The Ad Industry: All Shook up

When I left university in the mid-80s, many of my smartest contemporaries went into advertising. This was pre-Big Bang, so the City was still a bit stiff and blue-blooded. The most dissolute bloke in my year (he collected a 'Douglas' = Hurd = a Third) went off to trade bonds at Merrill. Business school was for Americans, few understood the arcane world of McKinsey, and private equity was what you had in your Post Office account.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

No, advertising was the sexiest of professions: creative, racy, handsomely rewarded and its best output admired by the nation in water-cooler conversations the day after it had been launched like an ocean-going liner during News At Ten's commercial breaks. Successful ad men and women got a Ferrari as a bonus and went on to become the next Alan Parker or Ridley Scott. Ad agencies were so intellectually cocky they tried to take charge of their client's strategy - the Saatchis even tried to acquire Midland Bank.

How things have changed. With media fragmentation, globalisation, the rise of the digital universe and clients more savvy about losing half their marketing pounds down the back of the sofa, advertising's glory days are well and truly over. Alex Benady's piece - containing a lot that is nostalgic for those of us of a certain age - explains why and how the business lost its lustre, yet changed for the better.

Another contributor to advertising's changed circumstances is the relentless rise of the public relations industry. Malcolm Muggeridge described PR as 'organised lying' and going into it in the mid-80s meant you were either a huckster or a loser who couldn't make the graduate scheme at JWT. Not any more - as our interview with Finsbury's powerful boss Roland Rudd shows. He is a supreme fixer: he has fixed top-level access for MT many times. And he looks like the next 007.

A good reputation is now recognised as vital in business - perhaps the most important asset of all. Look at John Lewis and the adoration it receives from the British public: everyone wants to shop at its supermarket Waitrose; hardly anyone wants to shop at Kwik Save.

Finally, I've never read any of the works of lateral-thinking guru Edward de Bono. After reading Dave Waller's feature, I'm not sure I'm going to start now.

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