4A's Conference

Claws Come Out in Afternoon Session at 4A's Conference

Draft, Batten, McGuinness, Stewart Point Fingers, Air Regrets in Raw and Honest Panel

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Howard Draft, chairman of Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB, told attendees at the 4A's conference in Austin that if he were to start a new agency today, it would be a digital shop that would never have more than 50 employees and would charge a minimum $1 million per month to clients.

Ironic, coming from the top exec at one of the world's biggest agency networks.

His musing came in response to a question posed by Cindy Gallop, former head of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, and founder of startup IfWeRanTheWorld, who moderated a panel of agency executives. She asked the group -- which in addition to Mr. Draft included Claudia Batten of Victors & Spoils; Peter McGuinness, chairman-CEO of Interpublic's Gotham; and Duff Stewart, president-CEO of Omnicom Group's GSD&M -- what kind of shop they would hypothetically build today if they could.

At the 4A's conference, Howard Draft (center) expressed regret that his company wasn't independent.
At the 4A's conference, Howard Draft (center) expressed regret that his company wasn't independent. Credit: Karl Leslie

"You can't be great with 10,500 people on a regular basis," Mr. Draft said. "Size does matter on controlling the product you put out, if I'm looking to make money."

Mr. Stewart said he would want an agency that had more time to create great work. Ms. Batten said she is pretty much doing the hypothetical now at Victors & Spoils, which is only 16 months old. And Mr. McGuinness said if money wasn't a concern he would be much pickier about which reviews he participated in, and noted that the ad industry doesn't stand up enough to unfair compensation practices .

He went on to note that "unfortunately" his company isn't independent -- a surprising statement considering Interpublic CEO Michael Roth was in the room.

At the start of the discussion, Ms. Gallop basically begged the panelists to be controversial, and they obliged. The claws came out -- even among the sibling shops under the same holding company.

In one particularly heated moment during the session, this was the exchange: "What I see is a lot of frustration by clients, and what's more concerning to me is clients trying to figure it out on their own with huge budget pressures," said Ms. Batten, noting that agencies should consider whether they are keeping up with the pace of change in the industry.

Mr. Draft: "Why are you blaming the agencies? I would blame the clients. ... Everybody talks about procurement, but fuck procurement. ... I don't think the clients are structured in such a way today to work with the agencies. ... Just like we built siloed agencies ... they have all these different departments that work with different agencies that don't communicate with each other. The agencies are willing to change, but are clients going to change fast enough to do what's right for them?"

Mr. McGuinness: "I love the fact that Howard hired a CEO and now he's blaming all the clients."

The execs were surprisingly honest, too. Asked what percentage of work that came out of the agency in the last year was truly great creative work, they all said less than 50%. Mr. McGuinness said 45%, Ms. Batten said 30%, Mr. Duff said 20% to 25%, and Mr. Draft said only 20%.

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