Was the review a disappointment to the losing shops? Absolutely.
Were the Olds dealers--those not on the selection committee--up in arms last week upon hearing that their once-in-a-generation agency review resulted in keeping the incumbent shop? Definitely.
Was the review a waste of everyone's time? Hardly.
For Olds, the review created previously non-existent ties between its operating staff and dealers. And for the first time, the client, the dealers and the agency are on the same page. For Burnett, the review was humbling. The agency had come to expect the marketing equivalent of porridge from a succession of Olds managers, and discovered the hard way that the new regime at Olds is what they have been waiting for in a car client. The losing shops? They may have been depressed last week. But how often do shops get invited to pitch General Motors? And since little money was spent, even by the finalists, only narrow minds would consider it a waste of time.
In the end, Leo Burnett kept the Oldsmobile account by closing the distance that had been built up between agency and client, and between its own home office and the branch office that serviced the account. And that account is not just Olds management, but Olds dealers too. Ironically, Burnett chairman Rick Fizdale determined that the way to get closer to the business was to move the account from Southfield, Mich., near Olds' Lansing office, to Burnett's headquarters in Chicago where it tends to brands like Hallmark, McDonald's and United Airlines.
It may have been a no-brainer to bring the account home. But sometimes no-brainer ideas are the best. This review was driven by pent-up anger from Olds' battered dealer body over what they see as years of off-target advertising. And the large majority of them blamed Burnett.
But consider what one prominent Olds dealer on the review selection committee said last week. "I learned an awful lot about the advertising business in this review," said West Virginia dealer Dick Smith, who has been head of Olds' dealer council. "We (the dealers) had no idea that Burnett did those ads for Hallmark or United . . . and that work is fantastic," Smith admitted. No one should call Smith dumb or naive about not knowing what kind of work Burnett does for other clients. Maybe no one ever showed the dealers Burnett'S whole reel. All dealers ever got to see was Burnett's Olds work, which, of course, was a product of what Olds management wanted. If they had been aware of the agency's body of work, it might have been clearer to the disgruntled dealers who was really at fault for the years of confused marketing strategy.
Olds' staff, Fizdale and the four dealers last week were preparing to face an angry mob of dealers in New Orleans at the National Automobile Dealers Association. I got the feeling that the review process served the same function for all of them as one of those Outward Bound management seminars where executives walk on high wires, eat dirt and hug a lot. It got the three sides working on the same problem. So was the review necessary, or even a good idea? Yes, if Oldsmobile is going to be respectable.
So were the other agencies who had hopes of glory just props in the process? The contenders answered a boat load of questions about their respective shops, like the time they would devote to the account, etc. But no assignment was ever given, even to the finalists. And some complained they never got to sink their teeth into the pitch. So, compared with Burnett's ability to address problems one-by-one in fine detail, which they did in their presentation, the other agencies might as well have been playing handball against a drape. It's ironic then that the incumbent actually seems to have had the best shot at it.
But if there are agency executives who still feel used or jilted by Olds, maybe they should put themselves in Fizdale's shoes. And maybe they ought to look at the experience as if Olds was a straying middle-aged husband who fell back in love with his wife of 25 years. Don't agency executives grouse about the divorce rate being too high for clients and agencies? Don't they complain about the agency too often getting too much of the blame for slow sales? Yes, the other shops lost out, but maybe for a greater good of the business. Burnett really didn't deserve to take the fall, and it didn't.
Consider some of the things said by the two sides last week. Fizdale: "I think we came out of this with an entirely new understanding of the dealers' needs at the retail level." Olds marketing chief Ramsey: "We chose the best agency available to us." Dealer Smith: "Leo Burnett can make Olds a success again. But they need our help."
Wow, maybe this business can be fun again.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)