Aside from the superbly managed senior management team at Ketchum, it's widely known that the global agencies are a complete mess. The departure of Burson CEO Mark Penn to Microsoft is just the latest example.
Porter Novelli is rudderless. H&K has re-branded itself under YET another new CEO. Weber and Fleishman have suffered serious corner office churn. And then we have the very public dissolution of Ruder-Finn.
But our industry trade press shies away from providing any analysis or commentary on the churn and burn at the largest PR agencies. Why? Because the big guys buy far too many tables at awards' dinners and place way too many print and digital ads. So, why kill the geese that continue to lay golden eggs?
Since the journalists won’t provide commentary, allow me to explain why CEO churn at the big agencies is an important issue for clients and midsized and boutique agencies alike. First, I'd like to address clients.
Those who retain Burson are most likely thinking, “Well, I never met Mark Penn, so what do I care?” Ah, but that's where you'd be making a big mistake, Ms. CCO. Because, while you think your relationship isn't with Burson but, rather with your Burson team, I can assure that each and every one of your team members is asking one, and only one, question today: “What does this mean to me?”
I guarantee there is widespread panic as yet another new CEO takes the helm. And, your Burson account manager isn't thinking, “Gee, I need to call the client today just to check in.” And, she isn't thinking, “Gee, I better follow up one more time with the Fortune reporter to make sure our client's CEO is included in the story.” Nope. She's thinking, “Gee, maybe I should return that headhunter's call.”
And, here's an open letter to my peers at the very best midsized and boutique firms: we need to play the stability card more overtly when we compete with global agencies.
In the past, we've emphasized personal attention, senior-level management, deep industry expertise and, of course, more cost effective ROI. Well, here's an even better reason why that big packaged goods company should pick you instead of Porter Novelli: stability.
Think about it. Ken Makovsky, Marina Maher, Margi Booth, Jen Prosek, Mark Raper, Monty Hagler, Gini Dietrich, Daryl McCullough, Tom Coyne and others have been at the helms of their shops for decades. And, their senior teams have been there right alongside them. In fact, I guarantee if an executive search firm or, dare I suggest it, an industry trade journal were to conduct a stability survey, the differences between the big guys and the rest of us would be stark.
Churn and burn at Burson, Porter and the others means business disruption. And, business disruption should be a cause of concern for clients and a new, and powerful, weapon in the arsenals of smaller, independent firms.
Now, if we could only get the trade press to provide their take on the subject. In fact, I'd love to engage an editor in a friendly debate on the subject. And, I'd be delighted to share the panel with the CEO of any large holding company (except Rob Flaherty or Ray Kotcher. Those guys know what they're doing.).