If you’re in advertising and you title your book “[Your Name] on Advertising” you can be fairly certain that everyone who reads it will know that you’re placing yourself on the pedestal with David Ogilvy and his Ogilvy on Advertising, the work that drew a line in the earth for books on this business since it was published more than 30 years ago. To those unfamiliar with the peculiar form of camaraderie that is a hallmark of the agency business, one might think this sort of behaviour would open one up to the slings and arrows of outraged practitioners. Those familiar with how our business works, of course, know that simply opening one’s mouth launches the missiles, so you might as well do whatever the hell you want and let the chips fall where they may. John Hegarty knows this and, as “Hegarty on Advertising” makes pretty clear, he’s never been one to let a little potential outrage get in his way. He would probably say that if you’ve got the chops, you don’t have to worry about it.
So the question is, does he – or rather, does Hegarty on Advertising – have the chops?
Yes. Yes it does.
Hegarty on Advertising is an exceptional book, one that should be required reading by anyone in this industry, and one that will certainly work its way into any classes I teach on the subject.
Like many books on the business – Ogilvy on Advertising for one, My Life in Advertising for another – Hegarty on Advertising is one part memoir, one part sermon. Or rather, it weaves the sermonizing into the memoir in a way that not only uses the examples from his own life to prove his points, but it makes the agency he and John Bartle and Nigel Bogle founded in London in 1982 as the logical extension of his thinking and experience (Does this mean that Hegarty on Advertising is occasionally a promotional piece for BBH? Of course it does. Does that surprise you? Really? And just how many hours have you been in advertising?).
And as useful as the memoir is – explaining how the creative revolution in the U.S. came to Britain and died, how Saatchi and Saatchi grew out of Cramer Saatchi where Hegarty worked, how TBWA came about, what made BMB and CDP so important, and even how BBH started – the real value is in Hegarty’s observations from a career as a creative, business owner and iconoclast.
Like when Hegarty writes “You cannot create great work unless a little bit of you goes into it, be it your heart, your soul or your beliefs. Whatever you create – it could be a painting, writing, designing or even advertising – the work that results is an expression of you.” Which I am certain is mind-numbingly obvious to any creative worthy of the title, but is, I have found time and again, actual breaking news for account people, clients, spouses, offspring and anyone else who doesn’t understand why daddy is throwing his desk out the window because someone wanted to change the headline on an ad that is probably just going to be killed anyway.
Or when he writes, “Criticising a new agency for doing something different is madness. It’s the constant evolution and the constant innovation that keep our industry fresh and relevant. The challenge for new businesses is to ensure their innovation is relevant and not just a gimmick.”
Or even something as seemingly mundane as this: “It may seem odd to say this, but where you have your office reflects what you are. This is why, when accountants run creative businesses, they more often than not make the mistake of locating the company where it’s cheap rather than where it’s inspiring. With Benton & Bowles it was clear that smart offices in Knightsbridge were not where the revolution was going to take place.”
Stop me if any of this sounds painfully relevant to you.
One often comes to the end of books like Mr. Hegarty’s depressed that the dysfunctionality and mendacity described is endemic to our business. But Mr. Hegarty is optimistic – and rightly so. “For me” he writes, near the end of the book, “this is the most exciting time to be in advertising. There is everything to play for. As technology changes so much around us, our task is still to find ways to unite people. And the way you unite them is with ideas that capture their imagination: that’s as it is, as it’s always been and as it always will be.”
Amen to that. And to a lot else in this book.