David exodus from Ogilvy shows problems holding companies have retaining creative talent

One of WPP’s better ideas in recent years was to form David, an Ogilvy offshoot named after founder David Ogilvy.

But all isn’t well: David Miami MD and global COO Paulo Fogaca is off to join David founders Juan Javier Peña Plaza and Ricardo Casal at their new agency GUT (below) and oversee their offices in Miami, Buenos Aires and São Paulo.

This, of course, is what we used to call a breakaway, once a regular occurrence in adland as disenchanted staffers went off to do their own thing. The three founders of Bartle Bogle Hegarty did just that when they quit TBWA, in its pre-Omnicom days. There’ve been fewer since that golden era (for some), most notably perhaps James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest when they left Y&R London to set up adam&eve in 2007.

But the birth of adam&eve was a protracted and painful affair, which shows how the future facing breakaways has changed. TBWA probably wasn’t too delighted when messrs Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty went their own way but the birth of their new agency in the 1980s was relatively smooth. At that time there was a whole raft of them. Simons Palmer was a breakaway from Gold Greenlees Trott for example.

Then came Martin Sorrell who ascertained, correctly, that a business whose assets were famously described as “going up and down in the lift” was hardly a solid base for a big public company. Sorrell made it his business to ensure it was very hard to leave WPP to do your own thing. Contracts insisted on ever-lengthier spells of “gardening leave” in which no contact was permitted with former clients. The founders of adam&eve were sued by Sorrell when they left Y&R for an alleged contact with Lloyds Bank, although the initiative seems to have come from Lloyds and concerned a separate piece of business.

Lloyds did, indeed, move to adam&eveDDB (as it became) some years later but the newbie agency was nearly strangled at birth.

WPP, which owns Ogilvy and David, doubtless still has measures in place to make breakaways difficult. Although it’s hardly new CEO Mark Read’s style to pursue individuals so ferociously. One of Read’s mantras is to reward and retain talent, so the David exodus will have hurt.

David may bounce back from its current travails but that looks pretty challenging in the circumstances.

There’s another point here too. the second great age of UK advertising in the 1980s (the first was the 60/70s with Collett Dickenson Pearce and Boase Massimi Pollitt) featured a gaggle of newbie agencies, some of them breakaways. Another one was Lowe Howard-Spink, formed by ex-CDP MD Frank Lowe and planner Geoff Howard-Spink.

They were hungry for both survival and success and the best way to achieve this was stand-out creativity. This defined the much later adam&eve too.

The UK’s dismal showing at the Cannes Lions – second most awarded country (just) but way behind the all-conquering US – may be a sign of the iron grip of the holding companies on talent. Trouble is such talent seems to flourish better away from said holding companies.

Well you takes your money and you makes your choice…

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About Stephen Foster

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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.