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It's Just Business. Or, Is It?

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Advertising Age reports on the game of musical chairs that has been taking place over the past 18 months among the top media buying agencies. According to the report, 10 of the top 14 companies in the space have swapped-out their CEOs.

This is what comes of living in the real world. It wasn't always thus for ad agencies. Before the era of leveraged buy-outs made consolidation possible, ad agencies were private companies owned by partners living in places like Connecticut. Now, they are public companies, most of them, and when times get tough the tough re-arrange the deck chairs.

Whither client relationships in all of this? I liked Phil Cowdell's reported statement to boss Scott Neslund that he would only take-over Mindshare's North American operations if he could do so as an "old-fashioned client man." But what does that mean today? Do relationships matter? Matt Seiler at Universal McCann reportedly thinks it's more complicated than that.

Maybe so, because the clients themselves, perhaps taking their cue from the itinerant nature of things on the agency side, are as prone to sweep the decks by changing one agency for another in costly account reviews.

Is it the business or is it simply business that has the agency world doing so much deck chair re-arranging? Is it the complex realities of the new media world, or the realities of the world, period? What problem is getting fixed by all these changes? Performance problems? In which case it's being argued that among the top 14 companies in the media planning and buying industry 70% of the leadership was - well - not right for the times.

Really? Recessions have always taken their toll on the advertising and media business. Technology, on the other hand, while disruptive, has done nothing but help. Radio? Television? Very disruptive, but they helped make multi-millionaires out of the leading agency executives of the time.

Adaptation can be brutal. We are a full 15 years into this Internet thing, however, and the conversation is still about how to make it work, meaning there is no evidence that adaptation is occurring at a faster rate today versus the past. Indeed, the IAB's report on Internet spending for the first half of this year issued last week with Price Waterhouse Coopers indicates nearly 90% of media spending still occurs on the top 50 web properties.

How complicated is that? But, maybe, that's the point of so much change at major buying companies. No more skimming the surface of the new media opportunity and hanging around the shallow end. Time to wade deep and really connect with the possibilities - starting at the top.

It which case, maybe the 70% overhaul leads somewhere. But, only if you believe it's about the business, and not just about business.