Paul Simons: why Andy Main’s switch to Ogilvy signals a change of course for ocean-going agencies

The news about Andy Main (below) being seduced by WPP to leave Deloitte’s and take on the captaincy of the good ship Ogilvy is a glimpse of the future for the industry. Across the board historically the top job usually goes to someone from the same cohort, either within the organisation or doing a similar job elsewhere. Not this time. This is proper not faffing around.

John Seifert, the outgoing CEO of Ogilvy, has been at the ocean-going tanker for over 40 years, can you begin to imagine what that must have been like? That isn’t a dig at Ogilvy, it would be true at any other establishment ad agency from the 1940’s/50’s. Especially American. (I know David Ogilvy was a Brit btw.)

Andy Main starts from a different place, one that is likely to be attractive to many a client. Back in the day ad agencies able to pull creative rabbits out of the hat were feted by top clients; they were given something they couldn’t do themselves. I have had many requests for “something like X.” I bet this slot has been owned by John Lewis/adam&eve for years.

Now it is a different requirement; the client will not want to talk to the team who write funny copy and do the colouring in, they want to talk to ‘brains’ who have a wizzo piece of analytics still smoking from the computer.

Clearly the industry has been stumbling towards this scenario – attempting to drag legacy talent into the Brave New World – with obvious reluctance. The writer with a 2:1 English degree from a decent university will be thinking: “I didn’t sign up for this, I wanted some fun, shoots in exotic locations and the obligatory weekly long lunch at The Ivy. Not a long and dull meeting reviewing the latest data analysis on sales in the North West.”

We have seen several brave attempts at joining up the dots of the 60-second film with direct marketing, a genuine need for many campaigns. Historically it appears to have been better executed with the individual parts in the hands of specialists and/or a tyrant overseeing the total package. M&C Saatchi’s attempts in the UK to get their dots joined up has brought about a number of car crashes, Ogilvy has tried several times (latterly with Michael Frohlich in the UK) to create ‘OneOgilvy’ but this also seems to have crashed and burned – losing senior staff in the process such as the charmingly smart Charlie Rudd who was persuaded to leave BBH to join O&M as chief exec.

Mr Main has a challenging time ahead attempting to change the direction of the ocean-going tanker, not least due to past initiatives to stamp a philosophy on the 10,000 or so people who are employed by Ogilvy around the world (Shelly Lazarus had her mantra – Brand Stewardship – a claim the majority either ignored or didn’t believe was true, maybe both).

My crystal ball however is telling me Andy Main’s appointment signals further change in the advertising world down the road. It has the hallmarks of WPP’s desire for progression in a reluctant world.

Time for the lifebelts and muster station rehearsal.

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About Paul Simons

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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. Avatar

    Paul and I have walked similar paths. So I respect his view. Because I have learned.

    I love the title “Ocean Going Agencies”. They are done. The changes are huge and not to be ignored. Bill Bernbach apparently said “You can’t navigate forward by looking in the rear view mirror”.

    New model folks. And seduction will be at least as important as instruction….