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I was sitting around trying to decide what to write this column about when I got a call from a prominent agency executive.

He had a gripe about a story we ran in which his agency figured. He said our story had some holes in it because it didn't talk about some of the problems the advertiser is facing. "Why do you always assume the agency is at fault?" he asked me. "Please do a better job of looking at the agency side of things. We bankroll clients; we work weekends more than anybody understands; we bring enthusiasm for projects that are treated in a half-ass way by transient marketing directors."

The problem is, my agency friend said, "We can't get to see the top guy because he's passed the advertising and marketing responsibility to someone else, who doesn't care that much because he's not going to be around in six months. We can't build relationships anymore."

He's got a good point. The most important job of a CEO is to protect the most precious assets of the company, its major brands. It used to be that the head of a company would take that job very seriously; but now "he'd rather go off to Milan to take a look at a $2 million piece of equipment than hear a presentation on a $100 million advertising account," the agency man said.

He told me about the time recently when a CEO showed up at a presentation 20 minutes late (he had gone to the wrong hotel). Instead of starting over, the CEO insisted the agency continue. "That knocked us off our game," the agency man said, but the CEO was in a rush to get it over with.

My agency caller thinks it's immoral when the head of a company heavily dependent on good advertising to drive its brands pawns off the responsibility on underlings.

Even worse is when the company and chieftain allows a powerful director to call the shots. That's what is apparently happening in Delta Airlines' agency review process, where former Procter & Gamble Co. head Ed Artzt is pushing Ogilvy & Mather to handle Delta's advertising. Mr. Artzt worked with Charlotte Beers, head of O&M, when she led Tatham-Laird in Chicago.

BBDO, the incumbent, withdrew from the review because agency execs felt the deck was stacked against them (although they cited other reasons than the Artzt-Beers connection for the withdrawal).

The bottom line is that in the Delta case neither the CEO nor the new marketing director is in control. Would the CEO allow any other $100 million decision to be decided by an outside director? I think not. When the CEO gives up authority over the advertising, marketing directors will rush to fill the vacuum. It takes too long to change the packaging or distribution channels or to tinker with the pricing, so the quickest way to make their mark is to put the account in review. That's one reason why there aren't many long-lasting ad campaigns anymore-or why there are so many stupid ones. The marketing manager doesn't have to take the heat because he or she is off to the next job, and the agency review looks good on their resume.

Before my agency friend rang off, he lamented, "What has happened to civility? We don't really care about each other anymore; there's no longer any code of conduct."

I blame it on the changing of the millennium; he thinks it's a lack of proper

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