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Ogilvy on advertising : How to run an advertising agency.

How to run an advertising agency.


Running an agency requires midnight oil, salesmanship of the highest order, a deep keel, guts, thrust, and a genius for sustaining the morale of men and women who work in a continuous state of anxiety. It is popularly believed that advertising attracts neurotics who are naturally prone to anxiety. I don't believe this. What happens in agencies is enough to induce anxiety among the most phlegmatic people. The copywriter lives with fear. Will he have the big idea before Tuesday morning? Will the client buy it? Will it get a high test score? Will it sell the product? I have never sat down to write an advertisement without thinking This time I'm going to fail.

The account executive also has reasons for anxiety. He represents the agency to the client, and the client to the agency. When the agency goofs,the client holds him responsible. When the client is bloody-minded the agency blames him.

The head of the agency also has worries. Is such-and-such a client going to fire you? Is a valuable partner going to quit? Will you make a hash out of the new business presentation on Thursday?

Make it fun to work in your agency. When people aren't having any fun, they don't produce good advertising.

Kill grimness with laughter. Encourage exuberance. Get rid of sad dogs who spread gloom. What kind of paragons are the men and women who run successful agencies? My observation has been that they are enthusiasts.They are intellectually honest.

They have the guts to face tough decisions. They are resilient in adversity. Most of them are natural charmers. They are not bullies. They encourage communications upwards and are good listeners.

Many of them drink too much and read little except office paper, in which they drown. With few exceptions, they are decent people, and worth knowing.


It wasn't always so. When I first arrived in New York, some of the agencies were headed by bastards and phonies. Agencies are breeding grounds for sibling rivalry. Will Cadwallader get a corner office before Balfour?

Why did you invite Penneypacker to lunch instead of Morgan?

Why was Sidebottom made a vice-president before Winterbottom? The agency I know best has two Chairmen, three Presidents, two Managing Directors, eight Executive Vice-Presidents, 67 Senior Vice-Presidents, and 249 Vice-Presidents.

You might suppose that nobody would take such nonsense seriously, but they do.

Giving out the titles reminds me of Louis XIV: "Every time I give someone a title, I make a hundred people angry and one person ungrateful."

What can you do to keep sibling rivalry under control? You can be fair, and you can avoid playing favorites.

Said Dr. William Menninger: "The executive is inevitably a father figure. To be a good father, whether it is to his children or to his associates, requires that he be understanding, that he be considerate, and that he be human enough to be affectionate. " If Menninger had been into the transactional analysis, he would have added that the best fathers are 'nurturing' rather than 'controlling'.

Laymen assume that if you work in an advertising agency, you produce advertisements. The fact is that 90 percent of the staff don't.

They do research, they prepare media plans, they buy space and time, they do things loosely described as 'marketing'. And about 60 percent of them do clerical work.

In most agencies, there are twice as many account executives as copywriters. If you were a dairy farmer, would you employ twice as many milkers as cows?

Hathaway Shirt

Friction between copywriters and account executives is endemic in all agencies.

Copywriters traditionally regard account executives as brainless bullies. I know a few account executives who fit this stereotype, but most of them are sensitive and well educated.

Account executives are apt to regard copywriters as irresponsible prima donnas. Some are.


Success in running an agency depends on your ability to hire men and women of exceptional talent, to drain them thoroughly and to make the most of their talents.

The most difficult people to find are those who have the capacity to become good copywriters.

I have found that they always have well-furnished minds. They give evidence of exceptional curiosity about every subject under the sun.

They have an above-average sense of humor. I used to think that nobody could write good advertising before the age of thirty.

Then one day, on a visit to Frankfurt, I asked to meet the author of an exceptionally good campaign.

She was eighteen.

I marvel at the ability of some copywriters to keep their creative juices flowing year after year.

George Cecil wrote the American Telephone advertising for 40 years, and wrote it well.


It is a tragedy of the advertising business that its best practitioners are always promoted into management.

I was infinitely more useful to my clients when I wrote copy than when I was Chairman of the Board.

.... I have always tried to hire what J.P. Morgan called 'gentlemen with Brains'. Did he mean gentlemen in the snobbish sense? I think so. .... Brains? It doesn't necessarily mean a high IQ.

It means curiosity, common sense, wisdom, imagination, and literacy.

Why literacy?

Because most communication between agencies and clients is in writing.

I don't suggest that you have to be a poet, but you won't climb the ladder very high unless you can write lucid memoranda. I persuaded two of my partners to write a book on the subject. I commend it to you. (Writing that works by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson, Harper and Row 1981)

Look for young men and women who can one day lead your agency.

Is there any way of predicting the capacity to lead?

The only way I know is to look at their college records. If they were leaders between the ages of 18 and 22, the odds are they will emerge as leaders in middle-life.

Make sure you have a Vice-President in charge of Revolution, to engender ferment among your more conventional colleagues.


Crown Princes

Spot the comers on your staff, and plan their careers.

Royal Dutch Shell has found that the most reliable criteria for selecting what they call Crown Princes are these:

1 The power of analysis.

2 Imagination

3 A sense of Reality.

4 The 'Helicopter quality' viewpoint- the ability to look at facts and problems from an overall viewpoint.


John Loudon, the distinguished former head of Shell, belives that when it comes to picking people for senior jobs, character is more important than any of these qualities. ....

Books by and about David Ogilvy can be found at Barnes&Noble. 

Who NOT to hire


Never hire your friends.

I have made this mistake three times and had to fire all three.

They are no longer my friends.

Never hire your client's children. If you have to fire them, you may lose the client. This is another mistake I have made.

Never hire your own children or the children of your partners.

However able they may be, ambitious people won't stay in outfits which practice nepotism.

This is one mistake I did not make; my son is in the real estate business, secure in the knowledge that he owes nothing of his success to his father.

Think twice before hiring people who have been successful in other fields

I have hired a magazine editor, a lawyer, and an economist.

None of them developed an interest in advertising.

And never hire your clients. The qualities which make someone a good client are not the qualities required for success in the agency business.

I have made this mistake twice.

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