domingo, março 05, 2006

Dear Bill - The unpublished David Ogilvy – a selection of his writings from the files of his partners


Corporate Culture – a dinner address to the Directors of The Ogilvy Group, and to the heads of a number of The Group’s agencies, in London at Fishmongers Hall, June 1985:

Three years ago Terrence Deal and Allen Kennedy wrote a book about corporate culture. They said:
“The people who built the companies for which America is famous, all worked obsessively to create strong cultures within their organizations.
“Companies that have cultivated their individual identities by shaping values, making heroes, spelling out rites and rituals, and acknowledging the cultural network have an edge.”

Now the concept of corporate culture has caught on in a big way, not only in the USA, but also in England. In a recent article, Frances Cairncross of The Economist wrote, “The common characteristic of success is the deliberate creation of a corporate culture.”
I have been wondering if Ogilvy & Mather has a corporate culture. Apparently we do.
The head of one of the biggest agencies recently told us, “Yours is the only agency in the world with a real corporate culture.”
We seem to have an exceptionally strong culture. Indeed, it may be this, more than anything else, which differentiates us from our competitors.
It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to write it down. I have put it in the form of a letter to Bill Phillips. He has asked me to read it aloud to you. Here goes.

Dear Bill:
You have asked me to describe our corporate culture as I see it.
Corporate culture is a compound of many things – tradition, mythology, ritual, customs, habits, heroes, peculiarities, and values.
Here is how I see our culture.


Some of our people spend their entire working lives in our agency. We do our damnedest to make it a happy experience. I put this first, believing that superior service to our clients, and profits for our stockholders, depends on it.

We treat our people like human beings. We help them when they are in trouble – with their jobs, with illness, with alcoholism, and so on.

We help our people make the best of their talents. We invest an awful lot of time and money in training – perhaps more than any of our competitors.

Our system of management is singularly democratic. We don’t like hierarchical bureaucracy or rigid pecking orders.

We abhor ruthlessness.

We give our executives an extraordinary degree of freedom and independence.

We like people with gentle manners. Our New York office goes so far as to give an annual award for “professionalism combined with civility.” The Jules Fine Award, named after the first winner.

We like people who are honest. Honest in argument, honest with clients, honest with suppliers, honest with the company – and above all, honest with consumers.

We admire people who work hard, who are objective and thorough.

We do not admire superficial people.

We despise office politicians, toadies, bullies and pompous asses.

We discourage paper warfare. The way up the ladder is open to everybody. We are free from prejudice of any king – religious prejudice, racial prejudice or sexual prejudice.

We detest nepotism and every other form of favouritism.

In promoting people to top jobs, we are influenced as much by their character as anything else.

Like all companies with a strong culture, we have our heroes – the Old Guard who have woven our culture. By no means have all of them been members of top management. They include people like Borgie, our immortal Danish typographer. Shelby Page, who was our Treasurer and Chief Iconoclast in New York for 34 years. Arthur Wilson, the roving English art director who is the funniest man in our history. Paul Biklen, who has shepherded thousands of us through training programs. And Joel Raphaelson, editor of Viewpoint, veteran copywriter, lanternist, and ghostwriter extraordinary.


The recommendations we make to clients are the recommendations we would make if we owned their companies, without regard to our won short-term interest. This earns their respect, which is the greatiest asset an agency can have.

What most clients want most from agencies is superior creative work. We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.

The line between pride in our work and neurotic obstinacy is a narrow one. We do not grudge clients the right to decide what advertising to run. It is their money.

Many of our clients employ us in several countries. It is important for them to know that they can expect the same standards of behavior in all our offices. That is one reason why we want our culture to be more or less the same everywhere.

We try to sell our clients’ products without offending the mores of the countries where we do business. And without cheating the consumer.

We attach importance to discretion. Clients don’t appreciate agencies which leak their secrets. Nor do they like it when an agency takes credit for their success. To get between a client and the footlights is bad manners.

We take new business very seriously, and have a passion for winning. But we play fair vis-à-vis our competitors.


We have a habit of divine discontent with our performance. It is an antidote to smugness.

Our far-flung enterprise is held together by a network of personal friendships. We all belong to the same club.

We like reports and correspondence to well written, easy to read – and short.

We are revolted by pseudo-academic jargon, like attitudinal, paradigms, demassification, reconceptualise, suboptimal, symbiotic linkage, splinterisation, dimensionalisation.

Some of us write books.

We use the word partner in referring to each other. This says a mouthful.

We take our Christmas get-togethers seriously. On these elaborate occasions we take our entire staff into our confidence – and give them a rollicking good time.

When we opened the New York office in 1948, I had it painted battleship grey. The result was depressing, so I changed to white walls and red carpets. Most of our offices are still white and red.


Through maddening repetition, some of my obiter dicta have been woven into our culture. Here are ten of them:

1. ”Ogilvy & Mather – one agency indivisible.”
2. ”We sell – or else.”
3. “You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it.”
4. “Raise your sights! Blaze new trails!! Compete with the immortals!!!”
5. “I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance. We pursue knowledge the way a pig pursues truffles.”
6. “We hire gentlemen with brains.”
7. “The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence.”
8. “Unless your campaign contains a Big Idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”
9. “Only First Class business, and that in a First Class way.”
10. “Never run an advertisement you would not want your own family to see.”


This letter describes our culture as I see it. How do outsiders see it? A recent survey among advertisers and other agencies revealed that our New York office is seen as “sophisticated, imaginative, disciplined, objective and exciting.” This describes exactly the culture I have devoted 36 years to cultivating.

The head of another agency recently told us, “You are not only the leader of our industry, you are gentlemen, you are teachers and you make us proud to be in the advertising business.”



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