After 34 years in the football wilderness, on August 12th 2017, my team Brighton played their first game in the Premier League.

This momentous occasion led me to reflect on the huge similarities between the worlds of football and agencies.

No doubt there are many that I will have missed, but here are a few to kick off with (see what I did there!):

  • The importance of teams. Whether it is in a Chemistry Meeting or playing the league leaders, the team will pretty much always win out over a group of individuals
  • Supreme optimism. You may have lost five games/pitches in a row but NEXT time, you are definitely going to win!
  • The lack of BAME representatives running agencies/teams. Our manager Chris Hughton (he of the Blue and White Army fame) is the only black manager in the Premiership, and one of only three in the four divisions of English football
  • The constant movement of talent between both agencies and football clubs. One “man” clubs are a rarity in both worlds, whilst both Campaign and the tabloids are full of pictures of new signings holding up the literal or proverbial shirt
  • Everyone knows when the pitch presentation is and the Transfer Window closes, but both are invariably characterised by a mad last few hours (or indeed minutes) of trying to get everything over the line!
  • The love of league tables (either new business or Premier League)
  • The sad fact that so many stories appear on the front page as the back page…albeit of Campaign rather than national newspapers

So, if there are many similarities, what can the agency world learn from the football industry?  Whilst I suspect there are many things, here are just a few starters:

Caretaker Managers

When a team loses its Manager unexpectedly, the sensible ones put in a Caretaker Manager for a period of months whilst they make a more considered, long term appointment.

Faced with the need to find a new CEO, many agencies feel the need to make an instant appointment – often the Planner – rather than take their time by appointing an interim Manager whilst a full search takes place.

A little more time spent on finding the right person will undoubtedly be best for all parties in the long term.

Yellow Cards

When a client calls a pitch, we ask them whether the news will be a surprise to the incumbent agency. Invariably the response will be: “well it shouldn’t be, we’ve given them enough warnings”. Unfortunately the message doesn’t always appear to have been heard so maybe we could introduce a formal Yellow Card warning that the client can give the agency to let them know that they are in danger of announcing a review.

Valuing itself

When Sky and BT approach the Premier League for negotiations on TV rights, I don’t suspect that they will be told “well, you may be looking for £2 billion, but we could probably do it for £1.5 billion”.

Our industry is full of stories of agencies undercutting each other and “doing work for free”. Surely the time has come to take a leaf out of the world of soccer and start collectively valuing ourselves.

Experience

The average age of a Premier League manager is currently 52.4 and there is only one under 40. I don’t know the stats on the average of an agency CEO, but I suspect it is ten years younger than that.

Some times experience can be a good thing and shouldn’t be underestimated.

And finally a couple of suggestions which sadly are unlikely to see the light of day, but wouldn’t it be great if…..

Having spent years training and nurturing their talent, agencies were able to charge a transfer fee if one of their players was poached by a competitor.

There was a closed season when clients weren’t allowed to review. No serious games are played during the summer period and there is always talk of a Christmas break. Adopting the same practices in the agency world wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Pies in the skies? Ten years ago, if you’d told me that Brighton would be playing in the Premier League, I would have said that was an impossibility, so you just never know!

 

A version of this article appeared in Campaign on 11 August 2017.

About The Author

Martin Jones

Managing Partner

Martin joined J. Walter Thompson in 1985, initially working in the agency’s Information Centre. He joined the New Business Department a year later and worked his way up, ultimately becoming New Business Director in 1991.

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