Rosenshine On The Highs, The Lows And Ad Biz Egos

After 44 years in the industry, Allen Rosenshine, chairman of BBDO Worldwide, is retiring next month. The 67-year-old was instrumental in forming Omnicom Group, now the world’s largest marketing and communications company, serving as its first CEO from 1986-89. Much of his career was spent working closely with past New York creative chief Phil Dusenberry to make BBDO among the most-awarded shops in the world. Writing Pepsi’s “Choice of a new generation” tag in a taxi en route to the client was just one of their creative coups. —By Kathleen Sampey

Adweek: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Allen Rosenshine: Certainly Omnicom. … In many ways, [the company] is very different from what [fellow founder] Keith Reinhard and I envisioned at the time. We saw it as a way to organize our businesses so that we could apply our own talents as specifically as we could to clients. But it has become a force within the business not so much as a marketing brand, [but as something that organizes] a tremendous wealth of global resources. We never foresaw that level of achievement.

AW: Reinhard, now chairman of DDB, has made fun of you in some of his speeches for coming up with the name “Omnicom.”

Rosenshine: Yeah, well, he didn’t come up with anything better.

AW: What are your biggest disappointments?

Rosenshine: It didn’t turn out to be a disappointment, but running Omnicom was not right for me. My experience didn’t lie in managing and running a public company and dealing with analysts and promoting the stock and all the things you have to do. Another was having to move away from direct involvement with the creative product [when becoming president of BBDO New York]. It was probably for the benefit of everyone since the guy who took over was Phil Dusenberry.

AW: What do you feel is the most promising development for the ad industry?

Rosenshine: The Internet [and] the ability of new technologies to bring us closer [to] and more meaningfully involved with clients and customers.

AW: What about the most troublesome?

Rosenshine: The continuing erosion of the perceived value of the kind of brand building only agencies are capable of doing. … Another disturbing trend is the tremendous number of meaningless, gibberish commercials and ad messages. [It’s creatives wanting] to be different for the sake of being different.

AW: With whom have you most enjoyed working?

Rosenshine: Phil. He’s a creative genius. He has a great humanity and a great sense of humor, and a terrific ability to translate that into sensible and meaningful advertising.

AW: What do you think makes BBDO special?

Rosenshine: [Its] “aggressive intelligence,” a term I like. I can’t imagine being surrounded by or working with more intelligent people. We all have our snakes in our heads because we’re in an ego business, but at the same time, there are so few phonies there.

AW: What would you change about the agency ?

Rosenshine: [That] aggressive intelligence is a fiercely independent and entrepreneurial spirit [shared by] BBDO managers around the world. [And that’s] made it difficult over the years to cooperate when we’ve had to. We’ve come a long way in that regard. If I could change anything, it would be to have changed that ability [to cooperate] faster. [As an industry], I would love to see us [not]embarrass ourselves with fatuous comments about who we are and what we do. We come across too often as too self-serving.

AW: What are the most important lessons you learned in your ad career?

Rosenshine: Don’t take yourself too seriously because nobody else is. You [also] have to walk a line between maximizing your own personal gratification and influence [while] working for someone who is making the ultimate decision … someone who, at the end of the day, says, “No” to what you think is your best thinking. You have to be prepared to do that.

AW: Who influenced your career the most?

Rosenshine: [Omnicom chairman] Bruce Crawford. He kept me at BBDO when I was thinking of leaving. After I became creative director, I was having a very difficult time. Jim Jordan, who was my predecessor, was a very strong personality and he wasn’t letting go as easily as I and others thought he should. I was going to leave. Bruce [then president of BBDO International] said to me, “If you leave the agency, so will I.” I said that was crazy because he was competing for the job to run all of BBDO. And he said, “I wouldn’t work at an agency stupid enough to lose you.” Throughout my career Bruce has been a primary influence in terms of the way he led, the way he looked at the business.

AW: Do you feel optimistic about advertising’s future?

Rosenshine: Yes. [Agency] people have learned to do something nobody else can quite do, which is to be the surrogate for the consumer. [We] understand the consumer better than anybody and turn that understanding into communications insights. In the absence of doing that, you can have the greatest communications technology in the world and it’s not worth a damn.

AW: What are the key differences between your management style and BBDO’s worldwide CEO, Andrew Robertson’s?

Rosenshine: Andrew is a faster decision maker. I tend to let things percolate to see where they go. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s not. … He also attacks problems with far more personal energy. My leadership style was more laid-back, his is more out front. … That’s good because of where the agency needs to go. It has to be led more aggressively.

AW: What advice would you give him?

Rosenshine: Don’t do it alone. He’s building his own cadre of people around him, which is good. He should continue to do that and he should empower them with getting done the vision he establishes.