With the most gifted individuals often accepting the top jobs, the
problem for ad agencies is that their talents are not always fully
utilised, Chris Woollams argues
Our industry is known for having fads. ‘Globalisation’ was the word in
the early 80s, ‘integration’ in the early 90s. Recently we’ve had ‘re-
engineering’ and, very recently, ‘outsourcing’.
In my view, no agency is genuinely re-engineered. Equally, outsourcing,
in its true meaning, is a far cry from a couple of creative chaps
setting up shop to do work for anyone who wants it.
Over the past few years, re-engineering has been a major topic at the
Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors. Almost
always, it has involved companies changing their operations and
structures and cutting whole departments and divisions.
This level of restructuring has never been seen in the advertising
industry. Staff cuts have been made out of necessity but, somehow, re-
engineering has meant agencies working horizontally rather than
Hierarchies, departments and vertical management systems need to be
replaced by teams chosen from different disciplines to suit a client’s
particular needs. A break with traditional thinking? Tosh. This is
nothing like the level of re-engineering that has happened in client
companies and, worse, it’s nothing new.
We had teams chosen/designed to meet clients’ needs at Ogilvy and Mather
when I started in advertising in 1972. Horizontal teams are not new.
And they’re nothing to do with genuine re-engineering.
Not that we don’t need it in advertising. Lower margins and less income
are at odds with clients’ desire for more ideas and demand for higher
By and large, clients want to work with four or five very bright people
who can help them solve a business problem.
Sadly, bright people - especially the older and wiser ones - are at a
Worse still, the bright ones end up managing the place and spend more
time worrying about new business, photocopiers and National Insurance
contributions than they do about in-depth client solutions.
The time has come to free up bright individuals and find a way to
restructure so that the worth of our business shows through in the
thinking, understanding, ideas and creativity we offer.
The few bright people we have should be ‘front-of-house’ and do no more,
or less, than worrying about clients’ businesses and communication
Re-engineering should free them of management issues, which they are
probably not qualified to do anyway.
But it’s with ‘back-of-house’ that re-engineering needs to come into
Do agencies need progress/production departments for press and print?
Most outside suppliers are only too happy to provide online facilities
and someone to check the work’s progress.
Why can’t we ask more of TV production companies and avoid in-house
duplication? Do we need in-house planning departments? Agency joint
ventures with media independents provide the best quality work, without
being a drain on overheads.
Which brings me to outsourcing. Not the piffle we’ve been reading about
recently, but a truly re-engineered back-of-house that cuts costs and
gives the front-of-house people quality support.
Our industry has to face up to two questions that clients repeatedly ask
themselves: do I get the quality of thinking and initiatives I deserve,
and why am I paying all this money for all those people and overheads
when they seem to have little to do with my business?
Re-engineering and outsourcing will allow us to address these concerns.
Unfortunately, the advertising industry is unlikely to do as I say
because, sadly, I suspect that it likes hierarchies.
This article was first published on Campaign