CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/THE DEPARTURE OF MARKETING DIRECTORS; Can agencies guard against client staff changes?

Janet Izatt considers how shops are affected when a top marketer moves on

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

agency review.

‘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

aligned business.

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


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