’How many FCB managing directors does it take to change a
lightbulb?’ Answer: ’Nobody knows because the lightbulbs last longer
than the managing directors.’ It is a measure of the confidence of the
Daily Mail and FCB in their relationship that Sir David English,
chairman of Associated Newspapers - and thus, via the Daily Mail, FCB’s
longest-standing client (26 years) - was able to tell this joke in his
celebratory speech at the agency’s terrific 50th birthday party last
I mention it because this remarkable relationship is worth commenting
on. It is a model that the Observer, which last week appointed Ogilvy &
Mather (its third agency in four years, ditto the number of editors,
relaunches and so on), would do well to emulate.
In explaining the success of the relationship between FCB and the Daily
Mail - which he put down to mutual respect and trust - Sir David touched
on the natural antipathy between agencies and their newspaper clients
which makes them such uneasy bedfellows. There are lots of reasons why
this is so, but the foremost, I suspect, is that respect and trust are
qualities not often found in abundance in Fleet Street.
If it is to pull out of its current nosedive, the Observer will
certainly need these and more.
As Sir David reminded us, FCB also produced some great advertising but,
most importantly, it created a killer slogan - ’Every woman needs her
Daily Mail’ - which gave the paper the positioning that it needed as
well as a journalistic framework within which to operate and a good
sales story for the ad team.
While it would be facile to say all the Observer needs is something
similar, a slogan wouldn’t be a bad place to start. At the very least,
it would define the paper’s position in the public’s mind and - just as
importantly - in the minds of its writers and sales staff.
Therein, I believe, lies the Observer’s problem. What, in short, is it
for? Three weeks ago, printed in red just above the masthead, the
Observer proudly proclaimed it was ’the paper for the new era’, a daft
attempt to give a paper with a long and honourable history of genuine
scoops a quasi-establishment feel. Thankfully, this risible claim has
now been dropped, but the dithering suggests the paper’s editorial
management has an acute identity crisis. And if it doesn’t know what
it’s for, is there any wonder the public doesn’t know either?
This is where O&M comes in. Just as a crucial part of FCB’s contribution
in 1970 was the outsider’s endorsement of the Mail’s decision to go for
women readers, so O&M’s first task must be to help the Observer define
its positioning. Only then should it worry about creating some memorable
The danger, however, is any long-term advertising proposition will be
hijacked for short-term promotions at the first sign of any blip in
sales - which is exactly where the notions of respect and trust come in