To be big, aim to be good.

To be big, aim to be good.


In March 1998 the late, great David Abbott of the advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers, sent round a memo to the company staff.

The first few lines read:

“When Peter, Adrian and I set up Abbott Mead Vickers in 1981, we had no ambition to be the biggest. We just wanted to be the best. But it’s interesting how, if you aim to be the best, you end up being the biggest”.

AMV had finally overtaken J Walter Thomson as the largest Advertising Agency in the UK.

Nowadays, such an approach would be regarded as naive (“the best at what?”). Investors and shareholders expect growth and, in the data-driven era, it’s the numbers that count. Growth coaches tend to dislike “soft” ambitions, with opening phrases like “to be the most admired….”, or “to be the first choice….”, because such aims lack the firm metrics necessary to define success. There are various tools that can help to visualise goals which are tangible, measurable, and can form the basis for developing a plan. But whilst organisations need goals to work towards, people are motivated by a sense of purpose. Easy if you’re Save the Children, tougher if you’re selling radiators.In AMV’s case it was as summed up  as “do good ads”.

So, did AMV achieve its goal of being the best? Most people would say so. Certainly the business won a lot of awards.  16 years on, one thing we can be sure of. It’s still the biggest.