David Ogilvy once boasted of a compliment paid to his agency by a
rival agency chief: ’You are not only the leaders of our industry, you
are gentlemen, you are teachers and you make us proud to be in the
So Ogilvy preached the value of reputation - his agency’s and that of
the industry in which he worked. What would he have made of the picture
of advertising woven around Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper’s Mark Wnek in The
Sunday Times last week?
Wnek was portrayed as little more than a testosterone-driven throwback,
a reminder that the days when advertising was the media’s shorthand for
living the life of Riley have not quite left us.
Wnek is ’a life commando’. His mortgage, apparently, is ’so big I can’t
bring myself to say it out loud’, he has 300 shirts at home and another
100 in the office, all his pants are Calvin Klein and all his shoes
Gucci. If his creative team doesn’t hack a brief, ’they get fired
That’s why they drink a lot and smoke a lot and go round the bend.’ And
if you’re not the brightest star in the agency ’then the least you can
do is sit there until midnight’.
Wnek is mortified by the piece and claims that he has been
misrepresented and I hope he has been - certainly he’s never struck me
as the sort of guy stupid enough to say such things in print, though
it’s possible that a heavy dose of irony might have been misinterpreted
by the journalist.
I hope that the picture that emerged from his interview is unfair and
inaccurate. I hope that the ethos of hard work, creativity and real
energy that Wnek does manage to convey is not so closely tied with the
arrogance, conspicuous consumption and brutish man-management that
colour the piece.
But the fact remains that the article has undoubtedly instilled in the
minds of hundreds of thousands of Sunday Times readers a very powerful
image of the advertising industry and one that is unlikely to make many
people feel proud to work in the business.
Anyone in advertising should know that publicity and vulnerability are
often bed fellows, yet this isn’t the first time advertising’s
reputation has been burnt in the media. Remember Peter Marsh’s
performance on the Radio 4’s Moral Maze and the contribution made by
Saatchi & Saatchi’s Stephen Colgrave to last year’s BBC2 documentary
about advertising to children? And what about Channel 4’s toe-curling
fly-on-the-wall about St Luke’s?
At a time when the ad industry has developed a sharper focus on
effectiveness, client service and investing in its employees as more
than just job titles on business cards, such portrayals of the industry
in the media are truly destabilising. Now more than ever the industry
deserves a fair public hearing as a professional business founded on
quality and integrity, and that’s a responsibility that everyone from
the IPA to the industry’s new recruits should bear.