EXECS SPLIT ON ROLE OF RAPPORT

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NEW YORK-It's not the first time a friendship determined the outcome of an account review. But agency executives were divided on whether British Airways should have followed Maurice Saatchi to his new agency.

Creatively driven agency heads such as Lord, Dentsu & Partners Chairman Dick Lord and Deutsch CEO Donny Deutsch applauded the airline's loyalty to the agency founders. British Airways had been at Saatchi & Saatchi since 1982.

"It shows that there are still some instances of where the long personal relationships that used to bind this business are still here," Mr. Lord said. "It was a very hard thing for a client the size of Mars or British Airways to change agencies and yet they did it out of loyalty and respect for the great work that the brothers had done. It shows that personal friendship was stronger than shareholder votes."

Mr. Deutsch was even more emphatic about the switch. "It shows that some snot-nosed investor in Chicago studying his Quotron doesn't understand that the assets of advertising agencies are not like livestock. No client is going to sit back when you change the people and say it's the same agency no matter what the holding company says. The assets of the agency are the people, and the bean-counters that think it's about $100,000 in perks don't understand the business."

But TBWA CEO Bill Tragos said the Saatchi scenario is in some ways unique to its London location. "Maurice Saatchi is a national hero in London," he said. "He's the one who beat up on the Americans by buying up our agencies. He could kill his mother and that would probably still be OK in London.'

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