Janet Izatt considers how shops are affected when a top marketer moves
What a week it was. Not one, not two but several marketing directors
left their companies. And, muttering ‘Oh, God’, agencies were left to
anticipate the impact on their business.
The highly respected Raoul Pinnell bowed out at NatWest; Steve Kay quit
Britvic as brand manager on the highly successful Tango business; HMV’s
marketing director, Paul Goodwin, left just a year and seven months
after BMP DDB picked up the pounds 7 million media account; Compuserve’s
marketing director, Alan Lawson, left after just three months and in the
middle of an agency review; and, when Burger King axed the post of UK
marketing director, Samantha Smith left the company.
Agencies are seldom convinced by clients’ placatory assurances that
‘advertising arrangements remain unaffected’. The ensuing six months,
during which time agencies are kept on tenter-hooks, are the real test.
New brooms sweep clean and marketing directors love nothing better than
to make their mark. There’s no quicker way of doing that than having an
‘It’s almost an inevitable Pavlovian reaction. It’s a tough job for a
marketing director to say ‘thanks for the job and the high salary’ and
then say ‘by the way, I’m not going to change anything because
everything’s OK’,’ Matthew Lutos, joint chief executive of Butler Lutos
Sutton Wilkinson, comments.
Butler Lutos, like most agencies, believes that the only way to minimise
the upheaval caused by the departure of a marketing director is to
establish strong relationships at a number of different levels within a
company - including the board.
Kate Robertson, Bates Dorland’s new-business director, agrees: ‘If you
have vertical lock within a company, a new person coming in will be more
judicious in their scrutiny of an agency.’
Mandy Pooler, managing director of the Network, says: ‘Any agency worth
its salt will spread its level of contact over three levels.’ But even
Pooler admits that the marketing director remains a crucial contact
point: ‘No matter how many times your chairman plays golf with their
chairman, day-to-day contact is still with the marketing services
Maurice Saatchi, Frank Lowe and Robin Wight are a rare breed. Their
ability to cement client loyalty at the level of chairman is
legendary. After Maurice’s acrimonious split with Saatchi and Saatchi
last year, the likes of British Airways’ Sir Colin Marshall and Mirror
Group’s David Montgomery followed him to his new agency.
The bond between chairmen is unlikely to be as significant at agencies
such as J. Walter Thompson, which has withstood countless client
personnel changes with major accounts such as Kellogg’s.
Martin Jones, JWT’s new-business director, explains: ‘The reason why
we’re less affected is that we have a corporate relationship rather than
a personal one. I can’t believe that if anyone here, no matter how
senior, walked out that any of the clients would follow.’
The likes of Ogilvy and Mather and JWT are less likely to be affected by
change than smaller agencies because they have a high proportion of
internationally aligned business.
Media accounts are also less vulnerable than creative accounts. Media is
regarded as more complex and ‘operational’, and is therefore less
susceptible to the creative vagaries of marketing directors. And many
media accounts are overseen by external media auditors, so the departure
of a marketing chief is unlikely to destabilise the client/agency
relationship. Consequently, it would be surprising if BMP were to suffer
any fall-out from the departure of HMV’s Goodwin.
BMP’s media department, like JWT’s, has a strong track record of holding
on to accounts after personnel changes at the client company. St Ivel,
for example, has been through a number of marketing directors in the 12
years that BMP has held the account.
‘We spread our tentacles as widely as possible and, as a result, we are
much more wedded to the business. Rather than just hand clients a media
plan, we encourage junior people to spend time with us and see how the
business is carried out so that they can better appreciate what we do.
The more you can understand a client’s business, the better the
relationship will be,’ BMP’s joint media director, Paul Taylor,
The real casualties of marketing director changes are small- to medium-
sized agencies. Butler Lutos believes the fact that it is compact enough
to ensure that one of its partners handles a client’s business gives it
an edge over medium-sized companies, which are too big to give clients
the same senior-level contact but too small to have internationally
Dorlands, as with other agencies that are pitching for the Compuserve
account, has been assured that the review will not be affected by the
departure of the marketing director because senior managers were already
involved in the shortlisting process.
Client upheavals are a headache. Jones says he has often been about to
visit a marketing director he has been cultivating for three years only
to read in the marketing press that they have left the company.
However, a change doesn’t have to be grim news. As Robertson points out
with the mandatory optimism of a new-business director: ‘The upside of
change is a bigger one than the downside. When there’s no change it’s a
hell of lot harder to win new business.’
Leader, page 21