Letters, September 14, 2009

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To defend or not to defend?

RE: "When an Incumbent Shop Should -- and Shouldn't -- Defend In a Review" (AA, Sept. 7). As a former ad journalist and current ad flack, I've seen more than my share of reviews. Unless it is a government-mandated review, do not defend. It's like losing the business twice -- once, when the client tells you it's in review, and again after it tells you it went to another agency with "fresh thinking."

Worst thing you can do to agency morale (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the review). Clients need to man up (or woman up, depending on the client) with their existing shops on why the account is in review, why the relationship has gone south and why they are not going to keep the business no matter what they do in the re-pitch. As for "letting them down easy," it's kind of like a Band-Aid: Rip it off and move on.

Teresa Buyikian
Los Angeles

As an agency-search consultant, and someone who has also spent time on the client and agency sides, I insist on my clients being honest with incumbent agencies regarding the retention odds.

There are dozens of reasons an account goes into review, but in too many instances the review could have been avoided if the agency was smarter in the relationship-management area. For instance, agencies should always be re-pitching the business to avoid getting to a formal review stage.

And if there is a key client change, consider it an unofficial notice to re-pitch. Have a day or series of meetings to get the new person up to speed and, more importantly, learn about his views and goals. You'd be surprised at how many agencies don't do this. If you find your agency in the unfortunate situation of having to defend, put the ego aside and objectively determine why the account is in review, what your odds of retention are, and if this really is a marriage worth saving.

But also realize that corporate politics can be incomprehensible and beyond your control (as well as your key contact's), and you may never really know the truth behind the review. As a few CMOs have said to me, the first bullet has the agency's name on it.

Laura Bajkowski
Partners Inc.
New York

Line extension not always a bad thing

RE: Al Ries' "Slowly But Surely, Line Extensions Will Take Your Brand Off Course" (AdAge.com, Sept. 7). I appreciate the overall sentiment of this article, and some of the wonderful examples contained in it. At the same time, the primary examples of Bud and Miller are a) just a sample size of two, and b) over such a long period of time that a myriad of other factors could be responsible for their declines. There's no law that says a large, leading brand will maintain that position. In fact, the more likely scenario is a golden age followed by a decline as the world changes and the large, heavily rooted company doesn't.

I'm not disagreeing that if you have a "man's man" beer, you shouldn't necessarily be extending the same brand to tap the light market (unless you think the average "man's man" needs something to drink at the ballet). I'm just saying that brand extension isn't necessarily bad -- you just have to make sure that the extension fits the profile and personality of the successful brand you've already built.

For a few examples, I'd offer up Jell-O extending from gelatin into pudding, Hershey's extending the Reese's brand from peanut-butter cups to Reese's pieces (and then licensing it for Reese's Puffs), and Ralph Lauren extending from clothing into fragrance. In each case, the extension was a natural fit to the existing market, rather than an attempt to stretch and capture a different demographic.

Jeff Greenhouse
Singularity Design

Maybe this was left out of the discussion for expediency sake, to get to the Miller Lite/Bud Light examples, but remember Anheuser-Busch had a light beer, before introducing Bud Light -- Natural Light. And if memory serves me, A-B spent a lot of time and money trying to battle Miller Lite with Natural Light, before succumbing to the idea that their light beer needed to be branded a Budweiser product, to give their light beer more clout with beer consumers. It seems to me the example of Anheuser-Busch Natural Light's sales could be used as an argument for a line extension being more effective than a stand-alone sub-brand.

Erik Jacobs


The Sept. 7 CMO Strategy interview identified David Moran as CEO of Heinz. At the time of the interview, Mr. Moran was CEO, Heinz North America. He is now CEO, Heinz Europe.

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