Feb 03

What would you do?

Ad Age just ran a fascinating article about the industry's 'most toxic' clients. According to 'unnamed' advertising search consultants (Don't you just love that they won't go on record? What is this, Watergate?), there are several brands that are positively notorious for churning their agencies. They incFebruary 3 - logoslude:

 - Chipotle (which has had something like 30 agencies in five years)

– Quiznos (we had a small project this past Summer and really enjoyed the working relationship. Go figure.)

– 1-800-Flowers

Ad Age suggests the churn is caused by a constant turnover at the CMO level. That sounds right. I'd suggest, though, that the CMO churn is precipitated by constant change at the organization's CEO level. One begets the other (I love Biblical speak).

We've fallen prey to three recent CMO churns, losing an existing relationship in each case.

The whole sorry and sordid mess got me thinking. What would I do if I were a newly-minted CMO at a Fortune 500 organization? Would I:

A) Alert the incumbent firm(s) that they're dead meat and have 60 days to wrap things up? Like Nick Lowe, I believe it's cruel to be kind.

B) Put the account up for review, but assure the incumbent CEO that his firm has the best chance of winning? I fell for that line.

C) Tell the incumbent it has one chance to defend the business before you'll put the account up for review. Then, hold the meeting, tell the incumbent they've addressed your concerns and fire them regardless immediately after the new year? That one just happened. Nice, no?

I, personally, would go with option one. As a newly-minted CMO, I'd want to be surrounded by people I've worked with in the past, not vestiges of a predecessor's regime. That said, I'd call the agency CEO, tell him or her that I respect their work, but was making a change. It's the only humane thing to do.

One new top kick at a Fortune 500 company called our account team together this past Fall, lauded our efforts, said his direct report raved about us and even told us he'd like to expand the relationship. In the process, he asked for no fewer than four separate proposals on how we'd do just that. We were psyched to say the least. Then, we heard absolutely nothing for 30 days.

His lieutenant (the one who'd supposedly praised us in absentia) finally sent me a note, asking for dinner and commenting that it had been 'too long' since we'd last broken bread. We met and, after telling me about his son's soccer team, said, 'Steve, it's time to dial down the relationship.'

Advertising has its toxic brands. PR should have the same. The group I just mentioned would top my list. Have any toxic client churn stories you'd like to share? I find it quite cathartic.