Real Media Riffs - Tuesday, Jan 9, 2007

THE MOTHER OF INTERVENTION -- Is it just us, or is that some spine we see growing on the backs of Madison Avenue? Sure seems that way. First Austin-based GSD&M demonstrated its city limits, respectfully declining to participate in Wal-Mart's re-pitch, after disrespectfully being jilted after decades of outstanding work that helped the mega retailer get, well, mega. Now, in the mother of all rejections, Mother has declined to participate in Virgin Mobile's review after just 18 months on the job.

Okay, so these aren't the first times agencies have bowed out of pitches for incumbent clients, but we're starting to detect a pattern here of agencies that are putting their own brands on par with those of their clients. And we suspect that's a good thing. If ever agencies needed a backbone, it's now. And we're not just talking about all the knee-jerk reviews, or the nickel-and-dime bullying of corporate procurement departments. We're talking about plain old integrity. If agencies don't have it, how can they possibly do what their clients need them to do: steward their brands through one of the most difficult communications environments ever--but one with unimaginable upside for those who have the will and wherewithal to get it right.



The biggest problem many agencies have with their clients is their inability to say simply say, "no." GSD&M and Mother just proved how in the most extreme way. Our concern is how readily agency managers can tell their clients "no" while servicing their business.

We've heard stories time and again about brilliant agencies that have produced innovative breakthrough work only to see it vetoed--or, worse yet, watered down into formulaic efforts. Clients say they want innovation when they hire a shop, but when push comes to shove, politics and institutional inertia often get in the way of good ideas. We met recently with a top executive of an up-and-coming boutique who says his shop often requires clients to agree to certain concepts upfront as a condition of accepting the business. Without this proviso, the agency fears some of its most effective ideas will be left on the cutting room floor, and with them, the agency's reputation for doing good work.

Imagine if more ad shops stuck to these principles? There might actually be more good advertising, and less of a knock on why advertising frequently doesn't work.

So let's get some chutzpah and modify the old adage that the "customer is always right" to either a) The customer is always right, except when they're wrong; or b) The customer is always right, until they are no longer your customer. Then it's time to pitch the ones you really want.

Throughout this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Lydia Loizides will be contributing live posts to her Media Technology Futuresblog. Check back throughout the day for fresh updates.

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