What Has The Map of Tasmania Got To Do With Agency Profitability?
Every time I see it I giggle because it takes me back to those long ago days of my early career in advertising pre FBT in Australia which virtually killed the long lunch in advertising by effectively introducing a tax on staff & client entertainment but that is a story for another time.
Lunch could start as early as 12:00 noon on Thursday and it was not uncommon for us to arrive back at the agency around 5:00pm Friday for the Friday night free bar.
Friday night was not the only night for free bar, every night was free bar. That included beer, wine and spirits and sometimes even mixers.
Most of the staff attended and often so did clients. Mostly the week nights were well behaved, there was the odd national TV identity thrown through the glass doors and keeping the pot plants in good health was a challenge given the copious amounts of acidic liquid squirted over them on regular occasions. The pot plant rental firm was kept very busy rotating palms with ferns and ferns with palms in an attempt to keep them from dying.
It was the Thursday to Friday events that lead to the most entertainment. Now out of respect for my colleagues I won’t name any names but the agency was a multinational headquartered in Melbourne and large by Australian standards with a prestigious client list.
I never knew his official title but our number included an absolutely outrageous gentleman who’s unofficial title was “Director of Entertainment”. One of his favourite routines late on a Friday night was to stand on the big round table in the centre of the bar and tell very risqué stories. I cannot remember any of the stories but I will never forget the fascination the overhead fan held for me as it cut through the air just centimetres from his large and deliciously bald head.
Some of what follows is not politically correct for which I apologise in advance, however those times were far from politically correct and the stories are true.
The good times were fueled by the free bar with booze flowing in copious quantities.
A colleague of mine awoke at home late one Christmas morning after a long and boozy day at the agency to find his company car was not in it’s usual place in the drive way. He had to report to the police it was stolen, he had to inform the agency it was stolen, they informed the insurance company and sourced him a loan car till the matter was resolved. About the third week in January a young lady from the studio who was just back from Christmas holidays fronted him in the bar and asked if he could remove his car from her driveway. Apparently he had no idea how it got there or how he got home after. No-one at the bar saw anything out of the ordinary in this little event.
The free booze was paid for by the agency. It was supplied apparently at retail prices by one of our clients, a local chain of liquor stores for whom we did all the advertising.
The rub is that we spent more with them on our grog bill than they did with us on their advertising.
There was, to me, a very memorable occurrence in the bar early in my career. We had the good fortune to handle a tourism account which included several islands off the north east coast of Australia, beautiful tropical and sub-tropical destinations around the Great Barrier Reef. Among them from memory, were Day Dream, Hamilton & Lizard islands. The AD on the account was an attractive and energetic young women who, in keeping with the tone will remain nameless. Tasmania on the other hand is a large island on the very southern tip of Australia, a long way from the Great Barrier Reef and definitely not part of our brief.
At a long Friday lunch session wagers were being made about what time the map of Tasmania would be revealed, as the new boy I didn’t understand the context but went along with the conversation although I was specifically precluded from any explanation. That night we dived deep into Friday night’s bar and at a point when the usual raucous din abated a little my attention was drawn to the big round table usually occupied by the Director of Entertainment to find it was in fact occupied by the AD on the tourism account. She was dancing a great little boogie to a Texas shuffle by ZZ Top blaring from the sound system, swishing her skirt deftly but modestly from side to side. When the song ended, to her audience’s greatly anticipated delight, the map of Tasmania was revealed Can Can fashion to a resounding round of applause. I laughed myself silly at my naivety, and now every time I see a map of Tasmania I have to suppress a little giggle as that memory comes flooding back.
Yes we played hard but we also worked hard and we did both with our clients who almost without exception appreciated what we did for them. There was a strong sense of partnership like “we are both in this together”.
Those days are well and truly over both in terms of the excesses and unfortunately the pervading sense of partnership. Agency budgets are now so restricted they severely limit profitability. I recently heard through a colleague working at one of the larger WPP UK agencies, that all entertainment and travel has been banned.
I doubt there are many free bars any more as times are more politically correct, as they should be, and also agencies simply cannot afford them due to the constant pressure on remuneration rates and structures.
I cannot do much to help in regards the remuneration rates and structures that is not my domain, but I can contribute greatly to improving the bottom line of agencies within any remuneration structure.
That is why I am co-authoring with a long time friend and my one time boss, Stan Bennett, a very experienced agency FD, an eBook on how to maximise profitability in any marcomms organisation. Like an advance copy? drop me a line at email@example.com.