The month in advertising: The never-ending game of musical chairs

All the big issues in adland this month...

Berkeley Square… Knightsbridge… Mornington Crescent. No, not an abridged version of the game on the "antidote to panel shows", Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, but the latest home for the remnants of J Walter Thompson after its merger with Wunderman.

With the songs of nightingales largely absent from this tatty corner of NW1 and the shops in the area more budget than boutique, JWT’s impending move to Greater London House is a revealing symbol of how much the circumstances of a once great ad agency have changed – and not all of it through its own fault. It’s also indicative of the wholesale changes that were predicted in this organ and continue into 2019.

If the game of Mornington Crescent is to give the illusion of skill and strategy by deploying long-winded and complex rules, the acquisition of Droga5 by Accenture seems to have its origins in a rather more clear strategy – an audacious attempt to give the consultancy some sparkle and a big dose of magic creative dust (more on that later).

Former Wunderman staff dominate the new Wunderman Thompson management team – perhaps unsurprisingly – although there was the surprise appointment of Steve Aldridge, late of the now defunct Partners Andrews Aldridge, as UK chief creative officer. And how welcome to see him back in the fray. Wunderman Thompson might have data in spades and an enviable and growing client list, but examples of brilliant creativity have been somewhat lacking. Hopefully he’ll be able to supercharge these efforts.

Another agency name to bite the dust this month is WCRS – it’s now merged into parent brand Engine, although there was still an excuse to throw a party recently to mark what would have been its 40th birthday – a timely occasion for Robin Wight to announce his retirement, an era-ending moment. The House of St Barnabas played host to the occasion and the agency managed to assemble an impressive cast of WCRS alumni.

The spirit of entrepreneurialism that WCRS – and, in fairness and more recently, Bartle Bogle Hegarty – nurtured seems to have always been intrinsic to its DNA and it drove others on. In its pomp, as well as producing defining work, WCRS was clearly an incredible incubator of brilliant talent – among the guests were countless examples of people who had worked there and had later gone on to either help change the face of the industry or contribute to its continued vibrancy. Amanda McKenzie, Charles Vallance, Phil Georgiadis, Mark Roalfe and Andrew Robertson (and, yes, they were mostly men and of a certain age) all cut their teeth there and many came to pay homage to its passing. Whether we’ll see the current crop of agencies prove to be such fertile breeding grounds is open to question.

With so many agencies now under the tight grip and cost control of holding companies – in many ways the antithesis of entrepreneurial culture – it would be surprising. But perhaps not as surprising as the aforementioned acquisition of Droga5 by Accenture. While chatter that Droga5 was on Accenture’s hitlist had been doing the rounds for some time, the pair seemed to be the most unlikely of bedfellows – surely it couldn’t be true?

Hitherto Accenture’s agency purchases have tended to be of more modest size and with more modest creative ambitions and reputations (c.f. Karmarama). While not quite a global player in geographical terms, Droga5 has carved out a global reputation for the scale, heft and scope of its creativity, most notably in the US but increasingly in the UK. Having undergone a much-needed reboot here, which involved the hiring of Bill Scott, David Kolbusz and Dylan Williams (all ex-BBH), it was just last month deservedly named Campaign’s Independent Agency of the Year for 2018.

This independence was shortlived, however, and whether it can keep its spirit alive without being subsumed by the dead hand of grey-suited management consultants, with their focus on metrics and measurability, we’ll have to wait and see. Accenture would be wise to keep its dead hands at arm’s length if it wants to maximise its own return from the purchase.

Elsewhere in adland’s seemingly never-ending round of musical chairs, there was a further changing of the guard at Leo Burnett when Charlie Rudd, formerly of Ogilvy & Mather (and alumni of BBH), returned as chief executive – reuniting him with his former boss Annette King.

Don’t worry, though – his predecessor, Gareth Collins, went to Mcgarrybowen, taking up a position made vacant by the departure of BBH alumni Jason Gonsalves, who has become brand director for the relaunch of music, fashion and culture magazine The Face, whose heyday neatly coincided with that of WCRS. It’s exhausting trying to keep up – in fact, it makes you wonder what Mrs Trellis from North Wales would make of it all.


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