Paul Simons: here’s advertising’s future in the new model era

This is late MAA partner Paul Simons from two years ago, on the changes he saw coming in adland. And they have…

If we could stand back from the world and look backwards and forwards we might get a clearer perspective of what is happening in the world of advertising and marketing; to some not a particularly worthy consideration for intelligent people but on the other hand a key pursuit of commerce as we understand it today.

My guess we would see a landscape of turbulence and change where the future will look very different from the past.

There are clear indications of significant change such as the merging of VML from the US with Y&R. This isn’t a merger, it is a takeover with the VML management firmly in all the key roles. The author of this very surprising and unexpected move is Mark Read, the new CEO of WPP.

Remaining in the WPP camp Ogilvy is experiencing pain with the structural shift from vertical silos of separate P&L’s between the various specialisations to one big happy family. In the UK the boss of the Ogilvy assets is Michael Frohlich, having been the boss of the PR business.

These few examples don’t prove a thing but are indicative of change that would not have happened ten years ago. Remaining with the Ogilvy example, the origins of cultural change probably began in the mid-’90’s when Shelly Lazarus (Below) was made global CEO, Shelly had previously worked in Ogilvy Direct. She remained in the role for 12 years when she was replaced by Miles Young, another Ogilvy Direct senior player. In recent years Annette King has been UK group CEO, another Ogilvy One (Direct) senior manager.

So Ogilvy has had management oversight for two decades by people with a particular DNA, one that is different from the classic advertising DNA.

I am not suggesting or implying this is a bad thing, just an observation of change that is likely to be a big clue to the future.

One of my senior sources commented that people from the top end of the direct/digital worlds are more clued on to business challenges than classic advertising folk, therefore as clients become obsessed by the data they feel most comfortable working with agency people who talk the same language.

There is no doubt Mark Read, the new CEO of WPP is a very smart man; Cambridge economics graduate, MBA from INSEAD, Henry Fellow at Harvard, with a stellar career but…he has never run an advertising agency where creative supremacy is paramount. Does that matter today? Former boss Martin Sorrell hadn’t either.

Read can talk the talk with top clients, could probably do a job swap with many unlike most ad people as they would get bored too quickly.

Looking back the leaders of the influential ad agencies have tended to be creative, such as Boase, Trott, Hegarty, Abbott, Saatchi (Charles), et al whereas we are heading to a different place where the leaders are more akin to Sorrell and Read, both from the same educational pod, both numerate, both progressive, with several other attributes no doubt.

My advice to clever students thinking about a career in advertising is: go and get an MBA first from a good business school and enrol to the future not the past.

One Comment

  1. An interesting perspective and based on the pendulum swing towards ‘performance’ marketing/short-term thinking over the last 5+ years – in many respects it rings true. However, my gut is what marketers need (and want) from their agencies is different thinking not more of the way they have been tending to think more. In fact, all the research i’ve seen says that marketer’s prioritise the need for creative thinking (and growth) across all facets of their business. With respect, the drift towards crisis within the agency business, pretty much directly tracks the money/numbers guys taking over the management & direction of the large agency groups over the last 10+ years. The only bright spot within the agency industry, being the huge growth in the independent sector, where clients can get to work direct with real strategic and creative practitioners. To that end – my advice to students would be, the clients want you to be different to them – that’s why they need you. So learn how to be strategically and creatively brilliant – all the rest, particularly numeration will be done much better by computers.

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