WHY THINGS GO SOUR: WHEN AGENCIES GET THE BOOT, PROBLEMS GENERALLY ARE WITH PEOPLE, NOT ADS

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As the scuttlebutt proliferates over the firing of Lowe & Partners/SMS by Mercedes-Benz in February, Kerry O'Connor sums it up in a few words: "I think it was a deteriorating relationship."

The advertising consultant adds: "When an agency is fired, it rarely has to do with creative work. Emotional frustration is usually the biggest reason for going into an agency review."

O'Connor, president of 3DR Bellwether Ltd. in West Bloomfield, Mich., ought to know. Last fall, he conducted a study for the American Association of Advertising Agencies on how advertisers select agencies and what sparks an agency review.

The survey of senior marketing executives at more than 100 companies - including Ford Motor Co., Mazda North American Operations, Volkswagen of America and Chevrolet - turned up familiar reasons why a client sours on its agency:

Not listening.

Not following directions.

Poor account management.

Failing to understand the client's business.

For many corporate advertising executives, O'Connor says, "clever advertising executions don't suffice." He says it takes more than a boost to quarterly sales results to create the solid foundation with an agency that translates into a long-term relationship that can weather both good times and bad.

Survey respondents think ad agencies have been slow to integrate marketing activities such as the Internet, merchandising and event planning into more traditional mass-media activities. They also predict further consolidation in the number of agencies with which they expect to deal in the future.

And the big winners among agencies will be those with the ability to help their clients build global brand equity, according to the survey. But it also suggests there aren't many who can.

Says O'Connor, "I think clients are way ahead of where the agencies are on

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