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.