Robert Jenkins: where would I work now?

RJ picRobert Jenkins is a New Zealander who has worked in Australasia, Europe, the US and Asia – mostly for big international advertising agencies including Ogilvy, Grey and BBDO. He opened his own agency in London and eventually sold it to TBWA. His career has been underlined by the opportunity to create advertising for Mercedes-Benz in nine different countries. And the highlight, he claims, was working with David Ogilvy at O&M New York. Now semi-retired and living in Manila, he splits his time between teaching, freelance writing and swinging a golf club (badly).


That’s easy. Any agency that is successful, produces admired work and is run by the people who own it. Here’s why:

That prolific old fart, George Parker, got it exactly right when he started calling big, publicly-held shops “Big Dumb Agencies” (BDA’s). They have but one aim in life – to produce value for their faceless shareholders. And it’s all David Ogilvy’s fault.

In 1966, Ogilvy & Mather was the first agency to go public. (D.O. bought the Chateau de Touffou shortly thereafter.) And guess who the biggest outside shareholder was? Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. Anyway, O&M went public, D.O. got a 12th century chateau and the future course for advertising agency ownership was set.

(Sir Martin) Sorrell pissed-off the Saatchis, left and started WPP. Leverage buyout after leveraged buyout followed. Being public, O & M was easy meat for the “odious little shit.” Agency owner-operators (including me) continued to cash in their chips and the BDA’s got bigger (and dumber).

It all came to a head when I worked for a BBDO agency. I always thought Omnicom was a less dumb BDA because it allowed the owners of the agencies it bought to remain in control. (Clemengers is a good example.) And even the agencies they owned – like AMV – continued to flourish creatively because of the BBDO mantra: The Work, The Work, The Work.

Then I attended a very big BBDO staff meeting. Allen Rosenshine (left)Unknown-7, a copywriter who became CEO of BBDO Worldwide, got up and said, “It’s no longer about The Work, The Work, The Work. It’s now about The Results, The Results, The Results.” That particular agency’s journey to top-tier BDA-dom had begun.

So thanks to David Ogilvy (OK, slight exaggeration here) the ad business is controlled by the big, dumb publicly-owned groups. But thank goodness there are still a few, brilliant, owner-operated shops for me to choose from (if I was 50 years younger). By the way, D.O. always regretted going public.

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