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.