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AdLand Through The Decades: Paul Kitcatt on how direct marketing challenged ad agencies in the 1990s

In the second instalment of The Drum’s series looking at AdLand Through The Decades, Paul Kitcatt discusses advertising in the 1980s and the changes in industry brought about by technology.

Speaker: Paul Kitcatt

The 1990s saw the end of the advertising agency monopoly on brand talk and opened the door for more confident direct marketing agencies to claim their place in the creative process, according to Kitcatt Nohr chief creative officer Paul Kitcatt.

Speaking at Creative Social’s AdLand Through The Decades event in London, Kitcatt, who began his career at Brann Direct Marketing in 1989 as a trainee copywriter, discussed the pre-1990s hierarchy in advertising and how direct marketers took their opportunity during the decade to change perceptions of the trade.

“I quickly discovered when I joined that there was a caste system operating in the marketing world,” he explained to an audience of creatives. “Advertising agencies were at the top and they looked down on direct marketing agencies.

“Direct marketing agencies looked down on sales promotion agencies, which were very much at the bottom of the heap. That’s how it was, and the ad agencies were the richest and oldest businesses in the marketing universe.

“The fact was that the ad agencies had the relationships at the top level with clients, and everyone else was struggling, really fighting for budget below them,” he went on.

“We wanted to be recognised; we wanted our creative ideas to cut through and we wanted results for our work. We wanted to prove what we were doing really mattered.”

However, being taken seriously in industry was no easy task. In 1991, the agency tried to enter the IPAs effectiveness awards only to be flatly rejected from submitting an entry for a direct marketing RSPCA campaign which raised an “enormous amount of money”.

But when the 90s suffered a “small by the standards of 2008” recession, advertising agencies began losing staff under squeezed budgets and the slight shift in landscape gave direct marketers an opportunity to show their strengths.

“It was probably the first time that ad agencies really began to hurt and budgets began to shrink,” he said. “There was pressure on the industry and one of the things that ad agencies at the time started to talk about was brand stewardship.

“They defended their position by saying they were the stewards of the brand. Now, I thought from my position within direct marketing that we should take issue with that. The future, in my view, belongs to the people who understand the human mind as well as the process of building a brand.

“But of course, from a direct marketing perspective, that was our territory, that was our home turf, understanding the consumer as well as the brand.”

Kitcatt added that advertising agencies did not welcome direct marketing’s fresh confidence.

“I think it’s fair to say that ad agencies at that period in the early 90s were not particularly happy to hear other kinds of agencies even speaking about brands,” he said. “That was considered their territory. We shifted the debate.

“It was a good position to take because when the recession ended, Brann Direct Marketing doubled over the next two years and our business shot ahead. It was a hugely successful strategy for us.”

The next step for the agency was to drop the ‘direct marketing’ part of the name to become Brann, and it soon moved into interactive design and digital.

Kitcatt went on to set up Brann London in 1997, before in 2002 moving to what is now Kitcatt Nohr.

Before Kitcatt’s look at the 1990s, Havas Worldwide’s Gerry Moira took a wander through the 1970s and BBH’s Rosie Arnold gave an overview of the changes the 1980s brought to the advertising industry.

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