WHY I QUIT SOHO: It is no wonder client companies lure agency people to work for them when they offer attractive alternatives such as financial security, fresh challenges and a better quality of life Michele Martin investigates.

There was a time when becoming a client was seen as a sideways move.

There was a time when becoming a client was seen as a sideways


It meant waving goodbye to your company sportscar and feeling out of

place in your Armani suit. It meant spending less time planning that TV

campaign and more fretting about coupon redemption. But, most of all, it

meant leaving the glamour of Soho for an industrial estate in


Advertising used to be an ’us and them’ business, where clients were a

slightly dull but necessary evil and agency folk were the real


But in the past couple of years, this view has begun to change as some

of the top people in advertising have swapped to the client side.

Not only is the talent exchange challenging an industry that is already

having trouble attracting the very best candidates at graduate level,

but it is also applying the pressure in a more unexpected way. While

agency staff in the past took client jobs primarily to sit tight and

gain experience to take back to agencies, the latest movers are

committed to it. Sholto Douglas-Home, head of advertising for BT’s

residential division and previously business director at Still Price

Lintas, says: ’I originally moved to gain a stronger position when

dealing with clients at an agency. Now I wouldn’t want to go back.’

The new generation of poachers-turned-gamekeepers are under 35,

entrepreneurial, buzzing with ideas and eager to recruit their former

colleagues. They are the generation who probably never had a sportscar

anyway, thanks to the recession of the early 90s, and inevitably spent

as much time discussing sampling as TV advertising thanks to

integration. And although they probably liked working in Soho, many of

them secretly think the Berkshire countryside sounds attractive now that

they are thinking of starting a family.

They include Justin Francis, worldwide marketing manager for values at

the Body Shop, who was an account director at J. Walter Thompson until

1996; Marc Sands, who left HHCL & Partners in March to become marketing

director of Granada UK Broadcasting; and Jo Barnett, advertising and

media controller of Virgin Direct,who left Manning Gottlieb Media

earlier this year.

What many have in common is the desire to innovate. Having seen the

agency business from the inside, they understand its tricks and its

weaknesses and are more prepared to challenge its accepted wisdom than

non-agency colleagues. At one end of the scale, David Wheldon, president

of BBDO Europe and previously managing director of Lowe Howard-Spink,

admits that he ’banned wining and dining’ as Coca-Cola’s worldwide

director of advertising from 1993-1996. At the other, Polly Cochrane,

marketing manager of Channel 5 and formerly an account director at Cowan

Kemsley Taylor, shunned traditional agencies altogether in favour of a

start-up creative shop, Mother. ’We structured our activities after

seeing the account system and its shortcomings.

You have to know the rules to innovate,’ she says.

Debra van Gene, a director at the advertising headhunter, Kendall

Tarrant, says she has seen an increasing trend in the past couple of

years for agency staff to move to jobs at sexier client companies. She

explains: ’There is a ground-swell of good people at good agencies

moving out of the industry. Agencies don’t lose staff at board level to

other agencies as much but to media owners, new-media companies and

’icon’ clients, such as Nike.’ Martin Jones, managing director of the

Advertising Agency Register and previously new-business director at J.

Walter Thompson, adds: ’Since I’ve been doing this job, I’ve seen an

increasing number of ex-agency people on the client side. It never used

to be like this.’

Agency people are moving for many reasons, not least because advertising

is increasingly seen as less fun and harder work than it used to be,

while client companies often offer more security, new challenges and

better quality of life. The gap between client and agency pay also

appears to have narrowed in the past five years. Campaign’s latest

salary survey shows that account directors command an average salary of

pounds 38,000 a year plus a car, while Marketing magazine’s recent poll

shows that marketing directors receive pounds 45,161 annually.

Also encouraging the churn is the increasing number and quality of

client jobs. Bob Wootton, director of media services at the Incorporated

Society of British Advertisers and formerly media director of Griffin

Bacal, comments: ’More opportunities are opening up in advertiser

organisations. Media is becoming more complicated, so many of the larger

companies are moving towards in-house expertise and the same is

happening with production.’ Marketing conventional and new media is also

attracting individuals who want a job with the pizazz of an agency but a

certain freedom of scope.

Sands says: ’Like many people I know, it’s unlikely that I would have

gone somewhere like Proctor & Gamble where the possibilities for

innovative, new thinking are limited. But television is a monopoly

industry facing competition and that makes it a marvellous greenfield

site. It has the potential for you to do what you like because you’re

not inheriting rules.’

These new-look marketing jobs, coupled with the confidence that comes

from seeing others pioneering the switch, has given people the impetus

to change their own career paths. Agencies provide an invaluable

training for anyone wanting to move.

Lizzie Palmer, marketing director of Capital Radio and a former staffer

at Still Price Lintas and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, recalls: ’When I left

advertising, I thought: ’What skills do I have?’ Then I realised that I

had loads. Business skills, people and communications skills, budgeting

skills, creative and writing skills. In some respects it’s all change,

no change.’ Dan Brooke, marketing director of Paramount Comedy Channel

who left his job as an account director at St Luke’s last December,

adds: ’Advertising has given me a tremendous instinct for the customer’s

point of view. The downside was that I didn’t know some aspects of PR

and below the line, but there’s no magic to it. It’s taken me six months

to feel comfortable with them.’

It is this knowledge of advertising that makes this generation of

clients one of the most innovative and opinionated agencies have had to

deal with.

Faced initially with an ex-agency client, some will expect an easy time,

as Virgin’s Barnett recalls: ’Agency people, especially less senior

ones, expect you to sign off pounds 300,000 without quibbling because

you know them.’

And to some degree, people with agency experience do tend to show a

fairness and empathy that can only come with having experienced the job.

’We’re firm but fair, because we know every trick in the book but we

also understand the process. At Capital, if things go wrong, we don’t

say, ’it’s the agency’s fault’, because we bought into it too,’ Palmer

says. Wheldon agrees: ’Agencies must be motivated and making money. You

don’t get great work by beating the shit out of them.’

But just a few weeks on the outside can provoke scathing comments about

agency practices. Set-piece entertaining, lavish lunches and creative

solutions for their own sake are all cited as failings, while criticism

of shops that falsely claim to offer integrated solutions abound.

Perhaps because of this, ex-agency clients are not afraid to experiment

with agency arrangements.

At Coca-Cola Wheldon centralised all advertising decisions through his

own office and broadened the company’s arrangements away from using just

CAA, recruiting instead a large roster of hotshops including BBH and

Wieden & Kennedy. At the COI, the former DMB&B joint chairman and chief

executive, Tony Douglas, has recently restructured the division with an

emphasis on integrated solutions.

At a smaller advertiser such as Paramount, Brooke was one of the first

clients to test the HHCL Brasserie’s no-frills television service. While

Maddie Morton, head of marketing at the English National Opera and once

an account director at BBH, got so fed up with agencies using her pounds

300,000 annual budget to do award-winning rather than

business-generating work that she briefed her design company


But at the most extreme end of the spectrum are people like Cochrane,

who commissioned Mother to help launch the station but used the ’gimme

5’ strategy and colour bar logo invented by the design company, Wolff

Olins, as the centrepiece for advertising. ’We struggled to find an

agency, which is why we went with one that formed especially to work

with us,’ she says, pointing out that traditional agencies are too

bureaucratic and give clients little access to creatives.

And she adds that her decision could pre-empt a dilemma that other

clients may have in coming years. ’All agencies are struggling to find

appropriate ways of working with clients and the next few years will be

increasingly difficult as above the line, below the line and brand

identity blurs,’ she says.

The diagnosis is backed by Sands, who says Granada will only use

agencies on an ad hoc basis. Ask him if this decision feels odd given

his old loyalties and he replies: ’I don’t think the problems facing TV

will be solved by a traditional advertising agency. And until agencies

can convincingly prove that they’re not just interested in ads and can

take a bigger view then, no, it doesn’t seem odd. Advertising is an

extremely conservative business that’s trying to grow up.’

Despite such uncompromising thoughts on the state of the industry they

recently left, few career-switchers rule out moving back at some point -

particularly to ’make changes’. But, for now at least, many are

evangelical enough to start recruiting from agencies for their own

departments. Many of the highest profile clients had ex-agency mentors -

such as Palmer with Richard Eyre at Capital and Cochrane with David

Brook at Channel 5 - and others want to perpetuate the trend


Paramount’s Brooke concludes: ’I’m certainly hiring a lot of people and

I’m going to be looking in agencies rather than marketing.’ If he and

his colleagues succeed, then the drift from agencies to advertisers

could well turn out to be in its infancy.


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