The A List 2019: The year of living dangerously

It's a sign of the times that many familiar names are absent from this year's A List following a turbulent 12 months for the industry. Those luminaries to make the grade are, however, a disparate bunch with surprisingly strong feelings about Doctor Who, winning the lottery, blockchain and boxsets.

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A particularly hearty welcome to 2019’s Campaign A List – congratulations are certainly in order to those individuals who have made the cut. This was no mean achievement after a brutal 2018, when so many familiar names disappeared from the industry. However, the times they are a changin’ and we are delighted to welcome a number of new members to the A List club.

Some of the stalwarts of the past decade are conspicuous in their absence. Where, for instance, is the sparring match between Jonathan Burley and Paul Lawson – one of the annual highlights? Well, we like to think that they are simply taking a break and will return once the industry rediscovers its mojo. But the industry’s finest wits have continued to give us plenty of laughs and some new wags have emerged, proving that any talk of a brain drain has, fortunately, been overstated.

For instance, when asked why advertising is still brilliant in 2019, Sarah Douglas, the newish chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, declares that it is because "I’m the boss now". Her colleague Bridget Angear also makes reference to the departure of Cilla Snowball from AMV – a moment that helped define 2018 – with her response: "Cilla launched her own agency specialising in millennials: Snowball & Snowflakes." Not much can match the brown-nosing of Wavemaker’s Stuart Bowden, who offers his simple two-word explanation for advertising’s brilliance: "Mark Read." 

These replies mark a divergence from the standard – and yet reassuring – response that the reason why our industry is still a great place to work is because of the overwhelming talent of the people currently within it – and of the newcomers who continue to be attracted to work in it. Moreover, advertising allows us the opportunity to influence popular culture and make positive social change (as well as help flog product, which is not quite so romantic but equally true), while technology enables us to do this in so many new ways.

But let’s focus initially on that first point – the talent of the people. After all, that’s what the A List is all about. In the spirit of "side hustles" (which caused some consternation in the 2018 A List) and entrepreneurship, two subjects that have been much discussed in recent years as the old strictures of employment loosen, this year we offered our respondents the opportunity to stretch their creative muscles by launching their own imaginary brands. How heartening to see so many disparate ideas in response.

M&C Saatchi’s Moray MacLennan revealed himself to have a "long-time association with hip-hop and skateboarding" (who knew?) with his "Soupreme" brand – although he was unclear as to what it actually did. Daniel Gilbert from Brainlabs – a new entrant – suggested "Fingerpups. Semi-permanent tattoos of puppy faces on your fingers", which, while undoubtedly surreal, lack any obvious purpose.

Lucky Generals’ Danny Brooke-Taylor is slightly more practical in his brand choice with his "Lucky Genitals" lube suggestion, while Michael Pring from AMV’s "Pringo’s Bingo and Darts" seems remarkably achievable. But full marks in this section go to VCCP’s Michael Lee with his "WTCRS" suggestion. "It’s an ad agency and blended watercress smoothie in one," he reveals. Given that WCRS is now a defunct agency brand, linking it to a health fad is an imaginative way to bring about its resurrection.

Talking of resurrection, in 2018 the Tardis smashed its way through a glass ceiling with Jodie Whittaker at the controls, much to the delight of many in the industry. Progress is progress, after all, and should be celebrated wherever we can find it. So when the time comes – as inevitably it must – for Whittaker, the 13th Doctor, to regenerate into something different, what form would the industry most like this to take? (Never let it be said that the A List doesn’t ask the most probing of questions.) Wieden & Kennedy’s Helen Andrews thinks Kim Papworth would be a sound choice; Thinkbox’s Tess Alps suggests Declan Donnelly; Snowball is put forward by several fans, while the time-rich Garry Lace – late of this parish – is the man for the job, according to AAR’s Paul Philips.

Not everyone is excited by the thought of a new Doctor – Karmarama’s Ben Bilboul certainly isn’t alone when he suggests the show should be cancelled, while BMB’s Trevor Beattie thinks the next Doctor "should be forced to sit through it". But the most convincing and enthusiastic response comes from improbable Whovian Simon Davis of Blue 449. "There is no next Doctor Who because as Time Lords they co-exist simultaneously. We all remember when River met the 11th Doctor before she met the 10th – mind literally blown," he reveals. Davis isn’t the only one to reveal hitherto private interests – Uncommon’s Nils Leonard plucks for time-swallowing game Skyrim for his boxset. A hangover from his time in the garden, perhaps?

The divergence of opinion over the next Doctor shows us that advertising is nothing if not a broad church. Other things – objects, events and occasions – that our A Listers deem overrated include "quinoa" (Unlimited Group’s Tim Bonnet and M&C Saatchi’s Kate Bosomworth); "smoking weed", which "apparently helps people to be more relaxed and less stressed" (according to VIOOHs Jean-Christophe Conti); "tall, slim, good-looking men" (Lewis Silkin’s Brinsley Dresden); "ego" (Publicis Media’s Sue Frogley) and "the English rugby team", which, incidentally, is ranked fourth in the world by the International Rugby Board (M&C’s MacLennan, who is arguably no stranger to Frogley’s bête noire). 

On the obverse, MacLennan thinks the IRB’s seventh-best-ranking Scottish rugby team is underrated (perhaps also revealing that a strong grasp of statistics is not high on his priorities); Conti asserts that "selling weed" is overrated; Dresden makes his case for the greater appreciation of "short, overweight, balding men" and Adrian Coleman argues that he is underrated in contrast to his VCCP colleague Charles Vallance, who is the opposite.

Blockchain could also quite easily fall into the underrated category. Every year Campaign likes to throw a curve ball at its A Listers to gauge their reaction to a recent fad or technological innovation whose effects, according to the principles of Amara’s

Law (which advertising usually embraces so tightly), will likely be overestimated in the short term but underestimated in the long term. 

When we asked the great and the good how they would be using blockchain in 2019, we received a wide range of responses. Uniquely, Creativebrief’s Charlie Carpenter says he’d use blockchain to "wipe his arse" (and although he isn’t the only wag to make a link between blockchain and blocked drains and lavatories, his is the most direct response). 

Not to be outdone, Now’s Remco Graham is clearly so in thrall to all blockchain has to offer that he manages to dedicate all of his answers to the technology. Elsewhere, MRM McCann’s Nicky Bullard and Grey Consulting’s Leo Rayman agree that they will deploy the technology to "stop conversations dead". So it is perhaps unsurprising that it takes Accenture’s Anatoly Roytman to come up with something earnest and serious. He announces that in 2019 he will be using blockchain "for B2B mostly. Will also think of how to apply it to B2C, but we would need to see an order of magnitude improvement in performance." So that’s everyone told, then, but we can’t help thinking Bullard and Rayman might be closer to the truth.

As already stated, circumstances have dictated that this year’s A List is a more select bunch than ever before – its members could be deemed winners of the lottery of advertising life (with apologies to Cecil Rhodes – and that’s a collection of words you won’t find in many places these days). Securing your place is really worth celebrating. But imagine, for a moment, that you topped off the very real achievement of being a regular name in this supplement by winning the actual lottery? The one on which you spunk two quid every so often in the forlorn hope that you might be able to give up work, pay off the mortgage and start afresh (while simultaneously helping good causes, of course). What would you do then? Depending upon the winning sum, surely the opportunities are limited only by imagination. So what to make of Creature’s Dan Cullen-Shute, who, on winning the lottery, would do "a really good poo"? And Bowden is up to his usual logrolling tricks, claiming that he’d invest the money in WPP shares. Somesuch’s Kim Gehrig takes a literal approach – she’d "have a picture taken with a massive cheque". 

But many of the most popular answers paid homage to Adam & Eve/DDB’s debut spot for The National Lottery, which depicts some unfortunate souls eking out an existence in the Ken Loach-style dystopia that is life for people who don’t work in advertising or live in London. "I would buy a small, detached house and wait to surprise my impoverished fisherman husband when he comes home," Nick Emmel from Mr President reveals. Carpenter would "Marvel at how easy it is to win the lottery without having bought a ticket. Then say to myself ‘amazing starts here’ and dash out to buy my fisher-lady wife a beautiful new home down the street because, let’s face it, she deserves a break from her miserable, worthless, shitty life."

The spot continues to divide opinion. Adam & Eve/DDB’s David Golding and James Murphy say unrepentantly that they would "make an ad about fishermen", while Matt Tanter of Grey London, which also competed for the business, says: "Look, I pitched long and hard for that business… and I didn’t bloody win it so stop going on about it, all right." Amazing obviously didn’t start there. 

It goes without saying that appearance in this publication is gold-standard proof of your worth. However, given the change that has been engulfing the industry, how best to ensure that your place in this august list is future-proof? Maybe it’s time to turn to the most admired people this industry has to offer – the ones you’d rather be if you weren’t doing such a damn brilliant job of being you.

"Established wits continue to give us plenty of laughs and new wags disprove talk of a brain drain"

The Goldings (Adam & Eve/DDB’s David and The & Partnership London’s Sarah) do a touching Howard-and-Hilda routine of wanting to be each other; PHD’s Mark Holden wants to be his boss, Mike Cooper, for the reason that "I sense he earns more than me" (News UK’s Dominic Carter has a similar wish to be his boss); while the super-rich Murphy and Global’s Stephen Miron are also popular choices. But given that you brilliant, clever, funny and creative people aren’t just thinking about the money – we refer you to the answers given to the first question on the list – there are other suggestions. Martin Sorrell’s driver is a particularly intriguing option offered up by Davis.

No A List would be complete without at least one reference to Sir Martin, who has contributed much to the hue of the industry over a long period of time, and particularly so in recent months. Ogilvy UK’s Rory Sutherland leaves us with this when revealing his go-to boxset. "Narcos," he replies. "Season four (Mexico) is, of course, a thinly veiled reworking of the Saatchi story with a creative brother, an empire-building brother and a diminutive henchman, El Chapo, who eventually builds an even larger cartel of his own." It’s almost a story of our times. In a similar vein, M&C Saatchi’s Jeremy Sinclair takes the opportunity to remind us Sorrell will always be his finance guy in his answer to the last time he felt vulnerable.

And with that, and if the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise, we’ll hopefully see you all here again next year.

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