OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

If the employees of the embattled Cordiant Communications Group are seeking to drown their sorrows, it's a sure bet they won't be ordering Ballantine Scotch, Malibu Rum or a shot of Tia Maria.

That's because those spirits are among the brands leaving the Cordiant roster, effective in October, as a result of a decision by one of the largest remaining Cordiant clients, Allied Domecq, to part ways with two big Cordiant agencies, Bates and 141. News of the departure, and the subsequent shift of the assignments to the Publicis Worldwide division of the Publicis Groupe, are widely considered the opening bell in Cordiant's battle to keep from going under.

"The End Game Approaches for CCG," blared the headline on an article in the American trade publication Adweek, which a week later on the homepage of its website asked this Opinion Poll question: "With Cordiant on the block, will the Bates brand survive?" (Early results: 60 per cent voted "yes".)

In the Adweek competitor Advertising Age, the editor declared: "It's time for Cordiant Communications and Bates to give up the ghost. Cordiant's chairman, David Hearn, says he's looking for a turnaround when the only thing he should be seeking is the exit." He went on to offer this advice: "If Hearn wants to meet his commitment to shareholders, he'll sell Cordiant for parts as quickly as possible."

As we say in these parts, here's your hat, what's your hurry?

It seems as if nearly everyone in advertising, or at least those who write about it, is rooting for Cordiant to collapse, the sooner the better, instead of welcoming the opportunity to chronicle the Herculean efforts by Hearn and his employees to fight for survival. Putting aside the stereotypes about journalists and their readers prizing "bad" news over "good", what could be fuelling such reportage?

It may be the result of the shortened attention spans of the early 21st century, especially among the generation obsessed with BlackBerry communication and AOL Instant Messaging. When a war that lasts barely a month feels longer than World War II, thanks to continuous live saturation coverage, who's willing to spend time following a company's financial manoeuvres to remain afloat?

Or perhaps it's due to the increasing unlikeliness that an agency or agency company in trouble can pull itself out of a tailspin, as evidenced by recent examples that include NW Ayer, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Harris Drury Cohen and Panoramic Communications (Earle Palmer Brown). If a problem-plagued operation is doomed to disappear, the theory goes, why postpone the inevitable?

Maybe it's just an acknowledgement that another round of consolidation, winnowing the ranks of agency companies, is under way, a sequel to the skein of deals that remade Madison Avenue from the mid-90s through the Interpublic Group's acquisition of True North Communications in 2001.

This time, though, there's no giddy joy generated by top-dollar takeovers, but rather gloom spawned by clients abruptly jumping ship, rounds of layoffs and share-price meltdowns. And if misery loves company, Cordiant has its compadres, including Interpublic, disappointing Wall Street last week with an unexpected first-quarter loss, and the WPP Group, insisting there's still no reason for the industry to expect a turnaround before next year.

Bartender, drinks for everyone, on me. Just be careful which brands you pour.