LIVE ISSUE/CONSULTANTS WINNING ACCOUNTS: Beware the outsider dealer who just can’t say no - Robin Wight is not the first to court conflict, nor is he the last, Karen Yates says

Robin Wight was a man attempting to walk tall last week while all around him people were pointing the finger. Here was the pariah, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, who was invited into Bates Dorland as a consultant, hoovered up ideas and then sneaked out of the door with the Land Rover account under his arm.

Robin Wight was a man attempting to walk tall last week while all

around him people were pointing the finger. Here was the pariah, the

wolf in sheep’s clothing, who was invited into Bates Dorland as a

consultant, hoovered up ideas and then sneaked out of the door with the

Land Rover account under his arm.



Or did he? The same cast of characters with the same script but a

different director could create a different story equally well. One, for

instance, where Rover’s new foreign owner, BMW, brings in an outside ad

expert because they know and trust him. After doing his best, Rover asks

him to implement his own suggestions. His only crime - this version of

the story runs - is that he didn’t say no.



There were as many rumours about Land Rover’s decision to drop Dorlands

last week as there are hangovers at Cannes. But all of them ended up

with Wight’s agency, WCRS, picking up Land Rover’s pounds 6 million

advertising account (Campaign, last week). And this after nearly two

years of Wight acting as an adviser to the board on advertising and

brand development.



So far, Land Rover has maintained a dignified silence over the affair;

Wight himself has fended off accusations of foul play but has not

confirmed whether the account is heading his way.



The more scurrilous rumourmongers nevertheless painted Wight as a man

who had deliberately abused his position as consultant to line his own

pockets. The Wightists, on the other hand, said Rover went into the deal

with its eyes open. It hired the chairman of a top 20 advertising agency

because it wanted the insights of ... well ... the chairman of a top 20

advertising agency.



It’s hardly surprising that if the deal went well the agency itself

might become involved.



Either way, Dorlands is now without Land Rover, and Rover’s other roster

agency, Ammirati Puris Lintas, must be feeling a shade vulnerable. On

the record, Dorlands is graceful in defeat, and Lintas is feeling

confident about the future.



But, in their private moments, both agencies are bubbling with

resentment that business has been whipped away by a cuckoo in the

nest.



Yet this phenomenon is not new. It has existed in one form or another

since marketing first began, and in some areas, notably media, back-door

business wins have regularly caused a stink.



Pattison Horswell Durden (now New PHD), set tongues wagging on more than

one occasion. It picked up Prudential’s pounds 13 million account, for

example, and the BBC Network Radio’s pounds 5 million business, both

after a period of consulting for the client.



To take the point further, how many top advertising people can say

genuinely that they don’t court conflict when they take on outside

interests? Did Martin Boase decline the chairmanship of Heal’s or Maiden

Outdoor because he still keeps an office at BMP DDB? Did Bill Muirhead

take onhis advisory post at Millennium Central because it opened doors

for M&C Saatchi?



Boase, one of the founders of Boase Massimi Pollitt, says history is

peppered with instances of agency people on client boards and vice

versa. The important thing is to appear to keep the two things very

separate. If you don’t, you will invite criticism.



The best example of this he can remember is back in the 60s when a

top-level marketing man quit the then British Overseas Airways

Corporation for FCB, and the advertising account followed a few days

later.



’If it doesn’t really look right, then one suspects an arm’s length

decision has not been made,’ Boase says.



It’s a theme taken up by Nick Phillips, the director general of the

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, who, like Boase, feels that

you can combine the roles of adviser and supplier as long as the ground

rules are well laid out.



’The rules of the game have to be very clear,’ he says. ’Quite often in

this business, people will wear more than one hat, and you have to be

careful which hat you are wearing and when.’



The tidiest way of handling a dual role, according to Phillips, is to

lay it out in law. An agreement, say, under which the adviser cannot

take business to which he has been privy for a set period of time. This

is the system recently used by the COI when it used consultants on a

media project.



A second route is to be sure that the hirer and consultant each know

where the other is coming from. Declare all your interests and bow out

if there is a conflict at any stage. This, he says, is the practice in

creative judging panels. If his own agency’s work appears, you trust

that a jury member will retire gracefully, and return once the coast is

clear.



This is a situation which often confronts Winston Fletcher, chairman of

Bozell Europe. As chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, he

has to take a back seat if there are ever any complaints against his

agency’s ads.



Fletcher has also held consultancy or directorship roles, but like

Boase, they’ve never, he says, translated into business for the agency.

Quite the reverse. He says these days clients are so scared of looking

nepotistic that it’s a disadvantage to your agency being too close to

the board of a client. The only time it happened to him - at the

cleaning giant Sketchley - he took a seat on the board and promptly lost

the business.



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