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The age of the three-martini lunch is said to be long dead, replaced by the era of bottom-line results and cold accountability in the ad business. Yet in dismissing Lowe & Partners/SMS last week, Mercedes-Benz of North America basically complained it didn't get enough hand-holding from its ad agency.

We're not in position to judge that statement. But what Mercedes clearly did get from Lowe was consistent, award-winning advertising that moved the sales needle and revitalized the brand image of its pricey import cars. If that's not enough of a reason to retain a business relationship these days, then you can't blame ad agencies for throwing their hands up in frustration.

Agencies are often criticized for not being as disciplined or results-oriented as the marketers they serve, and for wanting to avoid being held accountable for work that doesn't work. In this case, the reverse seems to be true. For Mercedes to suddenly cite a post-Chrysler-merger conflict it didn't mind before is really a smoke screen. This decision seems to have come down to personal relationships; Mercedes liked former Lowe Chairman Marvin Sloves and wasn't particularly enamored with the agency managers who took over after Mr. Sloves retired.

Of course, chemistry is a key component of a good relationship, and the care and feeding of clients is still a big part of an agency's role. Lowe's recent bumps, including the sudden and surprise departure of President Robert Kantor, surely didn't help the situation. But Mercedes is just the latest marketer to yank an assignment from an agency that produced strong work and results. And the more such seemingly arbitrary decisions are made, the more the already fragile bond between agencies and marketers will be weakened.

We hope Lowe doesn't follow through with its threat to explore legal action against Mercedes, but we understand the agency's frustration. When agencies fail to produce results, they need to be more willing to accept the consequences -- whether it is reduced compensation or outright dismissal. But when they succeed, when they find a way to create advertising that entertains and moves product,

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