The benefits of multi-culturalism in business

Originally posted by Hugh Salmon, Jun 16 2010, 07:33 AM

In the 11 June Campaign feature on WPP’s 25th anniversary, and in the editorial which discussed ‘why opinion will always be divided over Sorrell’, one factor was not mentioned, but which I think is very important – especially since the eruption of this horrendous and divisive BP crisis.

Before WPP bought them, all of the four agency networks – JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R and Grey – were American owned and managed out of the US.

When WPP bought Ogilvy & Mather (as it then was), I was doing my stint as General Manager of O&M Thailand.

Overnight, literally, our financial reporting was to London not New York.

As well as the instant – and more rigorous – accounting practices we had to accept, the Britishness of WPP was definitely an influence on our clients and our people (and a shock to our bosses in New York).

I am not saying this was a good or a bad thing. Certainly not in terms of the day-to-day management of our clients’ business. But, in a strange and sometimes rather sad way, the billions of people living in the ‘emerging’ markets aspired to ‘Western’ brands and values. I believe they still do.

My driver (best perk, and one of the finest people, ever), grew his little finger nail to over an inch long. This showed he did not work in the fields which, culturally, was very important to him. And it made him feel proud.

Those one rung up the social ladder liked to show off their success too. One way to do this was to be seen to be able to afford Western brands – clothes, watches, perfume, whisky, cigarettes (the saddest bit) etc.

Within the word ‘Western’, do they differentiate between ‘American’ and ‘European’? I don’t know. Maybe you can forward this link to colleagues and contacts in your overseas offices. I would be interested to find out.

My instinct is that – culturally, aesthetically and artistically – it can only be a good thing that of the four major multinationals in our business, two are American (Omnicom and Interpublic) and two are European – one French (Publicis) and the other British (and Irish).

I suspect they may be joined by an Asian competitor in due course. Dentsu still haven’t cracked it globally. Yes, consumers buy Japanese products in these markets (by the bucketful). But do they aspire to them? Again, I don’t know. But I would like to.

One final, small point. When WPP took over O&M, David Ogilvy, an English gentleman with brains, allegedly called Sir Martin an ‘odious little jerk’.

In response, Sorrell persuaded Mr Ogilvy to be Chairman of WPP. Without wishing to seem obsequious, I think you have to be a big man to do that.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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