Agencies give too much away for free, but do not make the most of real client opportunities: Hornby

Horny, Mayo, Kelly and Hama (on screen)

Hornby, Mayo, Kelly and Hama (on screen) at Spikes Asia

Advertising agencies give far too much away for free, but do too little with the opportunities they have after winning a client’s business, Johnny Hornby, a British advertising executive and entrepreneur said at Spikes Asia today.

Hornby was on a panel chaired by Bates CHI & Partners boss David Mayo that debated what adland can learn from Hollywood, which included comic book writer, artist and actor Larry Hama and Hollywood producer and screenwriter Gabrielle Kelly.

“We do give away too much. But we do far too little with our ideas once we’ve got the business,” he said in answer to a question from Mumbrella about agencies giving ideas away for free in pitches.

On the comparison between the two industries, Hornby said: “Hollywood makes things for people they maybe don’t want, but they will pay for it. That’s all part of the experience of going to the cinema. But brands are saying ‘buy me’ and are trying too hard.”

The idea of coming up with ideas that clients may not be prepared to buy is all too rare in advertising, he said, although his company invests GBP1 million (US$1.6 million) of its profits on ideas that they might not take to clients – and might not work.

Hornby co-founded CHI & Partners in London in 2001. The agency sold a 49 per cent stake to WPP seven years ago and combined with what was formerly known as Bates Asia. He now runs The & Partnership, which houses a media agency, a digital and CRM shop, and a PR agency.



Hornby’s comments echo the sentiments of David Mayo, who said while on the panel: “Ad agencies don’t do anything creative until they’re briefed and paid, whereas hollywood produces speculative products”.

Hornby said that Hollywood is a good analogy for the way the advertising business is headed.

“Nowadays, advertising used to be the hero. But it is now relegated to being the thing that points at a platform that could be something completely different,” he said.

“The role of advertising is now to point at something else. For the people who grew up in the traditional advertising world, it’s difficult to digest that advertising is now the supporting cast.”

Hornby was alluding to a comment from Larry Hama, the brains behind Mort the Dead teenager for Marvel Comics, who said that a movie is “like an ad for everything else you can buy,” such as merchandising and brand spin-offs.

Hama created the Mort the Dead teenager toy before selling the idea to Hollywood producers.

David Mayo suggested that data is the way creative agencies can back good ideas that clients might not initially want to buy.

“No client would say that they don’t want great ideas,” he said. “But most of the good work comes from collaboration with good clients, and saying ‘let’s see where this idea goes’.”

“Yes, there’s risk aversion in our business, and you’ve got to get the maximum out of that ad dollar. But if you could measure 80 per cent of what goes right through data, you’d be better prepared for things to go wrong,” Mayo said.

“Data helps marketing people relax a bit. When people relax they tend to be more creative.”



Hornby added that the briefing process for agencies needs re-evaluating to enable more effective marketing ideas.

“Agencies and clients need to look at where the value is. A creative brief shouldn’t be an advertising brief. You should start with a question such as, do we need to attract more customers? You need to identify where the actual marketing value is before you get to an executional brief. And that comes from getting different sorts of agencies around the table.”

If Hornby was a CMO, he said he’d be “shitting himself” right now, because of the large array of channel options at their disposal.

“That’s why agencies and marketers need to put data at the heart of their discussions,” he said.

“It’s up to the agency to go upstream with the client and say: ‘Before we go anywhere, we need to work out where our customers are.’ That will help a CMO keep their job.”


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