Have Face to Face got it within them to be great?

The problem with writing about an industry is that you can only do a half decent job if you like the subject matter — and the people. And the problem with liking the people is that sooner or later you have to write about those you’ve got to know well.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  April 9, 2006

Have Face to Face got it within them to be great?|~||~||~|The problem with writing about an industry is that you can only do a half decent job if you like the subject matter — and the people. And the problem with liking the people is that sooner or later you have to write about those you’ve got to know well. And then you face a choice — you either try and tell it as you see it, or you tell it as you think these friends and contacts would want to read it. Which is all a roundabout way of declaring a bit of an interest before turning to the topic of the likeable staff of Face to Face and sounding more lukewarm about them than they deserve. The outfit was voted Campaign’s advertising agency of the year. And this week, we attempt to give a snapshot of what the agency is like. You can read Steve Wrelton’s take on that on page 18 today. At the time they won, managing partner Chris Bell described the agency as being good rather than great. I think he’s right. And it rather chimed with the views of one of our jurors, a creative who crossly suggested to me afterwards that Face to Face had “come through the middle”. After all, in other creative categories, the agency had won just one bronze on the night. Others had undoubtedly done work that had captured the jurors’ imaginations much more. So what is it that a client wants from their agency? The creativity may be the most glamorous part, but actually, ability to formulate and deliver a strategy is probably more important. In this market, merely competent creativity, delivered on brief, will go a very long way indeed. And in business, sometimes the most important thing isn’t even the strategy itself, but the fact that you’ve made a decision on it, committed to it and delivered on it. A case study that Face to Face showed me when I visited the agency’s offices many months ago was for client Aujan’s brand Barbican. The strategy revolved around the not-very-revolutionary idea “This is me” — attempting to have the brand engage with its target youth audience rather than talk at them. But the point was not so much the insight behind the idea, as how well they did it. And this, I think, is the main thing that distinguishes Face to Face — not their creativity, which they do have, but their professionalism. Having chosen their strategy, they built the entire campaign and, with the help of the media agency Initiative, the media plan around it. It was comprehensive and professional, with no stone left unturned. It was a campaign that was never going to win a gold Cannes Lion, but it was also one that was right for the client and more than achieved the advertising job it had set itself. The same goes for their South Park-esque work for Air Arabia. Because of its similarity in style to the cartoon, it was never going to win awards for originality. But that misses the point —it differentiated the airline and gave it a friendly face. And that’s what the client was paying for. Speaking of clients, that’s where my other declaration of interest comes from. I was impressed enough with their work to ask them to do some ads for Campaign. The process of working with them to come up with the key brand characteristics was challenging, enjoyable and fascinating. And the outcome was far more interesting and imaginative than anything I’d thought of. So there’s a tick in the creativity box too. But if you were to draw up a list of the ten most exciting creative executions in the Middle East, I don’t think Face to Face would necessarily have anything on that list. Yet. Among the ten most effective, perhaps, but creative, not yet. And that’s not damming with faint praise. In this market, there are not many agencies that can even claim to be good. Good will help many clients achieve quite a lot. The question for Face to Face though, is whether they have now got it in them to be great. ||**||

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