Close-Up: Perspective - Why ’cronyism’ is actually just good account handling

An extraordinary lawsuit has the US advertising industry agog. It involves the Interpublic Group and the former Lowe & Partners/SMS chairman, Marvin Sloves. In the dollars 25 million suit - and a parallel arbitration panel hearing - IPG alleges that Sloves, then a consultant with the agency, actively interfered with Lowe’s relationship with Mercedes to the extent that the car-maker moved its account to Merkley Newman Harty. The American press reports that the arbitration judgment has found in favour of Sloves, dismissing IPG’s claims as ’unpersuasive’. The lawsuit will be heard on 29 February.

An extraordinary lawsuit has the US advertising industry agog. It

involves the Interpublic Group and the former Lowe & Partners/SMS

chairman, Marvin Sloves. In the dollars 25 million suit - and a parallel

arbitration panel hearing - IPG alleges that Sloves, then a consultant

with the agency, actively interfered with Lowe’s relationship with

Mercedes to the extent that the car-maker moved its account to Merkley

Newman Harty. The American press reports that the arbitration judgment

has found in favour of Sloves, dismissing IPG’s claims as

’unpersuasive’. The lawsuit will be heard on 29 February.



IPG believed that it had to instigate proceedings, regardless of the

inevitable ensuing muck-raking. Sloves had no option but to defend his

name. Whatever the result, the sorry affair cannot do the advertising

industry’s reputation any good. It once again calls into question the

nature of the influence of personal relationships over the destiny of

long-term business relationships.



Why this notion continues to hold sway is baffling. Why would one not

wish to know, and by implication trust, those with whom you entrust your

brand? In his recent interview with Campaign, it was Maurice Saatchi who

confronted the cronyism allegation, so often levelled at the likes of

Bill Muirhead and himself, head on.



’I’ve never taken it (the cronyism charge) as a critique. I’ve always

thought it was a compliment,’ Saatchi said. ’Cronyism is rewarding your

undeserving placemen because you have the power to do so. When it’s used

to describe someone having the good luck to be liked and trusted by

serious people, that can only be a compliment.’



Hence the loyalty displayed towards Saatchi by British Airways, Mars,

Dixons and others when he was forced out of Charlotte Street. So too,

Sainsbury’s loyalty to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO while David Abbott was

the agency’s leading light. Examples are everywhere in this supposedly

shallow, fly-by-night industry. Some clients have moved: following

Trevor Beattie into TBWA GGT Simons Palmer and Christine Walker into

Walker Media. Others have stayed: Gallaher, all those years at Collett

Dickenson Pearce with John Ritchie and others; Asda and MFI with Rick

Bendel at Publicis.



Frank Lowe is a master at inspiring such loyalty. He is well-known for

his devotion to senior clients at Tesco and Whitbread among others, and

his business has benefited hugely from their resulting growth. Which is

the point. Clients are not loyal to agency executives because they can

get them tickets to the Stella Artois tennis championships.



’Serious people’ are loyal to advertising people who serve their

business well - ie bring them financial success. Being able to trust

someone is as sound a business reason for giving them your business as

being impressed by their reel.



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