Paul Simons: the perils of in-housing and Specsavers

I was wondering what is going on at Specsavers after seeing some sponsorship idents several times and thinking how awful they were: a full 180 degrees from their often award winning standard.

They have been an internal creative department hiring in the production as and when they need it. They seem to be highly productive with a body of very good to excellent creative work.

Perhaps the most well known film is ‘Sheepdog’ (below) first aired in 2008. Directed by my old partner in crime, Chris Palmer, delivering another classic piece of advertising that should be in the school of creative excellence. There are many others of course, the Clown on air at the moment, the Vet, Basil Fawlty, et al. There is also some less good work coming out of their stable, they are not going to get a Sheepdog every time, but normally better than the ad breaks they find themselves in.

The brand name is about sight and Sheepdog is a great demo of failing sight, I am aware of a slow deterioration in my sight and I am due back in to see them this week. However they also have a range of hearing products so there needs to be care on how this is handled. In ‘Clown’ (below) a laundry basket is parachuted on to the ice and snow as relief for the lone scientist. He opens the top of the basket and out jumps a clown shouting “Surprise, surprise”. Our scientist gets back on the radio and says “I said send supplies”.

Very well done right down to the detail and is up there with Sheepdog which gives it status for the mother brand although the point being made is about hearing and not sight.

However recently there have been a series of short idents that plunder the formula of Clown, i.e. mistaking speech due to hearing impairment. They are pretty awful, low level limp jokes using the surprise/supplies idea. Fortunately they seem to be taken off air pretty speedily and replaced by the award winning work, one dating back to 2008. (Anyone know another brand that runs TV work that is over ten years old?)

I have often wondered how an in-house creative department is able to avoid being pressured in to producing rogue work; I can think of senior people bullying more junior and sensitive creatives. Going back in time (to avoid personalities) BT was similar but not quite the same. All marketing folk had to commission creative work via a central unit, they were banned from dealing with agencies directly. BT was a 30 stone gorilla in the room to us at Simons Palmer, given its size as an advertiser, so held life or death over our young agency. The politics within BT were pretty bad as the marketing folk basically resented the structure.

On several occasions the head of the central unit pushed us in a bullying way to do things that made no sense to the outside world but placated an internal audience. If the top man said jump, our man would ask ‘how high?’ and pass on the answer to the agency.

This must be a real challenge with an ‘in-house’ agency because the dynamics are different from an arm’s length ad agency. It is much easier to intimidate an internal employee rather than an agency employee. If the latter happens it is easy to move people around and avoid the pressure. I have needed to do this quite a few times where an account person is being brow-beaten by the client yet the bully complains about the agency.

Changing the account person has often dealt with the situation and resulted in better work.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.

One comment

  1. Great insight Paul, thanks. This nails one of the top reasons why ‘in-housing’, where a client owns and operates their own creative function, has never gone mainstream. For a client to mandate it too compounds the issue.

    The growing trend for clients bringing their agencies onsite (or ‘inside’) however neatly circumvents the downsides of in-housing, but delivers much of the benefit. The agency’s natural independence of the client’s business means it can operate in the way it always has. It’s an ‘arm’s-length’ agency, but sits next to the client. Not easy to do but some agencies have mastered how to do this (mine included) and the work speaks for itself.

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