The lessons of the study are that the keys to financial success lie not in innovative strategies but in diligent execution of familiar basics: Delight the client, energize your people, act like team players. No one disagrees with these as principles, but few agencies are prepared to treat them as non-negotiable minimum standards, and few are reaping the financial rewards that excellence brings.
For example, a major business-getter who treats agency people badly will still be tolerated in many shops. That may be the right short-term choice but the polluted atmosphere will, my study shows, inevitably lead to lower performance over time.
Similarly, if the choice is between pursuing excellence in supervising a current client account or going off to pitch a new account, many, if not most, agencies will rush to the new-business pitch. The prevailing standards are not excellence, but "If it ain't broke, on to the next piece of work." Volume beats quality any day, it seems.
The core issue, I have learned, is not that these agencies do not preach the right standards. Agency people are smart. Rather, it is that they are willing to let standards slide a little if there is the prospect of immediate gratification (i.e., current cash). Rather than being willing to build for future success, the prevailing ethos is one of living from quarter to quarter.
This is not a moral point, but a misunderstanding of how you make the most money over time. The evidence (mine and that of others) is clear: Set high standards on important things and have the courage to stick by them.
Economics 101 teaches us that price is not set by inherent value but by scarcity. The marketplace rewards what is not commonly found. Intelligence and creativity are common in the agency world. The courage to enforce high standards is not.
Mr. Maister is a management consultant and author specializing in professional-services firms. His most recent book is "First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals" (Free Press, 2002) with co-author Patrick J. McKenna.
Bravo, Rothenberg! End TV ad infatuation
Bravo to Randall Rothenberg for having the courage to take what's sure to be an unpopular stand on the issue of TV spots ("Honda ad hype is overdone, `spots' no longer stars of show," Viewpoint, AA, May 12).
Yes, TV spots are an effective and proven way to create awareness, and a phenomenal opportunity to build brands and create buzz-and, most importantly, sell product.
But they are not the only way, as many agencies might have you believe.
As a former client charged with selling major consumer products (Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge), I spent years frustrated by my inability to convince my agencies and, for that matter, some of my bosses, that there is more to marketing than award-winning TV commercials.
We'd spend days, weeks and months creating breakthrough TV spots (which did, indeed, play well to our dealers) while new-technology approaches were covered in the last two minutes of every meeting, if at all.
We even changed our compensation structure to try to break the back of TV spot infatuation and saturation.
Network and cable TV costs are escalating, TV advertising clutter is continuing to rise and competition is intensifying no matter what you're selling.
Advertisers would be foolish to simply walk away from TV. But they'd be even more foolish not to get damn serious about at least examining their options. This is the 21st century!
Mr. Liebler was formerly senior VP-global marketing, at Daimler-Chrysler's Chrysler Group.
TV ads: expensive habit to break
Randall Rothenberg should get his own "profiles in courage" award ("Honda ad hype is overdone, `spots' no longer stars of show," Viewpoint, AA, May 12). In an industry dominated by TV, it takes guts for someone to write, as he did, that "the cost of TV advertising is just too high and the ROI too indeterminate for it to remain the sole default weapon in marketers' arsenals."
TV advertising is like crack. It can deliver results and get you high at first, but it takes more and more to deliver the same results.
Bates agency deserves better than `trashing'
After reading Scott Donaton's "Don't cry for Bates, Cordiant; pruning can be a good thing," I realized the first sentence-"I know very little of gardening"-was really a warning that the article was based on total ignorance. ... Bates has been a giant in the field of advertising for 60-plus years. It has received numerous prestigious awards, e.g., Sawyer Awards 2002 for best integrated campaign and Effie Awards winners in various categories from 1992 to 2003.
Mr. Donaton casts himself as judge and jury, giving a verdict of obsolete to an agency that is going through difficult times. Does he show any pity for an agency that is experiencing a setback? Does he care about the employees who have an uncertain future and possibly face the unemployment lines?
I will offer him a tip about gardening. If he can't tell the difference between a flower and a weed, stay out of the garden. Bates is a beautiful rose and he just trashed it.
* In "People" (May 19, P. 130), Peter Blacklow is chief marketing officer of WorldWinner, Newton, Mass., not Los Angeles, as incorrectly reported.