So my first question to Mr. Abbott, in a video interview, was
what side of the business he enjoyed most. "Well, they were both
fun. But if I was asked to give up one, I would have given up the
management side. I wrote an ad on my first day in the advertising
business and on the last day. So that was where my priorities lay.
And fortunately, the best kind of management you can bring to an
agency is to help the production of great advertising."
When Mr. Abbott, Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers went public and
then sold their agency to BBDO, they obviously made a pile of cash,
but "for a long time we were just ordinary guys. We just owned a
business which we had to grow. But the main point was really when
people say you're an advertising man it doesn't rile me, but I'm a
man who happens to work in advertising, and I bring to that job all
the qualities that I bring to other things."
His agency didn't take toy advertising, for instance, because
the three principals all had young kids and "we objected to the
media placement and the aiming at programs that children saw so
that they could badger their parents. We were not trying to become
the most priggish, prim agency in the world. We owned our company
and we thought, "What's the point of owning a company if you can't
do what you want?'"
Mr. Abbott's father died of cancer when he was 52 and the
younger Mr. Abbott was 19. "And my childhood memories are of him
sitting on the edge of the bed coughing for 10 minutes at the start
of every morning. So there was no way that I was going to advertise
"So you come with who you are. And I don't think you park all
those things at the doorway when you go to work. I was at Oxford
with Adrian and Peter, so it was an agency started by three friends
who stayed friends, and all felt the same way not only about
advertising but about life."
Mr. Abbott contended that running a great advertising agency is
not very difficult. "You basically stuff the place full of talent
and allow that talent to bloom. So you have to have something that
makes the great people want to come and work for you. And it's
never money. You can always earn more money at a bad agency because
they need you more."
"But," he cautioned, "you don't do great work in a bad agency.
And that 's what drives people. You know, you basically don't need
to crack a whip. They're cracking whips on themselves."
In retirement, Mr. Abbott has converted a couple of houses and
designed a couple of gardens. And he's written a novel, "The
Upright Piano Player." He explained the book is about a man who
retires at 58 "and finds himself out of step with the age he lives
in. It's not me, although many people have supposed it is . ... I
was trying to raise the questions of , do we get what we deserve,
or is it just random?"
Mr. Abbott said he gave the main character a business background
as a sort of marketing consultant because contemporary fiction
portrays people involved in business as "either comic or
But Mr. Abbott said "I wouldn't have stayed in a business for 40
years if it had been full of charlatans. I met some really
interesting, idealistic, principled people in advertising. And I
wanted to kind of reflect that , and talk briefly about some of the
"So in a way it's my book on advertising, but I didn't want to
write an advertising book. So I just stuck in a few paragraphs
along the way."