‘Madison Avenue Legends’ Critique Their World

NEW YORK Agency consolidation under a handful of parent companies, a trend that began in the 1980s, will inevitably continue, as exemplified by WPP Group’s deal this month to buy Grey Global Group for $1.3 billion, legendary ad chieftains said during a 90-minute panel discussion.

The trend doesn’t spell the end to competition or creative innovation, however, panelists such as DDB’s Keith Reinhard and Young & Rubicam’s Ed Ney said.

“It’s pure competition,” said Ney, chairman emeritus at Y&R, who said his shop regularly vies against sister agencies J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather. “Sometimes it’s two or three of us in the same pitch.”

Omnicom Group shops such as DDB, TBWA and BBDO have retained different cultures but share a “common commitment to creativity,” said DDB worldwide chairman Reinhard, who added that Omnicom’s resources have enabled DDB to expand its reach globally and invest in new speciality units such as interactive shop Tribal DDB.

On the downside, Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO’s North American operations, noted the problem of “cultural misfits” that can occur in mergers. Big deals also have triggered cost cutting, which has resulted in a net decline in industry jobs, added Jerry Della Femina of Della Femina Rothschild Jeary & Partners, a New York shop in which Omnicom has a stake.

The four executives joined J. Walter Thompson chairman emeritus Burt Manning in a 90-minute discussion at the Museum of Television & Radio that also touched on the value of integrated service offerings, the confluence of brands with entertainment, media clutter and the need to attract a greater percentage of minorities into the industry. The “Legends of Madison Avenue” panel was moderated by New York Times ad columnist Stuart Elliott. The panel was part of the ongoing Advertising Week in New York City industry celebration.

Dusenberry, in particular, is disappointed by the lack of ethnic diversity in advertising. “It just isn’t happening fast enough,” he said. “We have to redouble our efforts to recruit people who really can create advertising that will appeal to all these other groups. We haven’t paid enough attention to it, quite frankly. And we’ve got to do it.”

Reinhard added that it’s not enough to have ethnic agency partners. Mainstream agencies still must reach the minority population by uncovering “values that have universal appeal,” he said. One example he offered was DDB’s “Whassup” campaign for Budweiser.

Manning is optimistic that diversity will come, if for no other reason than it makes good business sense. “We’re in business for one thing, to help clients reach their objectives,” which includes connecting with different minority groups, he said. “You’ve got to sell to them. You’ve got to get the people who can do it, who understand these issues. And that’s what we’re going to do. They’re just going to be here.”