Judging by our account this week of newly-unsealed interviews he conducted before his death in 1987, the Ford chairman's impulse was to sack his longtime agency on the spot. "I'd have fired them out there the very bloody next day," he declared.
But he didn't. After sounding off, mighty "Hank the Deuce" checked his personal outrage, turned the matter over to his North American managers and, wisely, agreed to live with their decision-even though he later violently disagreed when they kept JWT. "They stole a million dollars from us and we didn't even fire them," he complained in the interview transcripts.
Thompson couldn't be easily fired because it had insurance in the form of important dealer accounts and was intimately enmeshed with Ford marketing programs. Moreover, who really wanted to go through the disruption of finding another agency-one without an automotive account? And what about those nice relationships that existed?
Many agencies will never be as intertwined with a client as Thompson is with Ford. For them, the fear of getting fired, willy-nilly, for provoking a volatile client is still part of life. But client top management should learn from Henry Ford II that "fire the agency" is not always the smart answer even if anger and instinct seem to call for it.
JWT and Ford are still a team after more than 50 years together because old-fashioned "arbitrary and imperious" was outweighed by good sense. It happened that way in 1978, and it should still be the rule today.