Young & Rubicam Reevaluates

Conventional wisdom held that an agency that was part of a global network could count on its parent’s size and scope to help retain clients and win business.

Things clearly have changed. The advent of e-commerce and the zany creative approach of recent ad campaigns has often meant tough times for agencies known more for their billings than their reel.

Young & Rubicam’s San Francisco office is one of several agency outposts experiencing such growing pains. The shop, whose client roster incudes Adobe, Chevron and Sony, has often been viewed as stodgy compared to smaller, more nimble agencies.

The problem led to a renewed emphasis on creative work at Y&R, a move which agency staffers say is becoming a must at large networks.

“The mantra around the world at Y&R is: ‘Let’s make the creative product the best we can make it,’ ” said Austin McGhie, president of Y&R S.F. “In some markets the need is acute. San Francisco is one.”

McGhie said the push to improve creative work starts with a renewed focus on strategy and fresh ideas. The shop has also hired Stephen Creet, former chief creative officer from BBDO in Canada.

“You have to do smart creative that works globally,” said Kieran Hannon, while adding that some better known U.S. creative shops may have a difficult time doing work that translates overseas.

Creet said an example of how Y&R has progressed is an ongoing campaign for K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauce. Roughly two years ago, the agency shot a TV spot that was a simple testimonial to the virtues of the sauce.

In a more recent effort, the shop went out and shot unedited footage of people who actually use the sauce.

“The telling line they used when I got here was, ‘We’re smart,’ ” Creet said.

“We can still say that, but now we need to show something,” he said.” People aren’t impressed with big billings anymore. … The traditional way of doing business isn’t working.”