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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What's With These Ad Agency Names?



I was delighted with the news that JWT was going back to J. Walter Thompson. It is their name – earned over 150 years.  I was equally pleased when I heard that Draft/FCB was going back to just plain FCB; I wrote about this several months ago.  

These changes got me thinking.

I am a big proponent of agencies being called by their principals’ names.  After all, clients like knowing that the people whose names are on the door are going to be involved in their business.  There are few, if any, really well known agency leaders any more – partially because their names are no longer on the door. I have had candidates ask me about the senior executives at many of the new agencies.  They just aren’t well known.

Once upon a time, when one got to the top of the profession, their name went on the door.  Today not so much. 

This is probably a generational thing.  The new company names are young, hip, modern. The world may be changing and names along with it.  Many of the “new” ad agencies are smart and successful and I am sure they deserve their success. Some do superb work.  But, I think that if I were a client, I would prefer to entrust my business to someplace where the boss’s name is on the door.
Its only a guess, but one reason many of the new (some are 20+ years old) agencies don’t have the principal’s names on the door is because they are trying to be more democratic.  Not having a personal name on the door makes it easier if a partner leaves, which happens with some frequency; corporate names don’t have to be changed in that case. But having a name like Mother or Taxi or Strawberry Frog or Big Duck (you get the point) does not lessen employee turnover. Nor do these contemporary names mean that the work is better or fresher.  It isn’t the name that counts, it is always the work. 

Agencies which don’t use their principal’s names on the door are at a big disadvantage because advertisers and others in the advertising business just don’t know who their executives are.

When you talk to these agencies and go on their websites, there is often a clever explanation (sometimes not) as to the meaning of their name.  But I miss the names of their leaders on the marquee.  The advertising business needs a new generation of leaders.  Unfortunately, the business has few leaders of stature. I believe that some of these leaders are known in the creative community, but not so much within the larger business.  Unfortunately, their company names make and keep them invisible.

We need new icons in the business.  I understand that by not putting their names on the masthead, the theory is that the whole agency gets credit.  But it isn’t the whole agency that presents at a sales meeting or to a corporate board. It is a strong and powerful individual.





14 comments:

  1. Amen.

    I think "Duck" names are silly. Silly at a time when advertising as an industry must prove its value to clients.

    I think this is all part of Hegarty's statement that advertising has retreated to the fringes. These are fringe names.

    Maybe we should sound like law firms if we want to be as respected as law firms are. I would never trust a lawyer from a firm called Spastic Octopus.

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  2. Ditto for the loss of names like Frankel, Ryan Partnership, etc. Taken over by firms that hardly know what they stood for or do: Burnett, Epsilon and the like.

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    1. The big, public agencies, are simply buying growth to offset often negative balance sheets. The holding companies demand it.

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  3. Those who truly know and understand the Branding process certainly appreciate the tremendous importance of “naming” any product, service, or company. It ultimately becomes the center-piece of everything to follow – not the least of which is Brand positioning.

    At its best, it’s all a very well-researched and highly deliberative process that takes into account the heritage of an established brand; or the lack thereof for a new one. In any case, it is a very critical choice in the final marketing analysis – at least for brands that hope to have any consumer longevity and Brand Equity (aka “goodwill”) on their financial books.

    But in our new digital age, I am reminded a lot of the music industry, where brand names have historically and routinely come and gone; evolved; morphed; whatever, into other more contemporary brand names. The Beatles to Wings and Plastic Ono Band, and then eventually back to “Paul McCartney” and “John Lennon”. The Buffalo Springfield, Hollies and Byrds to “Crosby Stills & Nash”. The Police to “Sting”. Culture Club to “Boy George”. Nsync to “Justin Timberlake” … all the kinds of “leaders” and talents that I think Paul Gumbinner was referring to.

    The thing is and MY point being … You have to have accomplished something really amazing or noteworthy before you can successfully put your personal name “on-the-door”. Short of that, I suppose Mother, Strawberry Frog, or Leaping Lizzards (just made that up, I think) will have to do for now. Best to all, Bill Crandall

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    1. Bill, you don't have to be a major achiever before your name is on the door. Jay Chiat and Guy Day had done nothing amazing or noteworthy before they opened Chiat/Day. Ditto with Chuck Porter, I believe. My point is that these people became leaders in the industry simply by having their names on the door. Putting their names up front meant that they stood behind their work rather than hiding behind an obscure name.

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  4. My father, Guy Durham, founded an agency in the early 1980s called Homer and Durham, which then became Lowe Tucker Metcalf, then Lowe... you get the point. When my dad sold his agency his name on the door wasn't really an asset- it was a liability for a growing agency.
    I'm the president/founder of Big Duck (www.bigducknyc.com), which I founded in 1994. My thinking was that naming it after myself ties me- and my identity- to the firm, which wasn't my goal after I saw what my father and others experienced. It's not all about me. Instead, I defined the tone I wanted, then brainstormed unexpected ways to communicate it. Big Duck was born.
    A few years later, when I explored changing it to a more expected name, I was met with serious pushback. We're celebrating our 20th anniversary this month at Big Duck and I still regularly hear from our clients and others that the name sets us apart as being creative, inspired and original.

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  5. Sarah, your father was one of my favorite copywriters. I knew him well when I was an account guy and he was one of my first clients as a recruiter.

    I am glad that the name of your agency works for you.

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    1. ha! What a small world, Paul! My dad was a great copywriter indeed. If you ever want to grab lunch and chat about him, etc I'd love that. I miss him deeply and love to hear stories about him in advertising!

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  6. I was once employed by Dewey, Cheatem & Howe. The agency never won any Clios, but if I recall correctly, the principals there did drive very nice cars.

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  7. I get your point. We're now Chuck's AgencyFinder

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  8. To Anonymous ... Thanks for the old "Dewey Cheatem & Howe" joke. Had forgotten about that one. Very funny! BC

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  9. That is good info for everyone to know. I have actually become really good friends and he has helped me tremendously.


    Licensing Company & Product Licensing

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    1. Mark: Thanks for your comment. Can you clarify? Friends with whom? Helped you how?

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