Rob Morrice Smart Newhaven

Navel grazing - Rob Morrice interview

By The Drum, Administrator

February 13, 2008 | 5 min read

Rob Morrice speaks out

“Too many people in Scotland are still trying to emulate the glory days of the 80s and 90s. The work Scotland is producing has not changed.

“The big agencies are just playing lip service to new disciplines and have not really embraced areas such a digital and direct marketing.”

“For example,” he added as part of the interview, “very few good digital campaigns are coming out of Scotland.”

A rant perhaps, but one that still resonates even amongst some of the people that still live and work North of the Border.

Sue Mullen, a co-founder of through-the-line company Story agrees with his primary sentiments: “When I started out, direct marketing certainly wasn’t being embraced. But now that moves are afoot to grab a larger share of the land, more and more big agencies are claiming to ‘do’ direct marketing. They are claiming to ‘do’ digital. They are claiming to be integrated.

“There is a level of complacency. People have jumped on the band wagon without really embracing the true offering and without understanding the people that they need to do so.”

Advertising Jibe

However, not everybody was so sanguine in the face of the Morrice attack. Pete Mill, former Halls man and 60Watt partner says he is 100 percent wrong.

“I’ll dismiss the Hall advertising jibe as just another Rob Morrice attempt at being controversial,” he said, “But it is naive to suggest that you can ‘sort out’ Scottish advertising by retiring off the experienced and replacing them with younger people. Yes, there are benefits to employing younger people – they’re a lot cheaper, for one, and they have considerable energy, enthusiasm and an abundance of ideas – but without training and on the job experience, many ideas are going to be misguided.

“You only have to look at the London advertising scene to see that older people are in bigger demand than ever. The reason for that is simple: experience matters. It always will.”

One problem facing Scotland was also one of its great strengths. Without doubt Hall Advertising was a remarkable agency that put together what is in anybody’s book a real dream team. It is not surprising that most of today’s agency’s have a little bit of the Drumsheug Gardens legend somewhere in their gene pool.

But Morrice contends that it is this incestuous nature of the Scottish market which may now be stunting its growth. He would, no doubt, point to businesses such as Frame – which was co-launched by a man who had no previous connection to advertising; Alan Frame.

Seen by many as a breath of fresh air, there was a real sense that if it were not for Alan Frame’s untimely death, his business could have transformed the Scottish market.

Said Phil Adam of The Leith Agency, “A lot of people go on the record about how Scottish agencies are just as capable as their London counterparts. I sometimes doubts whether they actually believe that in their hearts. Alan Frame did.”

But men like Frame are few and far between. The reality is the industry cannot depend on outsiders for growth. People who are already in the industry are the ones most likely to take it forward.

Which is why, succession planning is a real key – the lack of which is why the door to growth for many remains locked shut. Said another former Halls man and founder of Mighty Small, Adrian Jeffery: “Big companies always have the same conversations. They talk about bringing in good, younger people because at some stage the older ones will step away. The problem is many do not deliver.”

Model business

He cites The Leith Agency as a model business on the succession front: “It was founded by three guys over twenty years ago. Since then, wave after wave have progressed through the ranks.

“In contrast, people that used to be employed at my old agency 1576 simply moved on… many other agencies didn’t allow for the progression of talent.”

Jonathan Shinton, partner at Newhaven, like Jeffery cites the succession system as a vital cog in the wheels of the industry’s development, but says that investment in training and experience for younger staff to progress within a company depends very much on the state of the agency’s finances.

“If a company is growing it will naturally look to invest in younger people as part of that expansion,” explains Shinton. “If you’re doing well, investment in new people, training and development should come naturally. If companies are struggling, it follows that a natural consolidation focusing on smaller numbers of more experienced people will occur. It’s not a lack of vision or desire; it’s simply a matter of financial health.”

So, while Morrice’s remedy for the malaise affecting Scottish advertising may leave a bitter taste, the consensus seems to be he has a point. If it is to prosper Scottish advertising needs more new kids on the block. However, there is still a role for the old blokes from Halls too.

Rob Morrice Smart Newhaven

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