Famous Agencies Or The Lack Thereof

Sitting here in Saatchi and Saatchi London I often get told, although not by the people who work here, that I’m in the only agency my mum has heard of.

That’s not quite true. My mum used to be an above the line copywriter in London, so she’s heard of quite a few agencies.

But that aside, the fame of S&S does get mentioned quite a lot. I recall being at college and having an account person from there showing us a vox pop she had made asking people to name an ad agency. They only named S&S, even if they happened to be standing outside JWT or BBH (a bit of mendacious editing was used there, I’m sure).

Then there’s that truism that it’s ironic that agencies are unable to create big famous brands out of themselves. After all, if S&S could do it, why can’t anyone else?

I have no idea, but it does seem odd, because when you think about it, there are great benefits to be had from such fame:

1) People want to work for you. They’ve heard of you, therefore you must be the best and then they can tell their mums and dads, who will think they do something significant for a living. I once had a team resign because they wanted to go and work on more brands their mum had heard of. Understandable. This is a way of attracting better staff than you would otherwise and probably being able to pay them less.

2) Clients want to give you their business. Similarly, I once lost a client because apparently the uber boss of the company wanted to tell his mates he was with Charles and Maurice’s place (he had moved to M&C, which, I suppose, is sort of the second most famous agency in the country. I bet most of the bovine mouth-breathers in the general population don’t even know the difference, the fucking idiots). So the same effect of basking in a reflective glow occurs and that translates into cash and accounts.

3) Fame begets fame. If people want to interview an industry figure or do an article about advertising then it makes sense for them to choose so-and-so from Saatchi and Saatchi because it’s easier than asking so-and-so from Wieden and Kennedy, you know, that agency that did the Honda ad where it all went round a room like Mousetrap.

So why, in all the years of advertising, particularly the last thirty, has no other agency managed to do this?

We’re supposed to be the experts. Surely it’s like a doctor treating his own sprained ankle, or a vet sorting out his manky salamander? And yet 99% of agencies do it like a decorator who who gets his own wallpaper overlapping and his tiles skew-whiff. Or a prostitute who can’t manage a wank. Or something.

Can anyone think of a reason why an agency would not want to be famous? I can’t really see a downside, or at least a downside that outweighs the massive upside.

And, if so, why isn’t your agency trying to do it?