Johnny Hornby has defended the role of in-house agencies and said the recent industry debate about their creative output is a sideshow when clients are more concerned about how automation and data are changing their businesses.
Hornby, the founder of The & Partnership, said in-house agencies are capable of producing high-quality creative work that can shape culture and pointed to his agency’s recent work for in-house clients such as The Times and Toyota. "I don’t agree an in-house agency can’t create culture," he said.
He spoke out after David Golding, the outgoing group chief strategy officer at Adam & Eve/DDB, wrote in Campaign earlier this month that there is an industry "divide" between agencies that make culture such as the John Lewis Christmas ads and those that create collateral and drive conversion.
Golding described The & Partnership and other in-housing specialists Oliver and Wunderman Inside as being in the latter category of collateral and conversion.
Hornby made clear on Twitter over the weekend that he disagreed with Golding when he posted a picture of The Times’ latest ad campaign, which features animals in place of squabbling politicians on the green benches of the House of Commons as Brexit looms.
"From the people some say are only there for the collateral, yet another lovely piece of culture," and "I am not sure but this must be what David Golding calls ‘culture’", Hornby tweeted.
He told Campaign he "slightly resented" the fact that Golding had "lumped together" The & Partnership with the other agencies because they are "very different".
Oliver has made its name in producing collateral and Wunderman is a CRM agency that specialises in conversion whereas The & Partnership provides a broad range of services, according to Hornby.
"We do the collateral, the CRM, the media, the high-end strategy, the creative – the whole lot," he said.
Hornby claimed that Golding "makes himself look a bit of an advertising agency traditionalist" by dividing agencies between culture and collateral or conversion and not fully considering the wider impact of automation, data and programmatic trading.
"His thing came from an advertising agency lens whereas three-quarters of the clients in the world are having a conversation about in-housing, media, programmatic, how much they can automate," Hornby said.
"Those are the big conversations that I worry about," and "that is where the money is", he added, noting that agencies also faced a growing threat from new entrants such as consulting giant Accenture.
By comparison, the debate about whether an in-house agency is making culture or collateral is "a smaller conversation", Hornby said.
The & Partnership has been growing fast thanks to in-housing and its latest financial results show gross profit – a measure of fee income – increased 22% to £86m and pre-tax profits jumped 54% to £12.3m last year.
Revenues, which include billings for its media agency M/SIX, rose 34% to £602m.
"The growth has come from going to very big clients and building them in-house agencies where we do all of that [creative, media, programmatic and more]," Hornby said, noting how The & Partnership expanded its brief for Toyota from 14 to 19 countries last year.
He stressed he had "huge respect" for Adam&Eve/DDB and was "super-fond" of Golding, whose wife, Sarah Golding, is one of the most senior executives in The & Partnership and runs its London office.
Hornby said he wanted to have "a healthy, happy, friendly debate" and he praised Wunderman, with which The & Partnership collaborates on a lot of CRM work, and Oliver.
Hornby noted Campaign had named both The Times’ new campaign and Toyota’s recent work on Corolla as ad of the day and claimed "the standard of work we are producing for The Times and Toyota is pretty bloody high – I’d put it up against most agencies".
He conceded that "the work produced by Mother and Adam & Eve/DDB at awards shows" is "probably better" overall than what in-house agencies produce.
"But I’m not sure that’s what most clients are thinking about or talking about," he said. "One danger for the Adam & Eve/DDBs and Mothers is that they are fighting over a smaller and smaller proportion of the cake."