It is unlikely that Interpublic Group PR guru Harris Diamond had a bowl of Corn Flakes for breakfast yesterday as he ruminated on the news that Edelman had picked up the high-profile Kellogg PR account by setting up a conflict shop to handle the business.
Diamond's Weber Shandwick and sister firm Current Lifestyle Marketing initially won the business last October to lead efforts for the cereal company's US brands, which include Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, Special K, Pop-Tarts, and Nutri-Grain.
But one of the advertising clients within holding company IPG's roster cried foul and claimed the winning of this account represented a conflict with its brands. Cue Weber and Current resigning the work and the business going out to pitch again.
The irony of this situation, which I am sure is not lost on Diamond or Richard Edelman, is that Edelman is probably more conflicted on this account than Weber, especially through its work on Quaker for PepsiCo. Edelman would no doubt claim this is a triumph of his independent structure over the networked status of competitors such as Weber, Ketchum, Burson-Marsteller, and Fleishman-Hillard.
But the size of the large agencies these days means there are almost inevitably client conflicts and, indeed, Edelman itself spun off a separate agency – Zeno Group – to deal with such situations. Only last November, Zeno expanded its West Coast operation and took on some Edelman staff and clients as a tactic to prevent potential client conflicts.
Diamond and Edelman have been battling over accounts in this industry for more years than they'd care to remember and have immense respect for each other. They will both know that this is just one battle in an ongoing war, and who knows whether the K Group structure will actually satisfy the requirements of Tony the Tiger and his friends over at the cereal giant.
One further point of interest is that Brandy Ruff, director of brand PR for Kellogg, previously worked at both Edelman and Weber Shandwick.
The whole saga is a perfect example of the complexities and potential pitfalls involved in pitching for big accounts in today's consolidated agency environment.