Leo, I feel your pain

Remember the music from the movie ‘Jaws’? That ominous ‘bah dah, bah dah, bah dah’ that you’d hear whenever the Great White Shark was circling its next victim? I’ll bet lots of agency execs hear the very same notes in their minds whenever a new marketing manager takes the helm at a client Cadlogo_1 organization. And, justifiably so.

Just ask Chicago’s fabled advertising agency, Leo Burnett. No sooner does Liz Vanzura settle into  her new gig as Cadillac’s marketing honcho then the music starts playing, the shark starts circling and the 71-year-old relationship takes on the form of a helpless swimmer about to become lunch.

Like any Great White Shark worth its salt (water?), Ms. Vanzura let Burnett flail about for a while before sinking her teeth in for the coup de grace. After leaving her previous job at Hummer, and taking over in February, Vanzura began giving new creative assignments to her ‘old’ agency, Modernista. How nice.

Can you imagine the angst at Burnett after being told the plum, new projects were going to someone else? And, that someone else was Vanzura’s erstwhile partner? Uh oh. ‘Bah dah. Bah dah. Bah dah.’

Leoburnett_1 Having been in the ad agency’s position more than once in my life, I liken this "new client in town with a different agenda" scenario to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s fabled five steps of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. So, I’m sure the first set of discussions at Burnett revolved around how best to save the account. As Ms. Vanzura bypassed the incumbent time and again, the hostility must have reached a fevered pitch within the agency with Vanzura dolls being stuck with needles, her likeness being hung in effigy, etc. Then, with the prospect of $226 million in business driving away as it were, desperate managers probably tried one crazy stunt after another to woo back the mercurial, new client. Perhaps they formed a convoy of Cadillacs, drove them to and from Detroit, and vowed to keep doing so until Ms. Vanzura agreed to stay the course. Or, maybe they offered to rename their pets and kids Cadillac? What about changing the stalls in the agency restrooms to reflect various Cadillac models? Whatever they tried, it fell on deaf ears. So at long last, acceptance set in.

And that’s when the predator moved in for the kill, severing the 71-year-long relationship a few weeks back. A GM spokesman would only say, "We have enjoyed a good degree of success with Leo Burnett in moving the Cadillac brand forward." That’s it. That’s all for nearly three-quarters of a century of work. The brutality of it all is breathtaking.

I’ve always felt that agencies are just like baseball managers. We’re hired to be fired. It may take a few hours (yup, we actually lost a client three hours after being hired). Or, it can take 71 years. But, it will happen. Obviously, agencies are fired for lots of legitimate reasons. But, the ‘new sheriff’ is a particularly sad and cold figure who, I believe, reflects poorly on the image and reputation of the client and the client organization.

Will Ms. Vanzura’s decision change any consumer’s mind about buying a Cadillac? Of course not. But, there’s a human element here, an element of compassion that is clearly lacking. Burnett had 70 full-time people working on the Cadillac business. Many will no doubt be let go.

So, Leo, I feel your pain. It’s a tough business. And, we agency-types are hired to be fired. If it’s any consolation, this blogger won’t be buying a Cadillac any time soon. Bah dah. Bah dah. Bah dah…

3 thoughts on “Leo, I feel your pain

  1. i thought i was always 100% correct 🙂
    these things do even out and i truly believe what goes around comes around. case in point, one of my biggest competitors loves to bad mouth our company and just took a small piece of business away after 6 months of trying. little does this guy know that as of 2 pm today, his biggest account for the last 5 years is bringing their seven figure account to us, and cutting them their final check. the best part was that i met with these guys a year ago and they called me out of the blue last week.
    i also believe that people make such decisions b/c no person, vendor, partner, etc is irreplaceable. and if someone is, then you better make damn sure that you run your business each day well aware of that.

  2. I-man: this may be a seminal moment in our virtual relationship. You are 100 percent correct. These sorts of situations do seem to even out over the long-term. I also think cold-hearted, client-side people like our friend at Cadillac eventually get theirs as well. I still cannot believe the GM PR guy’s indifferent quote. You would think that, after 71 years of service, poor Leo Burnett would get a little more than corporate speak from some bureaucrat…..

  3. very interesting post to me b/c the same sort of thing happens in medical supply/long-term care market. you can literally bend over backwards for a customer and be the best friend. then one day a new administrator comes in and BAM, there you go out the door, while the administrator’s friends swoop right in.
    the way i look at it though is that it’s a wash b/c there are other times when we are brought in when one of our friends takes a new gig.
    sure, it sucked for leo and the employees, but this could have been the other way around and leo wouldn’t have turned the business away…agencies, managers, vendors- we all must realize that while we think we are so invaluable, we can all be replaced faster than jose reyes legs out a triple