Isn’t it time ad agencies said to clients: we’ll do the work in the morning and then we’re off to lunch?

Which is hardly the way to operate in a merciless corporate environment – but does it produce better advertising and better agencies (albeit more drunk agencies)?

I was reminded of this reading an interesting article in Ad Age about the way many clients were ditching pitch consultants (on the grounds that they were corrupt etc) and doing it all themselves.

But doing it themselves meant that the brief cum opportunity letter came from the client’s procurement department (which meant that many of the questions were about the sustainability of their toilet rolls and had very little to do with adverts).

One guy was quoted in the article as suggesting the agency made their final presentation on December 26, which shows just how daft and manic business has become.

Arguably the greatest agency in the history of the world was London’s Collett Dickenson Pearce, author of various famous campaigns including Heineken, Cinzano, Benson & Hedges cigarettes, Hamlet cigars, Fiat, Croft Original port and, briefly, Nestle and Ford. Here’s Fiat by Paul Weiland and Dave Horry, directed by Hugh Hudson.

Collett, Dickenson and Pearce were neither here nor there, the agency was administered by managing director Frank Lowe (enough to frighten the horses on his own) with a stellar bunch of creatives including Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull (the best press and poster team ever), Paul Weiland, Alan Parker, John Salmon and, briefly, Charles Saatchi. Famous film producer David Puttnam was also on board, but he only got to be an account man.

Key to the whole shebang was bluff Yorkshireman Colin Millward, the agency’s creative director who was admired by everyone, including clients and journalists. This has never been known since.

Also on board were copywriter Terry Lovelock and his art director Alan Waldie. Lovelock was charged by Lowe with the task of coming up with a campaign for Heineken (then owned by Whitbread) and despatched to Morocco with the instruction not to come back until he had an idea (the money wasn’t intended to last for ever).

Eventually he did and we got “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach.’

On his triumphant return he was rewarded with a company credit card which he promptly deployed to invite the whole creative department and anyone else they had taken a shine to (the secretaries probably, this was the 1970s) for lunch somewhere in the environs of Charlotte Street, where the agency was based.

So this crocodile departed some time before 1pm and re-emerged the next day.

Any client turning up, or ringing up, would be politely invited to try again later. Frank was no doubt biting the carpet (maybe because he wasn’t invited) but he knew, and the world knew, that was how it worked.

None of this would have gone down very well with procurement, obviously.

But CDP, over about ten years, produced great advertising ideas and executions for clients who did exceedingly well. If it were still around today BSKyB, the UK’s biggest advertiser and not noted for long lunches, would be be beating its door down (assuming somebody was there to answer it).

And that’s the value you get out of really brilliant ad agencies. Really brilliant ideas and sod the rest of it although the best account men can paper over the cracks.

But it would probably never work today of course. Well maybe it might, if someone was brave enough to try it.

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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.