Tag Archives: HHCL

Naughtie and Nice

I enjoyed hearing about James Naughtie’s slip of the tongue while addressing Jeremy Hunt on the Today show.

On a similar note, when Clare Balding was called “the dxxx on the bike” by AA Gill, she retorted that she was looking forward to seeing a picture of him in a punt.

It reminds me of the two websites that flourished for a while for adfolk to vent their spleen on – theagencyisac*nt.com and theclientisac*nt.com

Now if I’ve learned one thing in my many years in advertising, it’s not to call your client a c*nt.

(Perfectly acceptable with the culture secretary, though.)

In fact at HHCL I even banned the word “client” and insisted we called them by their first names.

Because you don’t get anywhere without clients.

But it’s not just a question of being nice to the person who pays the bills.

Because these days, more than ever, they’re the people who make the decisions.

And it’s also bloody hard work being a client. A friend of mine who was a suit at HHCL and then went client-side for a bit, described it as being like a POW hiding in the bushes outside Stalag 15. You try to keep your head down as low as you can, dreading the searchlight finding you out.

Because a marketing director is liable to be button-holed by his CFO at any time and asked “We’ve given you x million pounds for marketing this year – what return are we getting for that ?”

And since ROI is notoriously difficult to prove for marketing, most marketing directors lead lives of quiet desperation and anxiety.

It’s well known that the average tenure in the job is about 18 months – similar to a football manager, a first world war pilot, or the Innocent account. What’s less well known is that it seems a lot longer, what with all the time spent hiding in stationery cupboards or ringing up “with a bad cough”.

I was speaking to a client in the financial sector recently, who said that he spent 20% of his time justifying his expenditure to his colleagues.

Imagine a relationship in which you had to spend 20% of your time justifying your existence.

Well, we’ve probably all been in relationships like that, especially if you’re a man.

But actually, I think this sense of client-side insecurity is the main reason for the rise of Procurement and cost-control.

If you can’t prove you’re doing a good job to your boss, you can at least point out that someone else is doing a worse one.

“We may not be able to prove the ROI on our marketing, but we’ve skinned the agency alive”.

And removed any chance of them having any hint of fun, ever again.

In my view, most agencies are actually honest and well-run financially. They’ve been stripped to the bone and they’ve got procurement people all over them, like Ant is all over Dec.

But the relationship between client and agency is always going to be tricky, until we can prove that marketing works.

At the minute, it’s a bit like paying someone to go into the loft and bang a hammer for half a day – who knows if they’ve done anything valuable or not ?

Overall, as has been said on many occasions, clients get the work they deserve, and agencies get the clients they deserve.

So my mates at Albion are probably sending out bottles of champagne to all their clients, after their recent short-listing in Campaign’s Digital Agency of the Year award.

Fully deserved and, if you read the article, Albion comes out as being even more future-focussed than the other two agencies in the running, AKQA and Dare.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning my own role in this success.

That, plus the sheer actual tininess of my contribution.

But well done, guys.

Since I don’t drink alcohol myself these days, I’m going to celebrate with a short YouTube clip.


And a reference to the brilliant home-clubber strip in Saturday’s Guardian. According to the guy with the huge tashe in the strip, “they’ve managed to book James Naughtie to open this year’s Huntingdon Christmas Truffle Hunt”.

Read more on Naughtie and Nice…

Bleedin’ genius

In 1756 Edward Burke described the “sublime” as coming from something “capable of exciting pain or danger”.

And just the other day, France’s ex-justice minister Rachida Dati told Canal Plus: “I see some [foreign investment funds] looking for returns of 20 or 25% at a time when fellatio is close to zero.”

I think those two quotes sum up the state of the nation right now.

(Incidentally, some commentators think the French politician meant to say “inflation”, but I’m not convinced.)

Or let’s approach this from another angle.

How many geniuses have you met in advertising ?

And what are they doing now ?

I remember reading a piece in Campaign once, about the late Geoff Seymour, a guy who at one stage seemed to epitomise everything that was cool and glamorous about advertising. He’d written the line “The World’s Favourite Airline” for British Airways; he wrote the original Hovis ads and “Reassuringly expensive” for Stella, and tons of other brilliant stuff. He was also the first copywriter to earn a salary of £100,000 pa – a feat which meant that his name passed into common usage as adfolk told you they were on “three-quarters of a Seymour”.

He was good-looking and super-confident, but in a “Where are they now ?” article from a few years ago, he was portrayed as a sad loser, with a permanent residency on a bar-stool at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Now I’m not saying he was a genius, but he was clearly a very gifted creative. However, like a lot of creatives, he didn’t manage the route to his pension very well.

Now this isn’t a plea for some kind of home for retired advertising creatives – that exists already, and it’s called the local pub.

Or, Wales.

But it is a question – which is, how seriously does advertising take its core resource of creative talent ?

I was talking to a creative the other day who is working at Fallon. We both raved about what that agency had created in its short London history.

For me, there aren’t many transcendent moments in marketing, but arguably Fallon came up with three – the Skoda cake, Sony balls and the Cadbury gorilla.

And I can tell you, because HHCL had a similar track record in the previous decade, that peaks like this don’t come about as flukes. They don’t come out of thin air, or because you make a lucky hiring. They come out of an agency that builds its creative vision consistently and persistently.

They come out of a vision that is adhered to through thick and thin, through often painful years of growth and fighting.

If the people at the top of advertising, the big holding company swinging dicks, really cared about this industry, they’d be asking – what factors led Fallon and HHCL and CDP to create decade-defining work ?

But all they’re thinking is – let’s hope those buggers fail, it makes a flatter field for the rest of us.

And right now I don’t see many agencies that put creativity first, that will defend and stand up for their creative work … that – ultimately – even believe it’s important.

I see a massive over-supply of agencies of all descriptions, who will tip up and show a client a bunch of ideas and, when those are blown out, will say “fine, see you next Tuesday, we’ll bring some new ones.”

That kind of approach doesn’t add value to anybody or anything – and isn’t sustainable.

Anyway – I’m off to chat to a bunch of students at Bucks College to see if they’ve got any answers.

The first question I’m going to ask them is – why are you joining this industry ?

Speaking for myself, I love the intersection of business and creativity.

But I want to hear what they say.

Read more on Bleedin’ genius…

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