David Moyes and the art of rebuilding an ad agency.



The departure of David Moyes will have sent a shiver down the spines of those creative directors still in possession of that piece of their anatomy.


The fragility of tenure for football managers has always been the spectre at the feast of the creative directors’ ball. Ferguson was the exception… The only exception. The one we all believed we could be.


But Ferguson’s tenure ended and then with undue haste so did his successor’s. The way things are going, Man U will soon turn into Chelsea … and will re-hire Fergie in about five managers’ time.


Such thoughts always remind me of my own departure from TBWA – my brief foray into working for someone else – a few years ago.


It was of course very different – but then again I’d be bound to say that, whatever really happened.


These things are always clouded by legalities and other crap so I’m not going to write about them. Instead, I’m going to write briefly about a completely fictitious guy called Dirty Harry leaving a completely fictitious agency called HSBC.


In terms of that particular leaving, it was actually quite simple – Dirty Harry came to an agreement with the management team at the time that they had different goals and it’s tough enough making interesting work without battling your co-managers all the time.


Harry believed in doing stuff that was different – and the board were of the belief that they were an ad agency and should therefore be producing conventional ads.


That battle still goes on in many agencies today …


Harry liked to think that he’d made a huge difference to the agency in just a couple of years. The work changed dramatically, particularly in relation to producing non-traditional work.


But by the end of those two years Harry was just dog tired. It’s exhausting trying to turn around a big agency.


So I’m now going to try and pass on my thoughts on that incredibly difficult task.


This is me speaking now. Not Dirty Harry, obviously.


Four tips.


First, value your first impressions. When you go into an agency for the first few days, you will see how it works – and more importantly, how it doesn’t work. Most of those impressions will have been burnished by habit to become invisible to the people working there. So pay attention to those initial impressions – and act on them within a month or two. After that time you will be as blind to all the faults as the previous inhabitants.


This includes people who aren’t working at their best. I hate to say it, because I hate any “business imperative” that isn’t respectful of people … But big agencies are places where lazy people can hide – and also people who just want to maintain the status quo.


Those are my least favourite people.


Second, go and visit all the clients. Harry did this at HSBC and it worked a treat. Clients get the work they deserve – yes – but an agency is only as good as its clients.


Before taking any big job, anybody sensible would naturally ask the management team if any of the remaining accounts were rocky. The management team will assure you that they are not. But within a few weeks of getting there – actually make that a few days – you will realise that is balderdash. Any agency trying to rebuild itself is re-pitching constantly. And that is absolutely exhausting.


Three. Don’t try to change every account. Some of them just don’t want it and they’ll fight you tooth and nail. Dirty Harry tried to change all the work on all the accounts at HSBC and that just burned him up. But keep an open mind on which ones are really going to be the game-changing ones. They aren’t usually the ones you think they’ll be.


Hence Step Two above.


Four. When you find the accounts you think will reward your attention most – be ruthless. Zero tolerance for anything less than outstanding work.


Great work doesn’t come out of a laissez-faire attitude (which may help to explain why there are relatively few great French agencies).


I was talking to a client at Wieden & Kennedy once and I asked him what it was like working with that agency. “Very frustrating,” he replied. “I keep telling them I don’t like an idea and it just reappears a week later. When I ask them why, they just say ‘it’s still the best idea’. Drives me mad.”


He said this with a smile – and that’s the key thing. Be obstinate – but be charming and be smart and let the client know that you are doing this to make their work more effective.


If you do all that, maybe – just maybe – you won’t end up looking like David Moyes. I think it was Russell Brand who described Roy Hodgkinson as having a face like a haunted fairytale cottage.


Moyes has a face that looks like a haunted bus stop, watching the night bus go sailing past.


But more than anything, if you’re going to turn a tanker round, you need good PR and you need luck.


So ask yourself one question.


Do you have a genius for PR, punk ?

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