Crispin gets out when the getting's still good

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With a knack for ad pandemics like the Subservient Chicken for Burger King and now Gap's Watch Me Change, Crispin Porter & Bogusky has taught the embattled ad agency world a thing or two about how to drum up buzz for major corporations. But even when things go wrong with their clients, the folks in Miami have something to teach: just when to get the hell out of Dodge.


Last week, Crispin announced it had resigned its Gateway business-before the computer-seller issued its own statement describing a more mutual parting of the ways. Last year, Crispin acted similarly with Ikea, after it began to lose the account in bits and pieces. And when Molson gave Crispin the heave-ho following the Coors merger, the agency announced the news with a bit of promotion around its beer experience: "We hope to have the opportunity to use the knowledge we have gained through our work with Molson to continue operating in this category in the future."

At some agencies, it seems, creativity trickles down even to how the agency handle a dissatisfied client. Creative exit strategies have a long legacy in the ad industry with agencies leaving as the posse is nipping at their heels.

It makes sense. Resigning heads off the need for spending a big pile of cash in a defense that's likely to be futile-not to mention the ugly spectacle of a review. And publicizing it is generally a deft PR move, giving the impression the agency is in charge and operating from a position of strength.

A Crispin spokeswoman declined to comment, but one agency-network head was unequivocal when asked the right time to quit. "The perfect time is between when you get fired and when your client announces it," said Andrew Robertson, president-CEO, BBDO Worldwide.


What Mr. Robertson describes is a venerable enough industry practice-up there with, say, inventive facial-hair patterns on creative directors. Pat Fallon recently got out ahead of the news that longtime client BMW was going into review by alerting the media beforehand.

And for a time Donny Deutsch was so proficient at getting out ahead of the story, there was a running industry joke. It goes:

Q. What is the shortest increment of time ever measured by science?

A. The time between when Deutsch is fired from an account and Donny calls the media to announce he's resigned it.


It seemed to work for the agency last week when the $50 million Lenscrafters account, which has been at Deutsch since 1993, went into review. The New York Times headline read "Deutsch resigns LensCrafters Account."

Of course, that's not the only way to go down, as Jeff Goodby knows. When Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was canned by Subway, the co-chairman pulled a reverse-Donald Trump. "We were fired," Mr. Goodby told And he did roughly the same for eBay, when it was moved to BBDO. (Mr. Goodby and Deutsch representatives didn't return calls.)

It's hard to argue with any of the approaches, including Crispin's. You could argue that the exit strategy has helped maintain a reputation as the hottest ad agency-and perhaps it's even helped land some business. After all, Crispin wasn't waiting too long for a beer client after Molson dumped it. In a matter of weeks, Miller Brewing Co. signed it up for a Genuine Draft project.

contributing: alice z. cuneo, lisa sanders

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