OPINION: Agencies should accept rules of the free market

The legal skirmish in the US resulting from the loss of the dollars 125 million Mercedes-Benz business by an Interpublic-owned agency, exposes what can be a wide gap between legality and reality in the ad world.

The legal skirmish in the US resulting from the loss of the dollars

125 million Mercedes-Benz business by an Interpublic-owned agency,

exposes what can be a wide gap between legality and reality in the ad

world.



Without wishing to prejudge the outcome of Interpublic’s action against

the account man who ran the business for allegedly enticing it away, the

fact is that such cases are notoriously difficult to prove and rarely

produce a satisfactory result.



Marvin Sloves, the former co-chairman of Lowe & Partners/SMS in New

York, has denied helping the car manufacturer take its account out of

the agency and into another with which he had ’established a

relationship’. If the law is interpreted in its strictest sense, any

agency staffers who do anything to harm the interests of their employers

are in breach of contract.



The reality is rather different. There are probably many staffers

throughout the world doing exactly that every day. Indeed, were they to

abide by the letter of their contracts, it’s doubtful whether many of

the start-ups that have given the industry so much fresh impetus over

the years would ever have got off the launchpad. It would be naive

indeed to suppose that all the first, second and third wavers opened

their doors for business on the first day to eager clients queuing

outside.



For one agency to prove that an individual or a breakaway operation has

swiped an account is a nightmare. The line between whether a client was

solicited away or went of its own free will is a fine one. So much is

decided at meetings that nobody will admit ever took place. What’s more,

clients have a perfect right to go where they wish - as long as they

give adequate notice of terminating their existing contract.



All of which leaves the wronged agency with some hard choices. Suing an

individual may make it feel better, but why should it bother when the

chances of gaining adequate financial recompense are slim?



It could, of course, decide to go ahead to deter other employees who may

be tempted to try something similar. But going to court can be an

expensive warning shot.



Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from all this is that

agencies must accept the free market for what it is - and that there is

an occasional price to be paid for its benefits.



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