Y&R learns clients matter

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Y&R advertising's egg is cracked and the agency is scrambling, but the candor of Chairman-CEO Ed Vick is refreshing. "All of my nightmares have come true," he told Ad Age. When Young & Rubicam was sold to WPP Group last year, he explained, "A lot of senior people who were responsible for accounts were getting rich and thinking about a lot of things other than the clients."

Y&R's fumbles cost the agency some $800 million in billings as clients walked. While Y&R got what it deserved, there's a bigger lesson here.

There's no need to pile on Ed Vick. You have to admire his willingness to place considerable blame on senior management-and therefore on himself, considering he was the most senior of management. Not that anyone will readily be held accountable or fired: Some 22 top Y&R execs, including Mr. Vick, have two- to four-year employment contracts with WPP.

Nevertheless, it's unconscionable that Y&R, a sophisticated agency that should know better, let a little matter like personal greed get in the way of taking care of its customers. Now that Y&R has admitted guilt, the onus is on the agency to turn this thing around.

Y&R should operate under the assumption-and it may be a correct assumption-that more clients are ready to bolt. But it shouldn't take a client review to prod the agency to get its act together. In this week's issue, Young & Rubicam Chairman-CEO Mike Dolan promises Y&R will focus on the client. It's about time. But let's see Y&R reinforce its commitment to clients by halting its new-business quest until the agency has proven it is capable of handling existing business. That would be a good thing for current clients to demand.

The lesson for agencies is obvious. Remember that you are agents of clients, put on this earth with the purpose to serve clients. Take your eye off the ball, and you and your agency should be fired. It doesn't matter how grand your agency once was if you fail to deliver the goods.

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