WEIGHING OPTIONS: Gotta Blame Somebody

CDM is a small shop. Perhaps our size and desire to grow forces on us high expectations of performance. Likewise, clients have a level of quality they want us to achieve. Allocation of a marketing budget is at stake. Screw-ups, (there, I said it) may mean review and dismissal.  If that happens, our bottom line is adversely affected and a job or two may be lost.

Expectations of superior performance of agency patrons seem to be all but impossible to convey to creatives. It shouldn’t take a dour face client or loud criticism of our work to bring the point home. Imagine when a disgruntled client follows up an angry phone call with an angry visit.

I believe in accountability, plain and simple. However, observance of protocol breeds respect. Some grey-suit slamming a baseball bat on the edge of a desk is a bit off-colored. And attention getting. It can also be quite embarrassing.

More and more we see the above scenario playing out. In some degree or another, it happens to every creative agency. It baffles me when I get word that apparently on a whim some Fortune 100 company puts a creative in review. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked. It’s happened to the ‘big boys’ like old Madison Avenue stalwarts BBDO, Ogilvy & Mather, and JWT. It’s also happened to that wonderful innovative group, Modernista – leading to their demise because clients critical of their performance, terminated them.

Okay, these are business decisions and the right of the patron — I get it. Here’s my concern. When an agency and business have severed their relationship, the press need not be offered verbiage justifying it — form either side. It’s another version of the blame game.  I scratch my head searching for the greater good in that.

One has to understand accountability and high expectation go hand and hand. But, I don’t see my (or any) agency growing if people on a company side of the marketing chain  is pressured by a compulsion to explain a failed campaign by dropping it at our feet. That’s counter-productive.

No campaign is without flaws, thus nothing is above critique. By the same token, no business is so perfectly run, or has products so peerless, their deficiencies cannot be pointed out.  That’s also counter productive.

The ad world has seen some outright nasty criticism of late. Take for example GAP Inc. CEO Glenn Murphy claimed the marketing efforts (profit/dividend spread) was disappointing because of an abysmal campaign by its AOR. I won’t call it bullshit but, maybe the fault lies with the fact Old Navy needs stylistic improvement, and the consumer is clamoring for a change. I’m just saying.

Laying the blame on the agency is simplistic. Consumer’s taste and receptivity factor into the success and failure of any product. These are things  that should be discussed in joint conference and part of the marketing plan.

Putting an agency ‘on blast’ on Bloomberg’s Business Week, Fox Business, or on CNBC, doesn’t improve anything.  As an agency we must show a willingness to change its marketing approach, so should a business.

That’s my view.

Bernard A. McNealy, President

Carson Dunn Media Public Relations & Advertising


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