A Letter to Santa

BJ&A has done work for the7stars and Byline Times, both mentioned here.

This is the last Cog Blog of the year; Christmas, family, cooking, presents and fun all mean I won’t have time to post again until the New Year. So, it seems appropriate and timely to use my mighty platform to write to Santa. Here’s hoping.

I’ve now been in this business a quite embarrassingly long time – 50 years. That’s longer than I was expecting when I started out, in fact it’s longer than I was expecting when I started this blog 6 years ago.

Fortunately, I like advertising. I like the people, the discussions, the passion, the different opinions, the best creative work, the dynamism, and the speed of change even if speed doesn’t necessarily mean progress.

Most of all I like the agencies (creative and media, just to be clear). I want them to succeed. I want them to be in a position to do their best work as their best work is just terrific.

Things have though been going wrong.

Media agencies got greedy; and at the same time they became arrogant, thinking they could do absolutely everything even though often they can’t.

Creative agencies got stifled, partly by their holding company owners whose interest has always been financial (see the greedy comment) over and above the excellence of their work, and partly by clients.

What on earth was Audi doing reviewing out of BBH? Even setting aside the cost of the review to BBH, what was the internal cost to Audi of a review that went nowhere? The time spent, the meetings held. The cost of pitches to clients is rarely raised or discussed. It should be.

What were the network media agencies doing acting in their own best interests ahead of the interests of their clients?

Given that, here’s what I would like:

  • Media agencies to place planning front and centre of everything they do. Charge properly for the service. Then execute to the plan, not to some agency deal policy. Media auditors and consultancies need to get up-to-speed; the likes of ID Comms (who rightly hate the auditor tag) get it; the largest, Ebiquity clearly does not.


  • As part of this, the largest media agencies need to rediscover thought leadership. Yes, I know all about the articles that appear from one or two ‘transformation leads’ but they’re too often random reflections on a broad topic. Agencies used to be great at leading the media industry’s thinking on media issues – now they seem too in thrall to the likes of Facebook and their ilk to say anything. And when they do (as Initiative’s CEO did here, their holding company masters slap them down).


  • We need to rediscover fun. I don’t know who writes the GrumpyAgencyGuy tweets (@grumpyagencyguy), or the MediaLad (@media_lad) tweets but they and the consistently wonderful Dave Trott (@davetrott) and Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian) all help keep us sane. If you don’t follow them, you should.


  • The shining light in media agency land is the independent sector. The7stars, Bountiful Cow, December 19, Goodstuff have all had excellent years, all have a point of view, are all brave and entrepreneurial and all express themselves fearlessly. I’m hoping, even expecting that they, as a man (and woman) have a brilliant 2020.


  • Closer ties between media and creative remain essential. More collaboration, less fighting turf wars over who gets to keep what share of the revenue. It’s all so tiresome, and tribal. Good luck to all those agencies forging close media and creative links.


  • Agencies of all shapes and sizes can surely play a role in curbing the lying, and the editorial excesses that exist amongst vendors. Place a greater planning importance on integrity, on data accuracy, and on accuracy of reporting. I’m a massive newspaper fan, so I wish every journalist trying to ply their trade and showcase their skills despite what is a pathetic management obsession with clicks, all the best. And to my friends and client at the investigative newspaper and site Byline (@bylinetimes) – long may you dig.



  • Media research has been a favourite Cog Blog topic of late. All the best to the advertiser trade bodies, the WFA and ISBA as they step in to knock a few heads together in order to get things done. Let them succeed.


  • To Facebook – I wish an outbreak of integrity and honesty in the content they accept; and in the data they produce. A big ask, even for Santa.


  • Finally – to every creative award organiser and jury. Led By Donkeys (@ByDonkeys) have done stellar work; they deserve to be recognised by the industry they are not in (but should be).

I’m posting this on Election Day in the UK. Tomorrow, some of us will be elated, some of us disappointed. At the end of the day, life goes on; we need to remember we are all a great deal luckier than most.

Finally, Santa, it would be great if we were all a bit kinder and more generous to our fellow man in 2020 – even if we disagree. We can all listen better.

Thanks for reading the Cog Blog this year (in every increasing numbers) and may you have a very Happy Christmas, and a wonderful and successful 2020.

1 Comment
  1. Merry Christmas Brian, thanks for the blog and here’s to year 51

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