Editorial: Preserve vitality beyond the Big 4

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Marketers should ponder John J. Dooner Jr.'s comments to the American Association of Advertising Agencies annual meeting this month. Mr. Dooner asserted that agencies that are part of the Big 4 global holding companies (Mr. Dooner's Interpublic, Omnicom, WPP and Publicis/Bcom3) control 82% of U.S. ad billings. They also won 95 out of 100 reviews monitored by Interpublic. For those shops out in the cold-outside the confines of the Big 4-the future, says Mr. Dooner, is "tough sledding."

That assessment is hardly outlandish. But if a young Jay Chiat or Mary Wells Lawrence were in the audience, we wonder what he or she would have made of it-and we especially wonder if such individuals would commit their talent and huge ambition to create something of their very own in the agency business. Every marketer that wants new ideas, new vision and breakthrough advertising should be wondering about that, too.

Marketers had better hope the ad world is not quite so bleak. Plenty of successful ad people devoted their careers to big agencies. But a singular group, including Chiat, Wells and others, found inspiration in hanging out their shingle and proving a small group of people could do it their way and shake the world on the strength of their talent, ideas, hard work and drive.

The Big 4 exist for a lot of reasons, of course, and they're here to stay. Big marketers with global brands saw value in what they offered and sent brands and billings their way. Those same big marketers, however, should be asking who or what will serve as the incubators of great new ad talent and ad agencies. Big 4 CEOs, if they value the health of the business, can have a role to play here, as can every one of their big clients. Not as owner, perhaps, but as investor and patron and instigator.

Smart marketers would do well to step up to this task. The health of the agency world beyond the Big 4's borders should matter to them. They stand to benefit handsomely when good things grow there.

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