A view from Maisie McCabe

A problem shared is a problem halved. Even in adland

Proper bust-ups rarely happen at conferences.

Or at least they don’t occur onstage. There is debate, certainly, but seldom does it become overly heated. At the Association of National Advertisers’ Masters of Marketing conference last month, most of the sessions managed to avoid thorny issues such as rebates, ad fraud and ad-blocking, opting instead to celebrate each other’s achievements.

There was one marketer, however, who challenged the convention. Brad Jakeman, the president of PepsiCo’s Global Beverage Group, had plenty of tough words for agencies. Jakeman said that global agency-of-record relationships were a "dinosaur concept". He also wants to banish words such as "digital marketing" and "advertising". On diversity, he said: "I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males."

Whether the word advertising is big enough to cover the many things that agencies do for their clients came up in a roundtable discussion I chaired last month and invoked forcefully articulated responses from the titans of advertising in the room. But surely it is healthy to be discussing these big issues – why we are here and how we should relate to one another – publicly and regularly. It’s better to shine a light on an issue than try to fix things in the gloom. 

So it’s a shame that the ANA actually waited until its big party was over before launching an investigation into media agency rebates. It would have been a far bolder move to announce the plans publicly while everyone was together, even if it might have darkened the mood.

Ten-thousand miles from Florida, at the Australian Association of National Advertisers conference last week, the global chief marketing officer at Mars had some feisty words of his own. But much of Bruce McColl’s criticism was levelled at his fellow clients. In McColl’s world, agencies need to be paid enough so they can make a "good profit" and freed from unnecessary rules.

I was recently told about a marketer that demanded the financial details of an agency’s gain from their business. The assumption being that if the agency was making too much money, the client was being ripped off. This view ignores the fact that a better-run agency would make more money on smaller fees than a poorly run agency on more. And that’s before we get started on whether their profit matters anyway.

There are merits to both Jakeman and McColl’s view of client/agency relationships. And it’s encouraging that they’ve both been public about their positions. Their comments are not necessarily contradictory, although I know who I’d prefer to be working for.