More than a century ago, Emma Lazarus wrote an inspiring poem meant
to encourage donations to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.
'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe
free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the
homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden
Who could have guessed that all these years later, some of the
best-known, most talented leaders of the British advertising business
would take those words to heart?
OK, it's an exaggeration to liken Nick Brien, Paul Hammersley and Andrew
Robertson to the immigrants who left Europe for what they believed would
be a land so filled with opportunities unavailable or unattainable back
home that the streets of its biggest, most alluring city were paved with
gold. Then again, maybe not.
New York, New York is still 'a hell of a town', whether the frame of
reference is the 19th century of the European emigration, the 20th
century when that song lyric was written or the 21st century when
powerful ad execs are relocating to Manhattan from London.
The case could be made that the migration is being spurred by a woeful
shortage of homegrown management talent in US advertising.
Shortage? Drought, famine, dearth - no term is dire enough to describe
the plight of Madison Avenue. The cutbacks in training and hiring
entry-level employees during the recession a decade ago are being felt
in full force, along with the inability of the leaders at agencies to
persuade graduates during the 90s that advertising offered a career path
more interesting, if not more lucrative, than consulting or dotcoms. As
a result, dozens of key posts are unfilled because of that failure to
cultivate the talent that would now be ready to tackle those jobs.
So should anyone be surprised that Brien, Hammersley and Robertson are
New York-bound, even with the departure of Michael Greenlees from TBWA
Worldwide? British, Schmitish, as a New Yorker might say, talent is
(Greenlees' inability to fix the deep-rooted problems at TBWA, centred
on global clients' reluctance to hire a network that seems more like a
collection of fiefdoms, seems more the result of his being an outsider
than his being British.)
And it's not as if Brien, Hammersley and Robertson are the first to
cross the pond in such fashion. A welcoming committee comprised of their
compatriot expatriates would have to rent Madison Square Garden, if not
Yankee Stadium, to assure everyone a seat.
British ad executives have always had a positive image in this country,
certainly in the planning realm, which they practically invented, and on
the creative side, thanks to the likes of David Ogilvy.
That goes counter to a theory advanced recently by a journalist in New
York offering a 'view from America' for a British news outlet - what a
swell idea, wherever did it come from? He asserts that the hiring of
Brien, Hammersley and Robertson represents 'the formal rehabilitation of
the British adman's image abroad' after it was tarnished by the Saatchi
That's only partly right. The Saatchis - and to some degree Martin
Sorrell, before his knighthood - tarnished the image of the British
adman as a businessman operating a global agency company, not as a
creator of compelling copy or an astute client hand-holder or a skilful
planner or an expert in media buying.
And we're all still suckers for your accents.