The Carmichael Lynch/Harley-Davidson relationship recently went belly up after 31 years. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group just snapped its four-decade long ties with Y&R. And, after a century of partnering with McCann (yes, that's 100 years,) ExxonMobil has put its account up for review.
Client-agency loyalty is a vestige of the past. For some agencies, particularly the large ad firms that are struggling mightily to change their business models, the sea change can spell doom. But, for fleet of foot, forward-looking consultancies, change signals unprecedented opportunity as well.
In addition to large agency bureaucracy, a Rupal Parekh piece in Ad Age cites several other reasons for the dissolution of long-standing relationships, including: procurement's increased presence in agency selection, CMO turnover (and the desire of the new sheriff to quickly make her mark with a new team of her choosing) and client legacy structures that retard the swift adoption of change.
For the most part, though, change is occurring because the monolithic holding companies are clinging to outmoded business models (think: 30-second TV spots, 15 percent commission and the NIH phenomenon). NIH stands for 'not invented here' and describes the insular mindset within many holding companies to embrace new, outside ideas.
We've held onto nearly all of our long-standing accounts by constantly trying to provide a value add with new and different thinking. That thinking has also enabled us to crack Fortune 500 clients (who still maintain their long-standing relationships with holding company PR firms while we're working with them on new, out-of-the-box assignments. And, how cool is that?).
One reason we're able to bring radically new offerings to market so quickly is because we're unencumbered by holding company red tape. We don't have multiple, internal review boards. And, we don't need to have a numbers-cruncher in London bless our efforts in writing before we can go to market.
Another key reason independent firms do so well is the hands-on involvement from every member of our senior management team. In the same Ad Age article mentioned above, Phil Geier, former Interpublic chairman and CEO says “…top management in the (big) agencies have lost the concept of being involved with the top management of their clients. Part of it is they don't have the time they used to have… and part of it is a lack of desire.”
Holy red tape, Batman! I get the lack of time. But, a lack of desire? That's shameful. But, that's also the beauty of the classic Led Zeppelin song, 'Your Time Is Gonna Come.' It's an unintended double entendre for what's happening right now in marketing communications circles. The aircraft carrier-sized holding companies are watching like deer in the headlights as demanding clients and nimble, P.T. boat-sized, independent competitors agree on new, outside-the-box solutions to meet the needs of a rapidly-changing consumer landscape.
It's a great time to be unfettered by holding company chains and free to think about what's next. It's a win-win for us and the client who needs to demonstrate a serious value add to his senior management team as well.