Commentary

The 'Big Idea' Gets Even Bigger, But What About Donny's Head?

It used to be said that advertising executives harbored dreams of doing something far more cultural than 30-second commercials and magazine slicks. On weekends, serious art directors toiled on oil-stained canvasses, while the desk drawer of any respectable copywriter contained at least one draft of the next great American novel.

These days, they want to be TV stars. Well talk show hosts, anyway. At least that's the impression you get from reading this week's coverage about CNBC's decision to expand "The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch" into an even bigger idea: one that runs five nights a week, instead of just one.

The fact that Deutsch is chairman/CEO of Interpublic's poster agency, Deutsch, and the fact that the agency has recently had a spate of client turmoil at a time when Deutsch is pursuing his TV ambitions has helped fuel some of that media attention. The fact that he's bumping another well-known personality - legendary tennis curmudgeon turned CNBC talk show host John McEnroe - from his 10 p.m. primetime perch has added to the heap as well.

Noting that one of Deutsch's biggest accounts - Revlon - initiated a review of its ad account weeks before the CNBC announcement, and that another - Mitsubishi - initiated one three days following the announcement, New York Times' ad columnist Stuart Elliott observed: "The one-two punch from the clients, coupled with Mr. Deutsch's coming step up in television, has reignited speculation about how involved he may be with the agency and whether his second career could overshadow - and thus harm - his first."

Elliott went on to cite an example of similar media attention: a Sunday New York Post story bearing the headline "Star C.E.O.'s Stray From the Office."

The Post article, like the Times', quotes a number of Deutsch followers, like Morgan Anderson's Arthur Anderson, who says that even if Deutsch is preoccupied with outside activities, he's left a pretty strong management team behind to fill in for him.

"I'm still spiritually the epicenter of the agency," Deutsch asserted in the Post story. "Whenever a client needs me, I'm here."

The Times' Elliott even quoted another journalist, Adweek Editor Alison Fahey on the potential link between Deutsch's account reviews and his TV show: [It raises] "a valid question, but the idea his TV career is interfering or hurting the agency connection is dubious and unproven so far."

Aside from demonstrating that one journalist (a TV Watch columnist), can quote another journalist (a New York Times columnist) quoting yet another journalist (an Adweek editor) in a single column about Donny Deutsch, what else does that prove? It proves Deutsch has a knack for generating plenty of media attention in almost anything he does. Good or bad.

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