VIEWPOINT: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: DON'T BLAME CONSULTANTS: SKIP THE HIP ADS: TAINTED FOCUS GROUPS

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Harold Levine, in his Forum article "Why marketers cut the tie that binds" (AA, April 28), blames the volatility of client/agency relationships partly on "the consultant factor."

As my son, the Webmaster, would say, "Get a life, dude."

The work search consultants do isn't a cause of volatility; it's a result of the mobility of managers who move from company to company every three to five years. In a business as complex and susceptible to "flim-flam" as advertising, it's small wonder these executives feel the need to work with people they know and trust.

As for the idea that hiring a consultant "does not bode well for good client-agency relationships," quite the opposite is true. A well-thought-out search lays the groundwork for the best possible relationship.

It assembles a list of candidates that match up well with the client and its culture.

It guarantees participants a level playing field.

It avoids diversions and "make-work" assignments.

It keeps the process moving in a timely fashion.

It makes the advertiser think through what it wants and needs in an agency.

And while the incumbent agency may be open to criticism, chances are the advertiser isn't perfect either. A well-run review is going to do everything possible to assure that past mistakes aren't perpetuated.

I've worked both sides of this table. First as an agency executive, now as a consultant. In both capacities, I've seen advertisers conduct notoriously ugly reviews on their own.

In the end, I believe that good consulting not only drives out bad reviews but can also contribute to the stability Mr. Levine is quite correctly looking for.

Arthur Einstein

President, Arthur Einstein Advertising

New York

Editor's note: Mr. Einstein, a founder of the now-defunct Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein and Lord Einstein O'Neill & Partners ad agencies, has been a consultant since 1991.

Your column on the lack of stability in the marketing function and the loss of loyalty between client and agency ("The vagabonds of marketing are giving business black eye," AA, March 17) raised a good point. Your agency correspondent was on the mark in many ways. Too many companies find it easier to call for an agency review than to fix the product or to understand the customer.

There is another side of the question, though. Too many agencies have a pathological need to demonstrate that they are hip and cynical and way too smart to buy into the "consumer culture" that pays their rent. They can only demonstrate that they are avant-guarde by "shocking the client." And the easiest way to do this is to mock the product. (Look at the Miller Lite campaign now running.)

First, this is bad advertising. I thought the whole point of brand advertising was to make the product the hero.

Second, this attitude creates a barrier between client and agency. Advertising communicates both to consumers who buy the product and to the people who make it. Tom Peters has argued that the Avis "We try harder" campaign served to fire up the people behind the counter at the same time it got people to rent from Avis.

Most companies are populated with professionals who believe in their product. Agencies that don't take this element seriously will find they have no allies inside the client when the bad new marketing director rides into town.

As a prime example look at MasterCard and Visa. While Ammirati Puris Lintas won praise for its hip, edgy "Smart Money" commercials, it was the steady (but heroic) "Everywhere You Want to be" Visa work that moved market share. Not surprisingly, MasterCard has new executives and a review under way.

Chiat/Day used to brag that "they were the pirates, not the navy." But products and brands need the loyalty and steadiness epitomized by Nelson and Halsey, not the nihilistic selfishness of Blackbeard.

Unfortunately, too many people are still taken by the flash of Jay Chiat instead of the quieter substance of Lee Clow or the TBWA Absolut work.

Craig Henry

Charlotte, N.C.

Richard Feder is absolutely correct in his Forum arguments in calling into question the credibility of focus groups ("Depth interviews avoid turmoil of focus groups," AA, April 21).

From my own perspective as an agency researcher, I have seen tainted focus group responses that were purposely misinterpreted and often times massaged to justify the research goals.

However, until depth interviews can show that they can enhance credibility and validity, they, too, should remain suspect as the right qualitative tool for gathering consumer insights for copy or products.

Murali Nair

Farmington Hills, Mich.

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