A Parable of Corporate Loyalty

Long ago and far away, we once represented a very big corporate client. As a small, start-up agency, we were overjoyed to have bested those big, bad competitors from the galactic agencies. This win, we reasoned, would really put us on the map. And indeed it did. And indeed, life was good. But not for long.

For at the very outset of the relationship, we were warned by the client CMO that, like most marriages, client-agency relationships only lasted five years. We chuckled to ourselves and proceeded to do great work, year-after-year. But, with the passing of each year came the same "five-year" warning. And with the warning came such comments as, "it just doesn’t seem as fresh and new as it once did." And "it seems like we’re starting to take each other for granted." Duly concerned, we would brainstorm and come up with ever-more creative program ideas, winning big industry awards in the process and, more importantly, dramatically improving our results from the previous year.

Then, one day, a call came in to tell us this client was "spinning off" from its parent and would be putting the account up for review. We were told not to worry, but we were also told that "we’d had a good five-year run."

And sure enough, as our client contact introduced us to his CEO at the final presentation, he said, "Well, it’s been five good years and nothing can last forever." And, sure enough, we lost the account (only to win it back a few months later when the client realized he’d been "…seduced by a flashier, sexier model that couldn’t match our performance levels.").

All of this came to mind the other day as I was reading what had happened to poor Arnold Communications, which was just summarily dumped by Vollkswagen after doing years of award-winning work. Why were they dumped? Because the new CMO, who had come over from Mini Cooper, wanted the same agency she’d worked with in the past, to represent her at VW. So, is that reverse loyalty? Loyalty in a bizarro world? I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is today. And only today. Because the era of decades-long client-agency relationships is long dead. And with it, the concept of corporate loyalty.

3 thoughts on “A Parable of Corporate Loyalty

  1. The five year idea is a ridiculous way to enter a relationship.
    But it makes sense when people bring in agencies or vendors they’ve worked with in the past. It’s a matter of trust. And personal trust trumps corporate trust every time.

  2. A client who immediately enters a relationship envisioning a five-year expiration date is shooting himself in the foot. How would he have felt if his employer hired him with an expectation that his job could only last five years? What about his wife, are all marriages doomed to last only five years? The idea that a client-agency relationship cannot stand the test of time is ridiculous. The knowledge and insight gained over the course of many years leads to some of the best thinking and the most successful campaigns.