Deutsch laid it on the line when few ready to rock boat

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With his bold, blunt speech at the Association of National Advertisers conference this month, Donny Deutsch assumed exactly the kind of leadership role too many executives in too many industries are too fearful to claim.

His speech has been misunderstood by some, criticized by others, including (as you'll read below) my colleague Stefano Hatfield. It has set off an industry debate, which should be exactly what it was meant to do, making it all the more unfortunate that Deutsch now declines to talk about it in more depth. (Disclosure: His unwillingness to release a transcript of the speech to Advertising Age is based in part on what he viewed as sensationalistic coverage of his remarks on our Web site.)

Five months ago in this space I decried the lack of charismatic leaders in advertising, and noted the need for personalities willing to be "risk-takers ... larger than life ... flag-wavers for their industries." I wrote that Donny Deutsch was one of the few agency bosses who met those qualifications. As such, and given my belief that with power comes responsibility, Deutsch almost had to give that speech.

He should now stand proudly in defense of it as a manifesto for change. It's not that I agree with everything he said, only that the industry needed that speech to be made, and can only be made better by the ensuing debate of its points. Those who dismiss it as "Donny being Donny" (i.e., playing the well-established role of industry bad boy) miss the point. That he had the courage to deliver such a bell-ringer should be celebrated, even by those who link his lack of fear to his wealth. Judged solely on his agency's kick-ass performance of the last few years, he's one of the few who could have delivered such a battle cry with any credibility.

The speech? Essentially, Deutsch stood before some of the biggest budgets in advertising and told the roomful of clients what he would demand from agencies if he were in their place. Obviously, he knew his advice, if followed, could make life more difficult for agencies-his own included. That's why he paused during his talk and noted, "Boy, I'd be a pain-in-the-ass client, wouldn't I?" But clearly the subtext of the speech was that these are the principles that Deutsch the agency lives by. You can't blame Deutsch for that; nobody in the history of conferences has ever given a speech devoid of self-interest.

The point is that any agency afraid to have its clients challenge its longstanding business practices deserves to go the way of D'Arcy.

The speech was delivered with passion and punctuated with colorful language, which was clearly designed (and effectively used) to call attention to the fact that this was not your typically bland, politically correct conference chat. The funny thing is that few of Deutsch's points are revolutionary. They were bluntly stated, but they boiled down to sane, even basic, business sense.

If you don't believe your work is the best in its category, he told clients, fire your agency and find one that will give you the best work. Creatives shouldn't be obsessed with winning awards, he said. Don't base loyalty to an agency on what it did for your company 40 years ago, but judge it on current performance and results. True integration is impossible, he said, when there are separate P&Ls and no brand champions. Tighter deadlines produce better work.

It would be difficult, really, to take issue with most of those statements. But the fact that some will, that he has opened a dialogue with the goal of raising the bar for his industry, is exactly what made the speech great.

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