PERSPECTIVE: Getting it wrong first time does not mean an agency has failed

Every now and then it is necessary to remind clients that agencies do not always get it right first time.

If they did, we would not need any AARs, Haystacks or Agency Assessments, as everything in the advertising garden would always be rosy and 100-year relationships of the kind J. Walter Thompson has with Unilever would be the norm.

Getting it right first time is difficult for agencies in pitches and the recent battle for Orange illustrates this beautifully (arguably, this was the pitch of 2002, if only for the comical stories swirling around London concerning who did what to swing the business). It's known that the Orange client, Jeremy Dale, was not convinced by anything he saw from any of the pitching agencies tasked with putting the magic back into the brand. But in Mother's mountain of work was material he felt could be right, so Dale went with the people he felt he could work with having worked with them in a previous life. (This raises an interesting question in itself; had the losing agencies known Dale would go with Mother if he didn't see a perfect solution, would they have pitched in the first place?) Anyway, the notion of the number of feted campaigns that did not get it right first time and the lessons this might offer about agency-client relationships occurred to me as I was leafing through a new book about The Economist's "white out of red" posters by the former creative director of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Alfredo Marcantonio. It is a superb book, let down only by its title - Well-written and red.

It is now 15 years since the first corker in the series - "I never read The Economist." Management trainee. Aged 42. - graced a poster site.

Its precedents, while still establishing a sort of exclusive Economist club, bore little relation to the "white out of red" series. They were full-page black-and-white press ads, each one approved by The Economist's editor and often with minutes to deadline, some based on topics in the magazine, others on the notion of how to write for The Economist. Then, as now, its writing style was much admired.

The problem was that the ads, while individually brilliant, were not recognisable as siblings, and this lack of collective strength limited their cumulative effect. It was at this point that many clients would have fled. Not this one. Research and a new brief led to a single-minded focus on the successful business readers of The Economist who really attracted advertising revenue.

Now, as testament to an exemplary agency/client relationship, there is a series of more than 140 posters whose vibrancy and visibility has established them as part of the urban landscape of Britain. What's more, The Economist has increased its UK circulation by 65 per cent and its UK ad revenue by 250 per cent. But without the client allowing the agency to "fail" once, none of this would have happened.

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