Procter & Gamble has made itself easy for Madison Ave to dislike, most recently with its new promise to slash another $400 million from agency and production fees in the next few years—following $750 million in just such cuts in the past few years. It's a move that other huge marketers such as Unilever have noted and somewhat followed.
P&G's often quotidien work has also always been an easy target for certain creative people—you know, the ones Jeff Goodby immortally dubbed award-chasing monkeys or something like that.
Whether or not we concur with the packaged-goods giant's precise definition of creativity, in all of my dealings with P&G the company has evinced a belief in creativity second to few. Mad Ave's response to this credo could, rather oddly and, well, short-sightedly, be characterized as a kind of, "Yeah, yeah, whatever."
As any of my handful of regular readers knows, I have been observing Mad Ave's relinquishment of its creative hegemony with a horror so extreme that I've only been able to bring myself to comment on it satirically.
My fundamental concern can be mostly explained by the old saw, "If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything." That's exactly what Mad Ave has done, relinquishing its creative backbone and instead making sizeable bets on every iteration of the digital era, however fleeting, as if this era's arrival was a long lost savior.
As hinted at above, most of the money for those bets came from a severe rationalization of creative resources.
Some of that rationalization made sense, although even then it was slanted by the fact that what was at its core a creative industry had rapidly became an account management-centric industry by the time the 20th century came to a close.
The account management that controls ad agencies has ended up settling on a model that has always been—at least in this observer's view—odd:
As it entered the 21st century, most of the money that came in to Mad Ave went on what we can loosely call project management, mostly meaning account handling. What did go on creative resources went on a quite different kind of resource, with youth and digital nativity seen as more important than sheer creative brilliance.
Oh, and forget about experience: No industry in history has held its most experienced practitioners in as low a regard as has the ad agency industry its most experienced creatives.
Which brings us to Marc Pritchard, P&G's chief brand officer, talking at last week's ANA conference in Ohio.
Pritchard believes that agencies spend far too much of their resources on, you guessed it, project and client management, and far too little on the creative people who come up with the ideas that are the lifeblood of commerce.
To be fair—not to diminish Pritchard's rectitude and perspicacity—this isn't rocket science.
So how have things been allowed to come to such a pass?
Put it this way, when did a creative person last get to run a major network ad agency? (My guess is former copywriter Burt Manning becoming chairman-CEO of JWT in the 1990s, but I could be wrong.)
What seems a straightforward, simple question is in fact a riddle packed inside a conundrum wrapped in an enigma with more skins than an onion.
Not least because ad agencies neither are nor were ever intended to be normal, run-of-the-mill companies run by businesspeople.
They were also supposed to be run by creative people—or at the very least built around creativity and creative people.
Instead, what Pritchard sees when he looks at Mad Ave is agencies built to "shadow" their clients, with by far the most effort (and expense) spent on "man-to-man marking" of client after client—companies full of business associates "sharing their clients' pain," rather than companies full of creative people dedicated to alleviating that pain.
That's the expense that Pritchard is above all targeting.
Technology and/or marketing automation won't alleviate the pain, nor will meetings or charts, or research exploratories, however numerous. Only great ideas can do that.