The ad consultant phenomenon shows how unimportant the advertising process has become to many big companies. Agency heads have complained to me about the difficulty of forging close business relationships with top management. Now marketing management can't even be bothered seeking out the best agency for its brands.
Clients must know that ad consultants' lists of agencies are often dictated by whether the agencies pay to get on their lists. So they must not really care about getting the best agency or else they want to be able to document that they used outside help when the ad agency doesn't work out or when upper management complains that ad fees to the agency are costing too much.
But either way, "advertisers have allowed consultants to take over basic aspects of advertising management that should have remained in their own hands," as one of our readers charged.
"No wonder great client/advertising agency marriages that produced a golden age of advertising have been reduced to the equivalent of a one-night stand or brief affair," the reader wrote us.
Instead of stirring up trouble, ad consultants should concentrate on the important job of trying to match ad agency management structures with client marketing structures. This process would induce closer client-agency ties as opposed to the adversarial relationships engendered by consultant agency searches.
A good ad consultant, for instance, would have told Burnett management that the mini-agency approach has been tried without much success by other big shops, largely because it sets up warring fiefdoms, jealous of their own resources and not anxious to share them with their fellow mini-agency heads. In short, the concept deprives clients of the agency's full resources.
Sometimes I think companies get too big for their own good. When they have to resort to artificially dividing themselves up, maybe they've grown beyond their ability to manage themselves efficiently.
Burnett's client, McDonald's Corp., is a case in point. The fast-food chain has probably reached the point of diminishing returns as far as domestic growth is concerned. So, like Burnett, McDonald's is dividing itself up into five regional divisions, each with its own staff functions, like human resources and legal, and its own president, who's responsible for results in his or her territory.
I hope Burnett didn't get the ideas for mini-agencies from McDonald's. If Burnett thinks it's too big and cumbersome, it should think of paring itself down rather than dividing itself up. As a privately held company, it has the luxury of following this path; as a public company, McDonald's does not.
But you won't see the ad consultants give Burnett such advice. That would create a more harmonious atmosphere among Burnett and its clients, and that would be