America - like the past - is another country. They do things
differently there. Particularly in the way US advertisers and their
agencies build and bond their relationships to the bewilderment of
would-be empire-builders from Europe.
First it was Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, who foundered against
the combined might of True North and its powerful clients. Now GGT’s
Mike Greenlees has been left to rue the loss of dollars 125 million
worth of business, ripped out of Wells BDDP in New York by Procter &
To underestimate the ties that bind Madison Avenue and big business is
to make a big mistake. To treat them with patronising disdain or insist
- as some European invaders do - that the Americans need telling how to
do it, is potentially fatal.
It’s easy to mock the almost obsessional behaviour of US agencies
towards their clients. Account teams prepared to cartwheel down
corridors to celebrate an advertiser’s three extra brand points are not
unknown and it’s true the system has an incestuous aspect. The loyalties
of US adfolk and their clients can aggravate agency politics and create
account people with unhealthy influence.
The upside is that relationships between clients and agencies in the US
are more often the genuine partnerships based on mutual respect that
other mature advertising markets still strive for. While many agencies
elsewhere engage in the relentless pursuit of industry plaudits, US
shops service their business with unswerving commitment.
Recent events prove that any European agency boss seeking a firm US
foothold shouldn’t try to buck the system but understand its global
P&G will have found it far easier to vent its displeasure on Wells, with
no extensive international back-up, than its other US-based roster
networks where links are long and deep.