Commentary

Clients from Hell: The Tip-Off

When Kmart was finished going bankrupt, suing and getting sued by its former agency of record (TBWA\Chiat\Day) and allowing their marketing department to flee, it naturally came to the conclusion that its next agency relationship should be structured in a more short-term, project-based, haphazard fashion.

Signaling that the ad agency business is still full of incredibly over-optimistic sales people, or perhaps just sheer desperation, at least four major shops decided this would be an attractive thing to pitch. Units from WPP, IPG, Grey and Havas all trouped out to Colorado to have a go at the $270 million dollar account. Of course, $270 million dollars is an interesting figure, and that perhaps explains the trails of drool leading to Aspen's Hotel Jerome. Then again, with the bankruptcy and all, it's not quite clear whether or not Kmart every actually bothered to pay anyone $270 million, or even less likely, that it really intends to do so in the coming year given that financial backers and holders of debt might not exactly have great branding aspirations.

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And with the suggestion that they might be parceling out duties piecemeal, the fees generated from their marketing next year might be quite small.

At least Kmart has a crack team of experts considering the pitches. In addition to the retailer's chief information officer and representatives from financial backers, the panel includes a vice president of corporate systems and Julian Day, the new CEO, whose most relevant experience seems to be a chief operations position at Sears, the CFO position at Safeway, and having completed a marathon in under three hours. If a brand came into the room and bit them on their asses, they're almost sure to feel it.

Young account executives at these major agencies must be in long lines at the laser printer, printing out resumes before their new business team "wins" the account and conducts the standard bait-and-switch in which these recent college graduates get saddled with the new work. Ah, to be young and working at an agency again.

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