Five things you didn’t know about advertising agencies: 1970s (1)

1/The 1970s were arguably advertising’s fun decade: the 1960s had uncorked the so-called creative revolution in New York and London and agencies were happy to earn eye-watering fees without the distraction of trying to build their companies on the stock market. This was out of kilter with the times as many industrial companies were struggling with the decade’s roaring inflation, caused in part by the hike in the oil price after the Yom Kippur war in 1973 between Israel and various Arab states.

2/There were some clouds on the horizon though. Full service agencies provided their big clients with just about everything from PR to market research, including media planning and buying. But the blokes (they were nearly all blokes) in the media department felt unloved. Paul Green, the founder of the UK’s first media independent, claimed the carpet at his then agency Garland-Compton stopped at the media department door. His company, Media Buying Services, and a clutch of followers drove a proverbial coach and horses through agency margins as they set up their own businesses and took away a percentage of agency commission. Green is said to have walked in to his first client meeting as an independent and offered the client a cheque for £1m, equivalent to the savings on the media bill he was promising.

3/J.Walter Thompson was the biggest agency in the UK and one of the top handful in New York. In London it combined a raft of ex-public schoolboys in the account handling department (often double-barrelled like two of its bosses John Lindesay-Bethune and Michael Cooper-Evans) with an even more formidable array of boffins. One such was John Treasure who had run the agency’s research outfit the British Market Research Bureau (which wasn’t official at all) and another was creative director and later chairman Jeremy Bullmore, still around as a consultant to WPP. Another was Stephen King who is credited with inventing account planning alongside Stanley Pollitt of Boase Massimi Pollitt.

4/But the 1970s was dominated by Saatchi & Saatchi (the brothers’ version) which had set its eyes on supplanting JWT as top dog, first in London and then the world. JWT annoyed Charles Saatchi no end because he thought it was snobbish and looked down on the likes of him. So much so that when Saatchis was at its empire-building peak he moved its HQ to London’s Berkeley Square (traditional home of JWT) and erected a huge Saatchi & Saatchi sign on the building, leaving visiting JWT clients in no doubt as to who was top dog.

5/Arguably the most flamboyant character in 1970s advertising was Peter Marsh, founder of Allen Brady & Marsh. Marsh, a former actor, took showboating to new heights, greeting guests on a throne which he had secured from the Royal Shakespeare Company. ABM, which was famous for its jingles written by creative director Rod Marsh, won a number of huge accounts including Whitbread Tankard and Trophy, Woolworths and British Rail. For the British Rail pitch Marsh filled the agency reception with overflowing ashtrays and instructed the receptionist to dress down and attend to his visitors only reluctantly, fag in mouth. Just when the BR bosses were about to leave in disgust Marsh bounced down and informed them severely that this was how their customers experienced their service and he was there to change things. He didn’t of course.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.