Third prize is you’re fired.

indexA recent AdWeek article entitled “BBDO Is Pitching Like Crazy in the Next 4 Weeks” reminded me of two things:

- My former life at a holding company
- The movie, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

The AdWeek article shone the spotlight on a grim reality of life inside a holding company. BBDO’s owner, The Omnicom Group, is putting tremendous pressure on the ad agency to replace some $40 million in billings it lost in 2013.

As a result, BBDO staffers are “working long days, nights and weekends” in an attempt to land Wells Fargo, Legacy, (the anti-tobacco foundation,) Papa John’s and CVS.

Even if BBDO is able to run the table and win all four accounts, staffers will be fortunate to hang onto their jobs. That’s because, as AdWeek says, “…all Omnicom and Publicis Groupe shops feel extra pressure to deliver amid the pending merger of their parent companies, which is slated to close by midyear.”

Prospective clients can sense desperation.

I remember when I worked for a division of J. Walter Thompson in the mid-1990s. Like BBDO, we had lost a ton of accounts the previous year and our parent, WPP, was squeezing us to replace the billings ASAP. As a result, we cut staff as we pitched new accounts. The strain was unbelievable.

And, when prospective clients did visit our offices, they could sense the tension. In an effort to make us look busier and happier than we were, our CEO actually ‘borrowed’ staffers from sibling agencies who sat at empty desks and pretended to do real work.

Prospects saw right through the ruse. We didn’t win any new accounts, Ed and I split and the agency eventually went belly-up.

I’m not suggesting the same fate awaits BBDO. But, I’ll bet their CEO said something similar to the lines spoken by Alec Baldwin’s character at the beginning of Glengarry Glen Ross.

After announcing a new sales contest, Baldwin told the beleaguered sales force. “… first prize is a Cadillac… second prize is a set of steak knives…third prize is you’re fired.”

I wish the BBDO folks well in their stress-filled pursuit of new business. Having been there and done that, I must say I don’t miss the global holding company world one bit. That said, I wouldn’t mind winning a new Cadillac.

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