Dearly beloved readers, we are gathered here today to mourn, to
celebrate, and to question. Together we mourn the divorce, after 31
cuddlesome years, of United Airlines and its dear departed agency Leo
Burnett. The break-up of a long and once-loving marriage is always
deeply distressing - but three decades of matrimony ain’t bad going.
At the same time we celebrate, a trifle belatedly, the 70th birthday of
J Walter Thompson and the fact that JWT has held onto several of its
major clients - Kraft Jacob Suchard, Rowntree and Unilever - for well
over six decades.
And now to the question. It’s a question which plagues and infuriates
sales promotion companies, direct marketing agencies, packaging
designers, corporate image specialists, NPD consultancies and market
researchers, to mention but a few. Why do most clients have long-
standing and faithful relationships with their ad agencies - often
lasting many decades - while they constantly screw around like Clinton
with his zip down when dealing with other suppliers? What differentiates
ad agencies from the rest of the pack in this matter of client
The truth is, I find it slightly puzzling myself. The subject is worthy
of a Ph.D. thesis in marketing management. The best I can offer are some
hypotheses which may partly explain it. Doubtless you yourself can offer
additional explanations of your own.
First, despite the endless shenanigans about the growth of other
marketing communications media, advertising is still where the big
’ackers are. Last year some pounds 11bn was spent above-the-line, and
that accounted for around 75% of total marketing communications
expenditure, of every kind. Size matters. Clients are rightly wary about
switching major contracts around. It is one thing to risk pounds 10,000,
or even pounds 100,000, on an untried supplier. It is quite another to
risk pounds 1m or more.
Second, and partly as a result, agencies have built themselves into
sizeable businesses, able to achieve long-term stability. In fact,
agencies have been particularly good at recruiting able young people. Or
anyway, they used to be good at it before so many clients thought it
clever to get so stingy. Market research companies are now getting good
at it, and at winning long-term contracts. But very few below-the-line
companies outlive their founders for long.
Third, wise advertisers know that communicating their brands’ benefits
in above-the-line media is difficult, and mistakes may cost them dear.
For most brands consistency is crucial. Chopping and changing agencies
is no way to achieve consistency.
All of which goes some way towards answering my opening question. And in
confirmation of my answers may I also congratulate my own agency,
Bozell, on its 75th birthday.
Winston Fletcher is chairman of Delaney Fletcher Bozell
This article was first published on Marketing