The Meter is Running (why accounts are always in review)

We’ve all sat helplessly as our taxicab wades glacially through heavy traffic — one eye on the meter. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of paying good money to go nowhere. This is the main reason why there are so insufferably many ad account reviews these days. Clients need results now — this week (retailers), this quarter (publicly traded companies) or even today (Cellular phone companies).  They feel like we do in that cab. Many of them cannot afford to wait out a quarter or two. It’s not just the clients’ jobs on the line, it’s their CEO’s. as well. We’re truly living in a “Win now, or go home” world. That’s the reality. You produce results now or you’re toast — and sometimes, you’re toast either way.

Client job turnover is often directly correlative to client/agency turnover. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a new CMO will probably look for a new agency. I’ve read that the average CMO job tenure hovers at around 20 months. As Don Corleone said, “this is the life we have chosen”. It just moves a whole LOT faster now. It’s funny that some pitch consultants complain about this doom loop, exaggerating market conditions along the way. I find it ironic since their niche exists primarily on the pretext of volatility.

I think it’s a good thing. Darwinism. Performance-based agency compensation. Incentive-based employee compensation. All this will make our industry hungrier and better. We will earn what we’re worth. This is the foundation of Capitalism (which may be just as fractured as the ad industry these days). But the agencies that whine about it usually lose the business and the ones who embrace it, win it.

Accounts move away quickly for a multitude of other reasons. Among them:

  • the agency is not providing the thought leadership they promised as “specialists” in their industry
  • the agency swooped in with a crackerjack pitch team that the client hardly saw ever again… until compensation time
  • the agency is so busy pitching/soliciting new business that they neglect the client
  • employee turnover at the agency (formerly the biggest reason of all)
  • mediocre creative work
  • lack of a service mentality at the agency — just plain bad customer service (it starts at the switchboard)
  • CMO turnover (duh)
  • unforeseen business turnover (banks & hospitals get bought, merge, etc.)
  • sluggish sales (not always the agency’s fault, but almost always the agency’s blame)
  • the client simply falls out of love,  someone prettier comes along who is doing sexier work —  you lose the beauty contest
  • the pigs at corporate suck up all the marketing dollars for their bonuses — cut marketing budgets
  • a new business professional at another agency steals the account by building a meaningful business relationship and seizes the moment (that moment you dropped the ball on a key deliverable)
  • change for change’s sake 

It’s also ironic that so many agencies chest-beat about  how they are “change agents”, but they find it difficult to understand when their own clients’ brands need a change, a fresh perspective, new eyes and ears. And, above all, a new voice.

This is advertising. There’s no crying in advertising. There are only two guarantees:

1. Accounts come and go.

2. People come and go.

1 thought on “The Meter is Running (why accounts are always in review)

  1. Tom Butta

    Michael, great post. You’ve tapped into the heart of something dear to my heart. Change. Unless you’ve lived through transformation, unless you’ve driven change, unless your bottom has been on the line, you have no idea how hard it truly is. Change — and I mean powerful, smart, sustainable change — is not only not for many; it takes a rare talent to make it happen under the best conditions. The only way to bring about change is to completely embrace it as you say. That’s why I asked a few months ago “Does Transformation Motivate You?” in a post on my blog. People should assess how they answer that question as their baseline for dealing with our ever-shifting world. Then the choice is clear. They can either accept who they are and change or hope for the best from their current perch.


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