, which would be a very expensive donation. But overall, the apparent apathy from agencies is also a reflection of Britain's current political landscape. After ten years in office, Labour's polish is much diminished, while the Conservative Party's great hope, Cameron, has a long way to go before he presents himself as a credible candidate for Prime Minister. As the prospect of an election looms, neither Labour, nor the Tories are conjuring up the kind of enthusiasm that it takes to make a general election exciting.
What a legacy. The late Rod Allen is among the greats who deserves credit for having shaped the UK advertising industry into the world-beating force that it is today. "Gotta lotta bottle", "I'm a secret lemonade drinker", "Come and talk to the listening bank", "The age of the train"; all are lines that were etched on the collective British conscious in the 70s and 80s. The advertising was big, loud and friendly, and it helped to sell a lot of product.
Allen Brady & Marsh did populist advertising well. There isn't really an obvious equivalent today, although the jingle-happy Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners does have its moments.
- Claire Beale is away.