When Frank Lowe was a young account man, he was running the Ford account at Collett Dickenson Pearce.
The agency had done great work for Ford.
CDP was proud to be doing great work for all their clients.
They knew they were the only really creative agency in the UK.
But Frank Lowe was worried.
Ford weren’t buying the latest batch of ads.
And they were a huge client.
He tried everything he could think of and nothing worked.
Eventually he went in to see his boss, John Pearce.
He said “John, I don’t know what to do. We’ve done really great work for Ford but they just won’t buy it.”
John Pearce thought for a while.
Then he said “Well, you’d better fire them then.”
So that’s what Frank did.
And that’s when he recognised, you didn’t try to cling onto a client at all costs.
You built a relationship with a client.
If you had a great relationship, everything else worked.
If you didn’t have that, you were clinging on, begging them to stay.
Just like a bad marriage.
It affected and eroded the agency.
Then CDP might just as well be like any other big-bad agency.
But it wasn’t.
They believed money followed quality, not the other way around.
If CDP chased quality, good clients would always want them.
So they must protect the quality.
That was what made them different, gave them an advantage.
If they just chased money they were no different, they had no advantage.
As the say in New York “If you want to pick the fruit, you have to water the tree.”
A few years after that, I was a junior copywriter working at BMP.
One evening I was alone in the creative department and Martin Boase came in.
Martin said to me “Ah, Trotty, John Webster’s not around and I need a creative opinion.
I’ve just had the Tetley Tea Bag client on the phone.
They want to give us the account, but we have to use the Tetley Tea Folk.
What do we think, can we do anything with them or not?”
I thought for a minute, and I said “Personally I don’t think they’re very good. I’m sure we can do something better. I think the best thing to do would be to drop them and start again.”
And Martin said “Yes, I thought as much. You’re probably right, I’ll tell them, we’re not interested.”
And he went off to refuse several millions pounds worth of client.
On the basis that the work we’d do would harm the agency’s reputation.
And that would be a bigger long-term loss than a short-term financial one.
How Martin behaved, and what Frank learned, was that the work comes first, second, and third.
And great work doesn’t get done by committee.
It gets done by great people.
People with belief, and passion, and intuition.
Ron Collins once told me what happened when he wrote the Cinzano campaign.
The campaign that ran for a decade and won every award there is.
The campaign that regularly features on the ‘All-Time-Best Advertising’ shows that TV viewers vote for.
Ron had the idea sitting alone in his office.
He said the script almost wrote itself.
He felt the old electricity.
He knew it was good, he knew it was exciting.
He wanted to show it to someone.
He ran out into the corridor and bumped into Frank Lowe.
By this time Frank was running CDP.
Frank said, “What have you got there Ron?”
Ron said “I’ve had this great idea for Cinzano.”
And he showed Frank the script.
Frank read it.
He said “This is marvellous. Who should we get to shoot it, Ridley or Alan?”
Ron said “Hang on Frank, we’ve got to research it first.”
Frank said “I’ve just done that. Who should we get to shoot it Ridley or Alan?”
I wonder why everyone says advertising’s not as good as it used to be.