Editorial: When no is right answer

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Last week, Donny Deutsch lost a $120 million account. Let's hope more agency chieftains are willing to do the same.

Deutsch walked away from Pfizer after the client, in a bid to cut fees, asked its shops for conditions and disclosures that push the boundaries of accepted practice. Among other things, Pfizer asked for the annual salaries of agency employees on its accounts. It's a demand cited as a "worst practice" by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.

"We want to verify certain elements of our agreements and [our agencies] all seem comfortable with this arrangement," said a Pfizer spokeswoman.

Not quite all. Mr. Deutsch took a stand, as he is wont to do, even if it rocks the boat. In a speech before the ANA last fall, he horrified many creatives when he publicly took marketers to task for not demanding enough creatively from their agencies. He clearly has the courage of that conviction, insisting to Pfizer that an agency providing outstanding work should be compensated fairly for it.

Make no mistake. Pfizer, as the nation's fifth largest advertiser, has the clout-and also the responsibility-to wield its budget wisely. Its mandate is to wring the fat out of its marketing spending, negotiate the best media prices and demand the best work at the best price from its agencies.

But Pfizer errs if it views its shops as one and the same, with price the only difference. It should engage its agencies not with an eye solely on cost. It must also evaluate what each can bring for those costs.

Once Pfizer merges with Pharmacia, it will loom yet bigger among U.S. ad spenders. (Pfizer's and Pharmacia's combined spending was second only to General Motors Corp. based on Ad Age's tally of ad spending for 2001.) As a leader in the ad business, Pfizer should realize what Deutsch already knows: You get what you pay for.

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