Once Upon a Time.. Part 2 of The five biggest mistakes marcomms players make

From working as an editor in the UK, to taking charge of a Hong Kong magazine, industry journalist Tony Murray has formed innumerable opinions. Interested to hear a few we invited him to share his thoughts via a regular guest blog. Use the comments form below if you have any feedback or written bile to spit as a result, and please remember; if you don’t like it, he doesn’t work for us…

The Bastard Love Child on Speed of the Obsessively Positive Spin is to try and completely reinvent the world and hope everyone else joins in. They won’t.
My favourite example of this is the once mighty Poulter, not long ago the largest advertising agency in Yorkshire. Back in the late 90s, Poulter had finally completed its long-mooted buyout from its mercurial founder, Graham Poulter. It was a move that was not without acrimony, with little love lost between the vendor and the buy-out team. Poulter (the man) had long been an absentee landlord and the senior management team pretty much held a gun to his head, threatening to walk with all the business unless he sold it to them.
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Finally achieving the buyout, led by long-time MD Richard Lewis, the senior team were jubilant. Then it all went more tits up than Jordan in zero-g.
The acquirees were advertising men. Even today, despite all the lip service paid to media-neutrality, integrated marketing and whatever the latest bollocks term is for the same old shite, advertising men want to make telly. That’s proper advertising that is – none of your shelf wobblers or DM flyers. To be fair, Poulter made some very good telly, especially for the likes of McCain, Rocking Robin and Yorkshire Water.
It didn’t actually make any money though and, gradually, all these accounts vanished. This left the agency solely propped up by its, then very profitable, sales promotion division. It was no secret that Gary McCall, head of sales promotion, and his chums were quietly seething that all the SP profits were quietly being pissed away propping up the agency’s dying above-the-line interests.
One morning, while still at Adline, I got a phone call from Richard Lewis, until then an evangelist for the mbo’d Poulter. It went something like this:
“Hi Tony. It’s Richard. I just thought I’d tell you that I’ve decided to leave Poulter. So has the creative director. And the FD. And three of the directors…???
Me: “What????
Richard: “Yeah, we just all woke one morning and decided we wanted to go and do something else. Fishing maybe.???
Me: “All of you woke up on the same morning and decided you wanted to go and do something else????
Richard: “Yes. That’s right. Maybe open a sandwich shop.???
Me: “You, the CD, the FD and four other directors????
And so the conversation continued, with Richard blithely insisting on the combined spontaneity of the decision and me suggesting that the fact Gary McCall was taking over was a Bit of a Giveaway.
To be honest, it was insulting. I was disappointed in Richard as he was somebody I’d had a lot of respect for. There were then as yet undiscovered tribes in the Amazon basin who knew this was a palace coup, backed by the banks to whom the mbo team had hocked most of their organs.
The sad thing is, even people who work in and with the media frequently don’t understand how it works. I remember an angry phone conversation with the marketing director of Wilmans, the wallpaper folk. I’d spoken to her about the fact it was widely rumoured they had put their account out to pitch. She’d confirmed it. We ran the story. She rang up to complain:
“You can’t run that story. I never signed a press release off???.
Me: “Listen luv, this is how the media works…???
Ooh, I was an unreconstructed patronising git back then. Now, of course, I’m more PC than George Dixon.
The lesson to be learnt here? Don’t insult the media, well unless you spend a great deal of money advertising with them. Then you can pretty much do what you like. People won’t share your ego-salving fantasy of how you’d like the world to be, except when there’s a huge stack of cash involved.
Tomorrow: Spam, dominance, submission and collateral damage