Is advertising really full of sh*ts?

Following the exit of Martin Sorrell “under a cloud”, there seems to have been something of a purge in adland (did I really use that expression? Sorry).

This week Ogilvy fired its longstanding global creative chief Tham Kai Meng after a misconduct investigation.

The company-wide memo from CEO John Seifert read: “After carefully reviewing the investigation’s findings with several of my partners, we concluded that Khai’s behavior was a clear breach of our company values and code of conduct,”  “I have decided to terminate Khai’s employment with the company with immediate effect.” Splat.

Now McCann Health has shown the door to its creative lead Jeremy Perrott.  “We received a complaint about a violation of our Code of Conduct by McCann Health’s Jeremy Perrott,” read a company statement. “As a result, following an investigation, he is no longer with the company.” Wham.

Further investigation suggests the root of the Perrott complaint was “offensive and inappropriate” language.

Really?  Is that it?  Inappropriate language provokes a big network to fire its top creative talent?  Has the agency world become so politically correct, all of a sudden?

Or have we been working with evil tyrants or monsters all this time, without realising it?

An industry populated by total bastards. That seems to be the implication.

WPP creative veteran Neil French certainly doesn’t think so.  He paints the ousted individuals as the victims:  “The ‘me-too’ get-out is a boon to moribund organizations, is it not? Find a turbulent priest, throw up your Trumplike little hands in mock horror, and the pc mob will do the rest.”

Is it because big networks have become terrified of law suits (remember JWT and L’affaire Martinez?) and will go to inordinate lengths to cover their arses, even at the expense of jettisoning their top people?  It’s often said an agency’s greatest assets are its people.  Yet we’re increasingly quick to drop them.  Is that wise?

Or are we barking up the wrong tree?  Maybe these were just people whose time had come or whose faces no longer fitted?  The “internal investigation” simply saves face, where the reality was a night of the long knives?




Remember when….

Remember when we made ads based on imagining what ‘deprivation’ of our product would be like?

It’s an ancient craft, but apparently it still works.

Apple certainly thinks so.

I like this.

Isn’t it ironic?

There’s a slightly delicious irony in the fall-out from Sir Martin Sorrell’s departure from WPP.

In case you weren’t paying attention, Sir Martin was the biggest beast in jungle, having built his WPP empire from nothing to become the biggest group in the global advertising and communications business.  In the Spring he left WPP under a cloud after vague allegations and an investigation into ‘personal misconduct’.  There were juicy rumours and reports he had been seen entering a brothel in Shepherd’s Market – bit of a cliche, but still a good story, whether or not it was on company funds.

Very soon after, it emerged that Sir Marty was launching a new venture S4 Capital.


‘Why is that ironic?’ I hear you say.

Only because WPP, and The Martster in particular, were famously litigious in their enforcement of non-compete clauses when senior staff left the business.  When William Eccleshare left Y&R to become CEO of BBDO he was held to a year’s gardening leave.  Ditto Steve Blamer, who left Grey to join FCB.  When Y & R’s management team of James Murphy, Ben Priest and David Golding jumped ship to set up their new agency, Adam & Eve, they were pursued relentlessly through the courts and the new business was held on ice for a year.  And not just in the US and UK.  A host of others around the world were held to draconian contract terms including Michelle Hutton of Hill & Knowlton in Australia.

But one senior staffer seems to have had no non-compete clause.  Sir Martin himself.

It’s doubly noticeable, because his contract has been the subject of great controversy over the years, so presumably it has been pored over by the great and the good.

One rule for me.  Another for the plebs.

Wimbledon is upon us

I do love a good sporting trailer, but this Wimbledon animation by McCann London does nothing for me.  It’s all craft.  And wonderful craft too.  Credits:  Nexus Studios’ Smith & Foulkes – yes it’s dead clever animation.  But frankly, Sky Sports does it much better just by harnessing moments of passion and the noise of the crowd.

The Curse of Cassandra


At a conference recently, Jim Carroll, the former Chairman of ad agency BBH, talked about the ‘Curse of Cassandra’ which struck a chord with me.

He described how, years ago, he shared an office with a bright young strategist.  She consistently made excellent arguments, but somehow always failed to convince others.  Her thinking was good, but too often wasted.

As Jim put it:

“She was always right.  But she always lost”

This sort of thing happens a lot in advertising, where everyone has an opinion and the room is often swayed by the most passionate or the most domineering voice.  Or the Boss.

In Homer’s Iliad, Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, King of Troy.  Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy.  But when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse, ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings.

It also echoes the work popularised recently by author Susan Cain, who writes about unlocking the talent of introverts, who are undervalued in today’s excessively competitive workplace.

At this point, I could go into the (many) strategies which the conference speakers described, to address the curse.  Largely by becoming more personally influential, by building our own personal brands and by using the same dark arts we would put into a marketing plan to sell the elements of that plan.

I could, but I won’t.

Because the implication is that we treat every interaction with colleagues as some kind of internal sales pitch.  And maybe that’s just how things are.  But I really don’t want that.