Response to Julia Hood

Julia Hood’s editorial in today’s PRWeek raises some interesting and valid counterpoints to my post from last week on large agencies. As Julia knows, my original bone of contention concerned the out-of-proportion editorial coverage afforded to the big guys by her trade journal and others. And while there are exceptions to my comments about the dearth of innovation and thinking from big agencies (Ketchum and Edelman are notable exceptions), the fact remains that the big guys simply aren’t the best examples of today’s swift-moving, rapidly-changing marketplace. And, that’s a direct result of what I call the "holding company mentality." Having come from J. Walter Thompson before founding Peppercom with my partner, Ed, I know that the publicly-traded companies worry about:

1.) their stock price

2.) their overhead expenses

3.) their profitability

Notice I didn’t mention the client or agency employees in my list.

While all firms worry about the cost of doing business, the WPPs, Omnicoms and Interpublics of the world exert tremendous pressure on their respective agencies to tow the financial line (which, by necessity forces them to allocate time to satisfying their owners first and their clients and employees second). This sort of pressure also creates a "quarter-by-quarter" management mentality and an environment in which offices with separate P&L’s will often battle over the same client dollar. As a result, we’re seeing very little innovation from large agencies and, from what I hear, dramatically reduced management development programs. Why? Because R&D and management training are expense items.

At the same time, we’re not seeing any serious industry thought leadership from most of the big agencies. Why? Because to speak out too loudly is to rock the boat. And as the Nick Naylor character in "Thank you for Smoking" said, "We all have mortgages to pay." So, Julia, while I expect you to continue to cover the big guys in full-page spreads, give some thought to similar-sized profiles of people like Phil Nardone, Mark Raper and Jennifer Prosek. These are the people who, if asked, would place the client and their own employees at the top of their lists of business concerns. They’re also the people who are reinventing the business to develop new service offerings and future leaders.

The issue isn’t advertising vs. PR (although I’ve waxed poetic on that in past posts). Rather, it’s all about the future of PR. My question to you, Julia, is this: do we have the type of leaders and agencies who will develop the services and train the people to delight clients now and in the future?

32 thoughts on “Response to Julia Hood

  1. Thank you, that certainly clarifies the issue. Now, if someone could address the negativity issue.

  2. I-man, to paraphrase a fairly famous expression, ‘Some of my best friends are big agency people.’ And, my big agency friends tell me what their lives are like in the big agencies. Some love it. Some don’t. Andy is correct to say that a few of the big guys have done very innovative things, but when one has to serve two masters (and, in the case of the large, publicly-traded agencies, that would be the holding company and the client, respectively), it’s tough to be innovative.
    When the R&D dollars are compromised by a quarter-to-quarter financial focus, innovation and management development investment will suffer. And that “take” is based upon what’s happening today, not 10 years ago.

  3. Bev-
    All of you PR folks should go on drinking your own kool aid, and do what you do best- actually, not exactly sure what that is. All I asked is that my point be addressed, but since PR is basically about CYA and spinning fluff into crap, I can’t say I am shocked that you and others have resorted to trying to mock me instead of providing a real answer. By the way, no one has answered Andy yet…and you know why, b/c you can’t call him a nut or mock his profession, can you?

  4. Lunch boy: I agree. This guy is a nut. Medical Man: GIVE IT A REST; no one is paying any attention to you and you are embarassing yourself.

  5. Who is this I-man, and can someone please sugggest to him a hobbies? One that came to my mind is fishing.
    Why? Because like this I-man, when fish open their mouths, they always get in trouble.

  6. Ted-
    1) It was ANDY who gave the POV on big vs. small that was ignored, I just raised a question in the very beginning..see the very first comment. And again, the negative comments started.
    2)your point is a great one on big vs. small. while i dont know about big agencies, your rationale makes sense. but looking back at the original post, here is what steve wrote:
    As a result, we’re seeing very little innovation from large agencies and, from what I hear, dramatically reduced management development programs. Why? Because R&D and management training are expense items.
    At the same time, we’re not seeing any serious industry thought leadership from most of the big agencies. Why? Because to speak out too loudly is to rock the boat.
    HIS comment is an example of the “competition knocking” while yours is a soild well-stated explanation. It’s not hard to see the difference.
    Finally, I never claimed to be an expert on the topic at hand, but neither are you. Looking at your bio, you have the same amount of big agency experience as I do. Now, if Mr Cody is an “expert” then HE should respond to Andy if Andy is in fact correct. Andy is someone that CURRENTLY works at a big agency, and knowing Andy, I tend to put more stock in what he says, than someone who has made a habit of knocking others with opinions not necessarily based on CURRENT facts.
    By the way, Ted, good job on following your own media training advice. You bridged back to your messaging without addressing my points about negativity.

  7. I-man: “Little time to waste?” You have practically written War & Peace on this blog alone, not counting all the other comments you’ve posted to other topics.
    As far as the big agency vs. small agency battle is concerned, there is some great thinking and work coming out of the big agencies. However, their financial models combined with their inherent structures places huge constraints on their flexibility and ability to invest (time and money), which ultimately impedes innovation. It’s not to say that they can’t innovate because they do. It’s just easier for the independents to do what they want when they want in terms investing time, money and effort into new product development, client service, etc.
    Finally, I-man, all joking aside, I really can’t believe you would question the industry experience and knowledge of Repman. Anyone who knows Repman, including you, knows he’s one of the most provocative and innovative thinkers in PR today. So the fact that everything you say flies in the face of that shows how little you know about the topic at hand or how little you care about your own reputation.

  8. Bev-
    I am guessing you did not catch the sarcasm so I will take 2 minutes to give you a real answer.
    When this blog first began, I was invited by Mr. Cody to check it out. I found it to be interesting and amusing, and would check back every few days to read RepMan’s insights and opinions. One of those times I happened to disagree with the RepMan, and before I wrote anything that could be perceived as negative towards the RepMan or PR, I e-mailed Steve to ask about posting a reply and here is what he wrote back:
    “I absolutely want commentary like what you’re providing. keep it up.”
    Being in business, I know how even one negative comment to the public about a person or company can have a impact on ones business and REPUTATION. So when posting my comments, I always tried not to write anything “negative,” but would at the same time provide the opinions that Mr. Cody had wanted. As Mr. Cody can tell you, I have tremendous respect for him as a person and have told him many times about how I learned a lot from him that I use today in growing my business.
    Well, somewhere along the line, rather than debating my comments, the responses were things like mocking me or my field or “you missed the point….”
    So yes, at that point my comments became “fierce” as you say. That led to yesterday’s post when I realized that the repman sometimes used his forum (possibly unknowingly) to knock other fields like advertising and his larger competitors. I found that 1)disturbing 2)against everything Repman and crew tell clients in media training. How many times has he preached to clients to “avoid being bated to talk about your competition, especially by name. Always stick to what is good about your business and don’t knock your competition.”
    So again, I post my opinion and again the response. And, may I point out, that the Repman or follwers never bothered to respond to Andy who raised some interesting points. That comes across as a “No Comment” to me, something else that clients are told never to do.
    I have little time to waste with the stupidity of going back and forth, but I am going to stand up for what is right. For the most part, this is a very interesting blog, but my point was that the negative comments simply aren’t right. I stick to my belief that Cody and crew would not be giddy if other blogs were discussing PCOM’s reputation and inner-workings, especially by name. It just isn’t right, period.
    I hope that gives you (and others) some insight.

  9. Medical: I see that
    1.) you used to work with Steve Cody at Peppercom,
    2.) you are now in a business you could “care less” about and
    3.) you want to get back into PR.
    But, you have not just disagreed with the opinions expressed by “RepMan” or participated in any logical debate; you have displayed a criticism of him, and anyone who supports him, that makes it hard to reconcile your attitude with your professed desire to return to PR. (And for what it is worth, I think he has been more than gracious in his exchanges with you.) Yes you caught my eye. However, I do not believe the attitude that “bad publicity is better than no publicity at all” has a place in today’s PR community.

  10. Bev-
    Actually, I could care less about my current career in gauze sales and am longing to get back into PR. I was hoping that by being active on the rep blog I could catch the eye of the pr folks who read this daily. I got your attention, didn’t I? I have my resume in to both small and large agencies hoping to land back with one of them. If you know of anything, please send the info along.

  11. Medical Man: You certainly seem to have a fierce attitude towards the PR profession and I can’t help but wonder why it is so important to you to criticize those of us in the business? Large or small agency, this is not your profession. Are you as passionate about your current career as your former?

  12. Lifeless-
    First, learn to read. As I said 2x, most of the blogs are interesting and thought provoking. I read this blog and others b/c they are interesting. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with what is written.
    In terms of your yawning problem, again I ask if Mr Cody and friends would be toasting each other if a blog made a habit of discussing the good bad and ugly of Pcom. That would be a blog about real people and real business, and somehow I suspect that it wouldn’t go over too well in the corner offices at 470 Park.
    Lastly, I find it very interesting that the repman and his followers haven’t yet found a way to respond to Andy. They have however found time to be creative and responsive by coming up with names like “Get a Life,” but so far no answer to Andy. Maybe a brainstorm should be called…

  13. GauzeBoy…as Repman said, nobody is forcing you to read this blog. Hate to tell you, but a blog that never comments on real people or businesses makes me yawn just thinking about it. Are you kidding me with that comment? Have you spent time reading other blogs or mainstream columnists for that matter?
    Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about other people’s views on the industry and start focusing on the gauze biz.

  14. As i wrote, “For the most part, your insight in interesting and thought provoking.” I also wrote “While many of your blogs do in fact focus on general “rep management” issues or something in the ballpark…”
    I AGREE with you that as you wrote “Also, when I post my thoughts, they’re often intended to defend someone or something.” OFTEN you do have interesting posts, but as I said, you seem to SOMETIMES sprinkle in blogs knocking other individuals or companies. That is part I DISAGREE with.
    MY OPINION is that there is no need to name a company or individual and bash them. You don’t need to knock others down to make your point. MY OPINION is to sell your ideas or your company based on individual merit, not by knocking others.
    In terms of big agencies, yes, I know you ran that division, but how many years ago was that? That would be like me saying PCOM is a dot com PR firm. After all, when I started there, that was a major part of the business. Andy gave an interesting POV about what is CURRENT at big agencies and that point wasn’t responded to.
    MY POINT was that there is no need to name other companies if you want to blog about them. What would be so bad about saying “X large agency recently fired an exec and gave them a large severance package..” When you openly name competition, products or services, it is wrong. As I said, I don’t think you would an exec at Ketchum or Interpublic blogging and bashing PCOM and its business by name.

  15. I-man, no one is forcing you to visit Repman. So, if you don’t like what I have to say, find another site to peddle your views. In everything I’ve written, I’ve pulled from personal or anecdotal experience and information. As a former big agency guy who ran an $80 million division of J. Walter Thompson, I think I do know what big agencies are like and what the prevailing mentality is. What’s your big agency experience, I-man? Also, when I post my thoughts, they’re often intended to defend someone or something (a la small agencies being treated as equals to our larger brethren or PR being seen as a smarter spend than advertising). That said, I never claimed to be perfect. Repman is just one guy’s take on things.

  16. RepMan-
    I was just reading through some of the old posts that I had missed the last few weeks and noticed something for the first time. While many of your blogs do in fact focus on general “rep management” issues or something in the ballpark, you seem to sprinkle in blogs every so often that 1)knock your competition and big agencies and 2) make it seem like know everything about what goes on behind closed doors at other companies.
    You have authored several blogs about big guys not being innovative, about ad agency dollars going towards PR etc. Since when does x company spending 5 million dollars on super bowl ads have anything to do with “the importance of a good reputation in a world gone mad.” Now sure, like in all businesses, we would all rather that our customers and prospects spend their dollars with us than our competition, but that doesn’t speak to their reputation.
    Also, your commentaries on severance packages to outgoing execs and the lack of innovation at big agencies is way off base. You simply don’t and can’t know what goes behind closed doors at other companies and why they do what they do. I am not sure, but I have a strong feeling that you wouldn’t want a blogger “thinking aloud” to the world about what goes on at Peppercom, how x manager isn’t worth his of her salt, or how x and y programs are bogus. Those comments by you make it seem like you have a bone to pick with someone or something.
    Now I’m sure your response (if you do respond) will be something like “again, you missed the point….” I want to be clear, that I did not miss any point. This is a sense that I (and others) get from reading your posts. For the most part, your insight in interesting and thought provoking. Here’s to hoping that you stick to posts about your positioning of “”the importance of a good reputation in a world gone mad.”

  17. Very interesting to hear your “insider” POV. Repman, could it be that you are “out of the loop” of the big agencies having not worked there for so many years. If Andy is correct about them not marketing themselves, then how else would you know about it? Would be interested in seeing RepMan respond to Andy.

  18. As a proud P’com alum turned big agency guy, I have a POV on this…
    I agree whole-heartedly that Peppercom is among the most innovative agencies around and that other small shops are pushing the envelop as well. But to suggest big agencies lack innovation or are not a significant driving force of change in the industry is simply not fair and ill-informed. For starters, the big agencies are driving a lot of the innovation around reputation research and program measurement, which are critical areas in our long-term battle for respect and share (of the overall marketing mix).
    What big agencies don’t do well is market or differentiate themselves, leaving industry watchers like RepMan thinking the big guys are stale and lifeless. That perception couldn’t be further from the truth. And I know there are clients of big firms that would agree.

  19. I am late to this dialogue, sorry (and don’t care to get into the Mets issue)! – But, I whole-heartedly agree that PR WEEK is perpetually agog at the exploits of the Big Agencies and literally neglects The Little Guys, who are devoted to innovating for the sake of their clients and the advancement of their staff.
    When we announced a way to tie back PR results to Sales results, and offered a customer who had paid – not once but TWICE – for the service, we got a blurb in PR WEEK. If W-S had made the same announcement, with the same editorial fodder (regardless of the client’s size), you would have seen a full-page, top-o-the-fold spread, eh?
    No getting around the fact that PR WEEK’s “bread is buttered” by the intergalactic conglomerates. I’m biased enough to consider my agency one of the emerging next-generation leaders, but until we decide to pony up to the Haymarket sales reps, we’ll hold out little hope of telling our stories thru Ms. Hood’s outlet.

  20. Uncle Utah- who are you to be calling James, “Jim Boy.” Do you have any idea who you are referring to? This is a man that ran an award winning intern program at an award winning PR firm..some more respect for the ex mayor of yardley please…

  21. People: this particular blog is supposed to be about the virtues of large vs. small agencies, not Keith Hernandez. That said, I think Keith made a dumb mistake and apologized for it. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a non-starter and will be soon forgotten (unlike Keith’s heroics in game seven of the 1986 World Series). Let’s go Mets!

  22. James is correct. Besides, that comment was downright dumb. Keith is a pathetic excuse for an announcer and that comment should have gotten him canned.

  23. Uncle Utah,
    For starters, my age shouldn’t be a concern of yours. However, I’m 30.
    Secondly, this blog site is about reputation management, is it not? Thus, I wanted to know what RepMan thought of the actions of Keith Hernandez, The Mets and the Padres regarding a dumb comment made on broadcast television.
    I’m pretty sure this falls under the realm of public relations.

  24. RM – Waiting to see your thoughts on Keith Hernandez’s comments. . .
    While we know that there is no crying in baseball, what are your thoughts on his comments about the female massage therapist in the Padres’ dugout?

  25. Kudos to Steve & Ed for telling it like it is. Smaller isnt always better and vice versa… but there is very little originality in the PR industry and certainly even less leadership across the industry. Very few firms do what is right and very few CEO’s give a damn.
    The few mid-size independents which are doing great work, taking chances and releasing numbers should be lauded. I agree wholeheartedly with Peppercom on this issue.

  26. RepMan- again, no missed point here.
    1) Major News & Major Buzz = Major Coverage. Here, size doesn’t matter.
    2)Lacking major news, size certainly matters. When one picks up a publication, does John Doe being named the CFO of Beltran Co. make the mover & shaker column- maybe yes, maybe no. When Jack Doe becomes CFO of GE or TYCO or GM, does that make not only a mover & shaker column, but also a feature- likely yes!
    The reality that big names and big companies dominate coverage in both national and trade rags is a pretty basic one in media and PR. And yes, the same holds true in medical supplies as well…

  27. I-man: you’ve missed the point here. It’s not about the smaller and midsized firms not creating enough buzz. It’s about the industry trades thinking that large agencies are the be-all and end-all when it comes to major coverage. Same thing happens in medical supplies, no?

  28. I have a question for the repman. Back in the good ole days we used to talk about “creating news and a buzz” for smaller players in an industry that might otherwise fly under the radar. Is this is a case of small and midsize firms not creating enough news and buzz about themselves to the trade rags?