Commentary

The U.S. Army's Devolving Agency Review

Wow, sure didn’t see that latest twist in the Army review coming—an alleged inappropriate relationship between a former McCann account director (McCann being the incumbent) and a high-level marketing director with the Army’s internal marketing organization. 

If true, it wouldn’t be the first time a big agency review has devolved into a major s*** storm. 

Those of you who’ve been around long enough probably remember the infamous Wal-Mart review from a decade or so ago that involved mucho inappropriate behavior, wild dinner parties, and an alleged illicit affair. Certain Wal-Mart people still get red-faced over the whole incident when it’s brought up. 

A lot was at stake in that case, too. Wal-Mart was spending an estimated $750 million on ads annually back then. The Army contract now up grabs has a potential total value of $4 billion over 10 years, assuming various options are exercised. 

Interestingly, that well-documented Wal-Mart debacle involved another IPG shop—the then recently-merged Draft FCB. The agency paid for an outrageously expensive dinner party at New York’s Nobu restaurant during the pitch that Wal-Mart’s marketing chief Julie Roehm attended and where she reportedly talked about the agency having an edge in the pitch.

She was also reportedly spotted taking rides in the flashy cars owned by at least two of the CEOs of agencies involved in the pitch, including Howard Drafts' Aston Martin. She denied the affair, said to have taken place during the pitch with a subordinate at the company. 

Draft FCB was the initial winner, but after investigating the review process, Wal-Mart concluded it was tainted and redid the entire pitch.

Roehm was ousted and Draft FCB was not invited to re-pitch. Carat probably got the worst end of that deal. It won the initial media portion of the pitch and wasn’t implicated in any inappropriate conduct. But Wal-Mart redid the media review as well and ended up selecting MediaVest. 

The allegations in the Army review were apparently brought to light by an anonymous informant who wrote to McCann competitors last week, telling them, in effect, they were unfairly disadvantaged in the review process because of the alleged affair between the McCann Army account director, who McCann has confirmed left in October (voluntarily) and the Army marketing executive.

Sources at McCann insist the agency knew nothing of any alleged inappropriate behavior until this week. 

The informant attached videos in its email to the holding companies, said to have been taken in early October. They show the couple dancing at a concert venue in a very intimate way, kissing and hugging a bit as they danced slowly. They’re also shown walking away into another room hand-in-hand. 

They seem quite happy to be in each other’s company. Whatever is going on appears to be consensual. No one is forcing anyone to do anything, at least as far as the video shows. But appearances can be deceiving, as a number of women have stated who have come forward to tell their stories of sex harassment in recent months.

In some cases, women said they felt pressured to have sex because their careers were hanging in the balance. They probably felt pressured to pretend they were enjoying it, too. 

In the McCann case, so far, there’s the implication of an intimate, perhaps sexual relationship that would be a clear conflict in the context on the ongoing review. But the only evidence, to date, seems to be one sexy dance with a little bit of canoodling. Whether any coercion was involved is not clear at this point. 

But the anonymous letter insists the purported video evidence is just “a glimpse of the kind of unethical behavior that is common” with the Army marketing executive “and other members of both [the Army Marketing and Research Group] and MWG [McCann World Group].”

Wow, I wonder how many others, on both sides, this informant is talking about?  

Sounds like there is a lot more to this story than has been revealed. The Army has opened an internal probe into the matter. Let’s hope that probe can shed more light on the matter.

 

 

 

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