’JWT is not at the top of its game. We have had a quiet year in new
business, and the work we are producing is not as good as it should be.’
Blimey! Stephen Carter, the ambitious new JWT chief executive, said
that, not us. Come to think of it, that’s what we did write in
February’s school report: ’The year, although hardly satisfactory, was
not a total write-off.’ JWT received a score of five, or adequate. And
we got our heads bitten off.
The statement belongs to the school of what aficionados of the ’yummy
mummy’ circuit would call ’tough love’. Some readers have expressed
surprise at both the content and provenance of Carter’s candour.
JWT has problems some agencies dream of. It’s a blue-chip machine whose
ability to nurture brands over decades is second to none. Until
recently, 40 Berkeley Square has avoided the ’local office of a
multinational’ tag that some of its peers suffer. Its work, though
rarely a nine or ten, would seldom dip into the turkey zone, Chicken
It always had the ability to win the major local prizes that eluded
other multinationals. It has nurtured a succession of top-class managers
and maintained a reputation for a spread of senior management
But today, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has stolen both its positioning and
its number one position in London. Of late, the creative work has, on
occasion, tried too hard, as if JWT was embarrassed by the very
qualities that make it special. It has resorted to waving about yet
another agency marketing device - Thompson Total Branding - and there is
some internal unrest, particularly about the increasing influence of JWT
Europe, and a rather flabby creative department.
Above all, JWT seems bereft of senior management with any market
Some may argue this does not matter, that this was ever the JWT way.
But the argument used to be made despite the fact that the people at the
top were industry-renowned. But what JWT lacks glaringly compared with
the current successful agencies, big and small, is that spread of senior
talent. Given that ’access to senior talent’ regularly tops many
clients’ wish-lists, Carter’s decision not to appoint a managing
director (at least), seems almost foolhardy.
The agency will sorely miss Dominic Proctor’s human touch. Carter and
the creative director, Jaspar Shelbourne, appear very similar types to
the outside eye. Talented as they may prove to be, they are consistently
up against very heavyweight line-ups at AMV, BMP, M&C Saatchi, Lowe
Howard-Spink and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, not to mention the current
momentum of shops such as Euro RSCG, Rainey Kelly and St Luke’s.
One point about Carter’s quote: hasn’t he been the managing director for
the past three years? Discuss.