By now, you've probably seen the 1,200-word op-ed by outgoing Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith. Using The New York Times as his bully pulpit, Mr. Smith preached about Goldman's sins -- specifically, that the company favors what's most profitable for itself over what's best for clients. Sample rant: "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets,' sometimes over internal e-mail."
Meanwhile, Goldman's brand-new PR chief, Richard Siewert, has gotten a hazing of a lifetime and is , we assume, etching some sort of counterattack.
While the battle rages over nondisparagement clauses, and accusations fly that the Times was irresponsible in its fact-checking before running the piece, there's an important question about the culture of client relationships we'd like to ponder for a moment.
Now, obviously, it's a bit of apples and oranges to compare Wall Street and Madison Avenue, but is adland guilty of some of the same things Mr. Smith brings up in his piece?
Has it become commonplace to disrespect, or even mislead the very people who are responsible for keeping agencies humming?
I recall comments made by ad agency execs a couple of years ago about how the influx of marketers to Cannes was "ruining" all the fun they'd had swilling rose along the Croisette. I've also observed a client trudge past an executive from his agency sitting in first class, on the way to his seat in the cattle-class section. Griping about clients is regular watercooler chat at many agencies, and Goldman's apparent derogatory word of choice, "muppets," pales in comparison with the foul-mouthed terms that have slipped off the tongues of admen and adwomen.
Some might say such name-calling is simply part of almost any business. And, true, it isn't the kind of stuff that 's going to put anyone behind bars.
But there are ways in which agencies have purportedly misled clients, particularly when it comes to the number of people necessary to staff their accounts. There has also been talk of agencies' billing exorbitant amounts for services, as was revealed by a 2009 4A's labor-billing survey.
So we ask you, the industry, to take the following poll, and tell us whether the Goldman Sachs culture of client mistreatment is egregious and unlike anything you've ever seen, or if adland is guilty of some of this mistreatment, too.