In the wake of Incredinburgh, what now for Gerry Farrell, The Leith Agency and Steve Cardownie?
It is a saga so ridiculous that it has been lampooned on Channel 4 comedy show 8 Out of 10 Cats.
And now Gerry Farrell, one of Scotland’s most notable admen, finds himself in limbo having been suspended by The Leith Agency for his part in the Incredinburgh fiasco.
Suspended: Gerry Farrell
The veteran creative director was suspended after embroiling himself in a spectacular bust-up with Edinburgh councillor Steve Cardownie, who slammed Farrell’s marketing campaign for the Scottish capital and took particular umbrage with his ‘Incredinburgh’ slogan.
In response, Farrell fired off a series of tweets defending his work, criticising Cardownie and implying that the councillor had deliberately set out to sabotage his campaign.
Farrell’s missives accused Cardownie of leaking to the media details of the council’s supposed unhappiness with the campaign in a deliberate attempt to derail it. It is a charge Cardownie denies.
Frustratingly - though understandably - few people within Scotland’s creative scene wished to go on the record about the situation due to their ties with Farrell and the sensitive nature of client relationships. Off the record they have been more candid.
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A senior figure from a rival Edinburgh creative agency, who asked not to be named, told me he believed that someone had actively sought to sabotage the campaign.
They said: “It was leaked. There was a big launch party planned and The Leith was told to withdraw the line before it officially launched. So somebody has leaked that. Someone has been underhand.
“It irritates the life out of me. You spend all this taxpayers’ money putting together a committee of marketing professionals, ostensibly to manage the campaign, and then when you don’t like what they’ve done you undermine the whole thing and put the kibosh on it. It’s outrageous really.
“The person that did that should be held to account because they’ve wasted a lot of public money. I would really like to see that person brought to justice. They should be brought to account.”
The irony is that if anyone did deliberately set out to quash the campaign, they’ve failed miserably. The Incredinburgh slogan has become a trending Twitter hashtag and has arguably reached the attention of far more people than it ever would have done without this circus.
“Let’s face it, if the commercial had run as originally envisaged with that line at the end of it, I don’t think anyone would have even have commented on it,” said one copywriter I spoke to, who thought the Incredinburgh line was fairly innocuous. “People would’ve just accepted it.”
As Farrell’s employer of more than 20 years, The Leith Agency now faces the decision of whether or not to stand by its man.
“What they’ll be doing now is taking the pulse of all of their clients and getting reactions,” said a former prominent figure at The Leith Agency. “What they are probably getting is a lot of support from their clients who really like Gerry. But then they’ll be taking the temperature outside of that and from clients’ bosses and seeing what the wider comment is.
“They won’t have made a decision. There will be extraordinary board meetings and discussions going on and emails firing back and forwards and the staff will probably be baying for blood and saying ‘this is ridiculous, bring him back’, that kind of thing. They won’t know what to do.”
Those close to Farrell have told us he is taking the matter very seriously.
“There is no question about it, Gerry feels he is genuinely in a vulnerable position,” said a friend.
One theory doing the rounds is that The Leith’s board could see this as an opportunity to ‘freshen things up’ and hire a younger man to pursue accounts that it couldn’t with Farrell at the helm.
But a source close to the agency insisted this will not be the case: “They’ll never kick him out over something like this. They just won’t kick him out.”
They added: “The Leith has always been bigger than any one individual. All three original founding partners have been and gone and the business has carried on.
“I don’t think one person departing would cause the business to fail. Having said that, if anyone ever came close to being the exception to that rule it would be Gerry. He is very important to the business.
“He has remained loyal to the business for well over 20 years, and I’m convinced the company will reciprocate. I don’t think this is going to be the end of the relationship between Gerry Farrell and The Leith Agency.”
As they follow the formalities of the suspension process, neither Farrell nor The Leith Agency have been prepared to go on record to explain what will happen next.
But it will be a significant day for Scotland’s advertising industry if Farrell is removed from his post permanently.
Jason Stone, the editor of David Reviews and a contributor to these pages, said: “Gerry Farrell is a big figure on the scene, an important figure on the scene and I actually think it would be really sad for Scotland, which has so few charismatic people working in the business, to lose Gerry over this.”
Cameron Clarke is The Drum’s opinion editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org