ADVANCE WARNING: NO PICTURES AHEAD.

I prefer this blog to be about stuff I like.
To be positive, a refuge from the endless whingeing and complaining you find on every street corner of the web.

But something caught my attention that got me thinking. 
I’ve often wondered how a business based on creating words and pictures came to be run by people more comfortable with numbers.
Scroll back to the eighties and we’d find Sir Martin Sorrell and John Wren sitting in finance departments, whilst Maurice Levy sat in the I.T. department.

I’m not knocking those departments, but they aren’t at the core of what clients want from agencies.
Usually, career paths are based on matching the strengths of the individual to needs of the business, so how they think is important.

People’s brains come in two very distinct flavours; left-brain, (facts and logic), or right-brain; (intuition and imagination).
Is it good to have a few left-brainers in charge of millions of right-brainers?

Think of it this way; remember that kid at school, the one who was top of the class at maths? Imagine them being put in charge of the English and Art kids.
I think there would be issues.
The maths kid is unlikely to understand why all the Art and English lot never seem to be working, appearing to just chat, moan and make wisecracks.
As for listening to their endless opinions, theories and demands for extra time because ‘it just isn’t there yet’, don’t ask.
The Art and English kids would also have issues.
They’d resist the move to bring in process and order, complaining that you can’t be precise when estimating how long it takes to have a good idea, or that it’s hard to correctly score how much of someone’s heart you’ve captured, how much you’ve touched them or made them think.
It’s tough to turn feelings into numbers, It’s why it’s always made perfect sense to me that people above would be so much more excited about the arrival of digital, big data and all the associated businesses over advertising; it’s numbers, it’s their playing field. (At one point, when I was working at one of Sir Martin’s companies, advertising agency JWT, he declared ‘We are no longer in advertising’, like a mob boss telling people ‘Today, we’re a legit business, no more drugs, killing and prostitution’.)
The problem is, the most important part of the communications business is the communicating.
And if you want to communicate your message to people you’ve never met, the public, intuition and imagination are more useful than logic and facts.
So I’ve often wondered what those left-brainers running things made of us right-brainers creating things.
Having to listen to people double-down it being Dougal not Feargal to shoot the goddamn script, that ‘cheeky’ was a better description than ‘awesome’ or whether the thing even works now with all these bloody changes.
I suspect it’s painful to watch.
All that pfaffing about over words and pictures – ‘GET A LIFE!’
This week a bit of evidence came out that backs up that theory.
“WPP isn’t just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that.” – Sir Martin Sorrell.

It was based on this one:
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” – Bill Shankly.
I don’t highlight it to criticise him, what Sir Martin says or does is none of my business, but I do wonder whether it offers up an insight into what he values, or doesn’t, in communication.
If, in the unlikely event he’d popped into my office for advice, Id say:

1. ‘Don’t use that quote, you’ve run a massive communications company for donkey’s years FFS, it looks bad to nick someone else’s quote, and it’s famous!, let’s come up with something original?’
SIR MART: ‘I like it.’

2. ‘Don’t use that quote Mart, the structure doesn’t fit you’re message, it feels sellotaped together.’
SIR MART: ‘Not bothered.’

3. ‘Don’t use that quote, you’re coming off a bit tone-deaf Mart.
Bill Shankly comes across as funny and self-deprecating, because it’s ludicrous to suggest kicking around a bag of air is more important than life itself.
You’re coming across as self-regarding and pompous, you’re saying your life’s work is more important than life itself.
Not good.’
SIR MART: ‘Whatever!’

4. ‘Mart! Mart! Mart! Well,You’re killing me here! Well let’s at least sort out the structure?
The Shankly quote works because he buried the lead, we think he’s going to knock those foolish people who think kicking a football around is more important than life and death, only to make a left turn at the end saying ‘it’s more important’.
SIR MART: ‘Geek alert! Geek alert!’

5. ‘You don’t want to change the structure either? If you’re going to insist on using that bloody quote we have to fix the “it was, is and will be” bit, it’s a car crash!
SIR MART: ‘But I want to thank ex-WPP-ers, I want to big up the current WPP-ers and imply that WPP won’t collapse once I’ve gone.’
‘Finally! Well why not just say that then! Muppet?’

No-one had more imaginative, intuitive communications professionals at hand to help him out, over 2000,000, but presumably it wasn’t felt necessary, it’s only a bunch of words?

NB. I feel I should point out, in the spirit of full disclosure, that Sir Martin Sorrell has made £495m from the communications business. That is, and I checked my bank balance this morning to make sure I was factually accurate, more than me. 

13 responses to ADVANCE WARNING: NO PICTURES AHEAD.

  1. Rolph Gobits says:

    Hi Dave,

    I am still smiling broadly after reading your very fine words and observations. I think these words should be in everybody’s office so the bean counters have a clearer idea what creative people bring to the table and they cannot exist without them.

    Thank you so much for your insight.

    Rolph

  2. john Lowery says:

    For a bloke who does the pictures, you’re very good with words.

    J

  3. Snoxishere says:

    That made me happy and sad at the same time. Like all the best books, films, songs and alcoholic beverages.

  4. LS says:

    I know I’m going a bit left on the above but I think it’s relates to the fact that creativity has been further pushed towards a numbers game… here’s a an excerpt:

    “The problem with data is you’re looking at the past. It leaves no room for ingenuity and inspiration. So all these companies that think they’re going to completely survive on that, unless they’re fast fashion and they’re knocking everybody off, it just seems like this horrible downward shame spiral that you’re never going to get out of,” he says. He’s animated. “You’re just going to know what people wanted. When I got into this business, what appealed to me was this idea of, you can kind of convince people what they want.”

    From

    https://www.gq.com/story/scott-sternberg-entireworld-band-of-outsiders-interview

    L

  5. Simon Veksner says:

    The way he mangled and misunderstood that quote bothered me so much too! I love how you’ve deconstructed it!

  6. Robin. says:

    An earlier piece by someone else said something about long-haired agency guys not knowing their arse from their elbow re finance.

    Same could – should – be said about bean-counters not knowing their arse from their elbow re advertising.

    Would CDP have reached their lofty heights of the guys in charge had to report to an accountant?

    • dave dye says:

      Yep, it’s a good point Robin.
      Creatives are generally tarred with the ‘they don’t understand finance’ brush, whereas the ‘they don’t get communication’ brush doesn’t seem to be as harmful to those touched by it.
      I’ve no axe to grind with finance people, ‘bean counters’ or left-brainers, they are all a vital part of our business.
      I guess my over-riding point is how has a creative business got to the point where all the people running it aren’t from a creative background.
      Other successful companies are run by people who have intimate knowledge of the nuts and bolts of their products, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Tom Ford, Elon Musk, etc, etc.
      I can’t help but wonder what the industry would be like if, for example, instead of Sorrell, Wren and Levy, those companies were headed by Hegarty, Clow and Trott?
      Maybe they wouldn’t make as much money?
      But I think communications industry would be a more respected.
      I think the output would be more interesting and entertaining, which would mean public would not be so appalled by it.
      Consequently it would have a better chance of competing for creative talent against the other, currently better paid more creative industries, particularly from Silicon Valley.
      Maybe those things would mean that agencies would be valued more by clients, so maybe they wouldn’t keep cutting fees, so maybe they wouldn’t make less money, maybe they’d make more?
      One thing I do know, the three guys I mentioned wouldn’t take £60-70m each out of their businesses every year.

      • SG says:

        In retrospect I suspect that had CDP and the accountants established a better rapport there might have been less for HMRC to get excited about….

  7. john Lowery says:

    David Abbott started and ran AMV, which grew to be the biggest agency in the UK. The finance dudes were ecstatically happy.

  8. Robin. says:

    Imagine Abbott working under Martin.
    Guessing that’s why it went from AMV SMS to AMV BBDO.

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