AdLib: Getting Arrow story straight
The collapse of Arrow Advertising in 1983 remains one of the most surprising and unfortunate events in the history of Irish advertising. The agency, part of the Marcom group, had been in business for almost 40 years and earned a reputation as highly creative, vying with the likes of Arks, McConnells and Peter Owens for major accounts.
Now - nearly 35 years on - Arrow's former managing director Brian Murphy has spoken about its demise and why it should never have happened. Murphy told AdLib that he recently had a chance conversation with Roger Copsey, a partner with accountancy firm, Copsey Murray - who had almost rescued Arrow from liquidation.
He told Murphy that Arrow as a going concern was "so saveable, so saveable". In June 1982, Arrow chairman Dermod Cafferky returned from a meeting with the company's auditors. Cafferky had an 80pc stake in the agency, with the remaining shares controlled equally by the group's PR boss Joe Dillon and Murphy, who was head of the creative department and an account director.
Cafferky, who was managing director with responsibility for finances, broke the news to them that the agency could be in trouble. "He was obviously extremely stressed," Murphy said. "Joe and I were knocked off our chairs." Murphy had worked for Arrow for 28 years and Dillon for 20 years.
Copsey did some cost-cutting, with redundancies and debt restructuring. Murphy told Hugh Oram, author of 'The Advertising Book - the History of Advertising in Ireland', that the agency's salaries had little effect. Cafferky was on £33,000, Murphy £30,000 and creative director Ken Flynn £25,000. "If we'd been paid £5,000 less, it wouldn't have made much difference," Murphy told Oram, "our salaries weren't out of line with the industry."
Ironically, multinational agency group Lopex had offered to buy out Arrow in the late 1970s, but Cafferky declined the offer. Lopex later bought local agencies Arks and Young Advertising. Savings were made in staff costs with the departure of Flynn, chief copywriter Padraig Doyle, art director Gerry Hanlon and account director Jim Donnelly, all of whom left Arrow to set up DDFH&B with Jerry Brannelly.
With the benefit of a sizeable creative department, Arrow was appointed by Kieran Hayden and Frank O'Hare as joint creative directors. They got prompt payment from several of the agency's biggest clients. Arrow managed to stay afloat for 10 months, until April 1983, using money the directors had left in the company.
"Because the experience was so traumatic, I've a very clear memory of the events," Murphy said. Ironically, it was Murphy's Brewery going out of business that was the cruellest blow. The brewery was then owned by six Dublin publicans who hired Arrow to launch a national campaign for Murphy's Stout and challenge the mighty Guinness.
Arrow made three "fairly expensive TV commercials" and had them on RTÉ for a couple of months when the brewery closed, owing the agency £100,000. As well as writing off the debts, Arrow had a £68,000 disputed bill with the Health Education Bureau, which ended up in court. A campaign for Air Florida's Shannon to Orlando service had to be pulled after a plane crash in Washington. On the plus side, the First National Building Society, Switzers department store - a big spender with the national newspapers - Sony, Homestead and Sterling Health were on the books. But recession saw the government slash all advertising. Only a couple of years before a TV ad for Army recruits won Arrow and the Department of Defence a coveted Clio award in New York.
After the debt restructure, Murphy and Copsey met media owners. National press, including Independent Newspapers, and RTÉ, were the main creditors. They all agreed to Arrow repaying the outstanding monies over five years. "Dermot and Roger dropped by my house on their way home for a celebratory drink," Murphy says. "Arrow was saved. What a relief." If only ... AIB, withdrew the agency's overdraft, forcing them out of business.
Murphy believes Arrow was only marginally in the red and the bank's exposure was modest. Creditors later got a 31p in the pound payout, prompting adlanders to wonder why it couldn't have been saved. At their recent chance meeting, Copsey told Murphy that today - at worst - Arrow would be placed in examinership.
Publicis duo Luke O'Reilly and Neil Hanratty deserve bouquets for TG4's new Fleadh Cheoil TV ad, pictured. Called 'Worth Making a Song and Dance About,' it shows a couple preparing a meal as they lip-sync to the sound of a bodhrán and fiddle. The track kicks up a notch as they flick on TG4.
Latest addition to AdLib's Apt Name Department: Liberty Insurance sponsors the GAA Camogie Championships. Its director of personal lines is one Deirdre Ashe. No clash there.
Michael Cullen is editor of Marketing.ie; firstname.lastname@example.org