Typically preferring icon parades and other fuzzy PR gambits to fend off the many public attacks on Madison Avenue's relevance, the American Association of Advertising Agencies put up a more aggressive defense at this year's annual management conference. It did so in the person of outgoing Chairman Mr. Berger, who in his valediction to the gathered agency bigs popped off at industry leaders ranging from Mr. Sorrell to ANA Chief Executive Bob Liodice to the TV networks and the press that cover the business.
"I think our industry would be better if we had more holding-company CEOs like [Omnicom Group President-CEO] John Wren and less like [WPP Group Chief Executive] Martin Sorrell," he said. "John's understanding and respect for his own brands, the work and his people, shows you can run a public company that pleases more than just shareholders and analysts. John is unique, and we need more like him."
Mr. Berger-whose rhetorical flourishes included starting off each salvo with "I think our industry would be better if"-also dumped on marketers like Sony and Macy's, who use multiple agencies, TV networks that don't support the ad-agency business, and, to his mind, exaggerated reports about the death of the 30-second spot.
His presentation prompted plenty of reaction, even from other speakers such as R/GA chief Bob Greenberg, who voiced the thoughts of a number of attendees when he pointed out that almost all marketers now use multiple agencies. But the bromine that really got attendees buzzing was his criticism of Mr. Sorrell's adeptness-or lack thereof-in managing agency brands as well as his strategy of offering major marketers WPP solutions that often ignore agency boundaries.
"WPP has made it all about WPP," Mr. Berger said in an interview following his address. "That's diminished the respect these individual brands have for themselves. Ogilvy, JWT-what's the third one? ... Y&R. ... These are not brands with great vitality."
It wasn't until the night before the event that he decided he would definitely call out Mr. Sorrell by name. The published version of the speech didn't even mention the WPP chief. Mr. Berger said his decision to take a controversial tack was partly driven by the recent death of Ken Kaess, DDB worldwide president-CEO and two-time 4A's chairman, and "his passion for the business," as Mr. Berger put it.
Looming, too, in the not-too-distant background was Mr. Berger and the 4A's bitterness over Mr. Sorrell's decision two years ago to not financially support the inaugural Advertising Week, the ad business' annual publicity money shot that was architected by Messrs. Kaess and Berger. "Guess how much he pitched in? Zero," said Mr. Berger.
Mr. Sorrell and a WPP representative failed to respond to several calls for comment.
Following Mr. Berger's speech, the conference drifted into more familiar territory, with an upbeat introduction from incoming 4A's Chairman Tony Hopp, a humorous and slick riff on agency size by BBDO Worldwide President-CEO Andrew Robertson, the pro forma wide-eyed look at the emerging digital world and a panel discussion on agency compensation.
In the last, a trio of agency managers outlined some possible payment arrangements that get away from the "cost-plus model," in which an agency's fee structure is based on the amount of man hours it puts against an account rather than the strategic guidance or successful business outcomes it brings.
Brad Brinegar, president-CEO of Havas' McKinney, urged attendees to experiment more with innovative compensation modes, such as incentive-based arrangements, and even an "annuity" system that siphons in revenue from ideas even after a split with the marketer. "The more we throw out, the more will stick," he said.