OPINION: How wrong you are to think agencies haven’t changed

Has agency culture altered very much during the past few years? Paul Venn takes issue with David Gwyther’s view that things have changed little over two decades

Has agency culture altered very much during the past few years? Paul

Venn takes issue with David Gwyther’s view that things have changed

little over two decades

If David Gwyther believes that there’s been very little real change

within agencies and agency culture in the past 20 years (Campaign, 23

February), I think he’s the one who is stuck in a time-warp.

Where has this man been? Clearly not to any of the agencies that I’ve

been at over the past 15 years. Is he really telling us that the only

changes he has seen are cutbacks and restructuring?

What about the arrival of planning as a mainstream discipline? What

about the focus (championed by the Institute of Practitioners in

Advertising and many agencies) on demonstrating effective creativity?

What about the modern creative team, which is now just as likely to be

heard discussing strategy with clients as the size of type that is


Gwyther tells us that senior clients ‘only want to talk strategy with

senior advisers’, and not with ‘relative juniors whose experience is

limited’. Gwyther asserts that the big idea is ‘likely to come only from

creative heavyweights who really understand clients’ needs’.

Maybe, in his 20 years as a client, he never saw the young and gifted

talent at full-service agencies that, properly managed, often produces

innovative analysis, unexpected strategies and piercing creative work.

While it’s true that clients increasingly want to talk to senior people,

it doesn’t follow that they expect the work to be done exclusively by

them. Heaven help clients if Gwyther has his way and our industry’s

product is left to senior heavyweights. Where would he get the freshness

and originality that, in all fields, is the gift of the young?

Agencies have changed. In response to the flatter marketing department

structures that Gwyther mentions, agencies have delayered too.

As client decision-making has gone up the line, agencies have used their

more senior people to handle those meetings where the managing director

is involved either as well as, or sometimes in place of, the brand


Agency managers now put much more emphasis on understanding and

delivering the standards of service that clients expect, resulting in

the judicious use of talent at all levels.

The role of board director is a lot more active than it used to be. Ten

to 15 years ago they were usually found at their desks supervising the

account team as it shuttled between the creative department and the

client. Now you’re just as likely to see the board account director

moving between the two.

All of this has not happened simply because of the changes that have

taken place at the client end. It’s also because our industry has

realised that our product is as much to do with the quality of the

service we provide as it is to do with the standard of creative ideas.

The agencies that have recognised this have been rewarded with more


If we accept this view of the modern full-service agency/client

relationship, I doubt there’s too much of a gap in the market for

Gwyther and his heavyweight colleagues to fill.

Even if we don’t fully accept the contention that agencies have changed

to service their clients better, there’s a significant awareness among

major clients of agencies’ attempts to do exactly this.

What’s more, clients (via the Incorporated Society of British

Advertisers) and the IPA agencies are working together to align

expectations. The notion that full-service agencies are blind to

changing client imperatives is unfounded.

Rather perversely, my closing thought supports Gwyther’s view that

agencies haven’t changed in 20 years. He states that ‘there’s no room

for ordinary advertising from middling creatives any more’. No, and

there never has been.

Paul Venn is the board account director for Ford at Young and Rubicam