Q: Describe the high points and low points of your career in the communications industry to date?
High points were working with creative gods like John Webster at BMP and Mike Cozens at Y&R. There was a good chance you’d get wonderful work, work that you and the client and the agency were proud of, work that consumers loved.
Low points were clients treating the agency appallingly. One story demonstrates the point.
We won a pitch called because the incumbent had failed to get any work made for three years. The blockage was the client’s globally-enforced pre-testing system. The work had to score 3.7, or whatever the number was, before production could be approved.
The client implored us not to bitch about what they knew was an absurd test. They just wanted a solution.
Our account team wined and dined the research company and managed to extract a reel of the top 10 highest scoring ads (I say “extract” because it was confidential). We found the common factor. None of the winning ads had a creative idea.
Our idea-free ad was tested in the normal way. It got one of the highest scores ever from the UK, in any product category.
We’d cracked the problem. Did the client thank us? Far from it. Astonishingly, they insisted we fire the account team.
Why? Because in a few months the agency had solved a problem that had baffled the client for years. They felt shown up. No matter that the account team had mortgages to pay and children to feed. The client wanted them to suffer.
Q: Who has had the biggest influence on your communications thinking and practice - and why?
Rosser Reeves. I might have chosen David Ogilvy or Bill Bernbach. These three are the fathers of modern advertising. But Rosser gets my vote. As well as inventing TV commercials, he’s the only creative to have devised a coherent theory of effectiveness, namely his theory of the USP (“Unique Selling Proposition”).
USP theory has been widely misunderstood. Most commentators think the “uniqueness” comes from the product. Not so.
Q: What knowledge or skill do you have today that you wish you had possessed when you started out?
I wish I’d seen the value of educating myself sooner. My advice:
- Before a pitch, or working for a new client, read every effectiveness entry from that product category on Warc, and every relevant APG strategy paper.
- Learn about the history of advertising. Read the classics.
- Keep up to speed with academic and research thinking. Go to conferences.
- Understand how your clients make money.
The more you know, the more useful you are. Useful people are the last to be fired and first in line for pay rises and interesting jobs.
Q: What is the single, most important change you have seen in the industry since you started? Has it been a change for the better or worse?
Losing the media department. A catastrophically stupid thing for agencies to do.
In the olden days, agencies bought media space in bulk and sold it to clients bespoke. Both parties shared financial risk. It was a real partnership.
Clients got a good deal. Partly because they paid less than if they had bought the space themselves. And partly, also, because agencies made so much money they could offer proprietary consumer research, marketing and brand consultancy, media integration, new product development and, of course, creative content. All for free.
Nobody thought through the problem of charging for creative services that agencies used to offer for nothing.
The idea that clients can’t do creativity is wishful thinking. Clients wrote their own ads, or used creative freelancers, for centuries. Maybe the agency’s content is better – but how would you prove it?
That’s why demonstrating effectiveness has become more important in smart agencies.
Tim Broadbent was the Global Effectiveness Director of Ogilvy & Mather.
He graduated in 1976 with two degrees in philosophy. He started as a client market researcher and moved to account planning at BMP two years later.
He has been Planning Director three times: of an advertising agency, Y&R London, and of two communication groups: Cordiant EMEA (120 offices, four lines of business), and Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific (130 offices and four lines of business).
He has twice won the Grand Prix in the IPA Effectiveness Awards. He has also won four Golds. He served as Convenor of Judges of the IPA Awards and as Chairman of the IPA Value of Advertising Committee. He is a Fellow of the IPA and visiting Professor of Marketing of the University of the Arts, London.
He joined Ogilvy and moved to Beijing in 2006. After six years in China, he re-located to Singapore.
Tim died in July 2015, after fighting a long battle with cancer.
Last updated 19/10/2015