Last month, Citibank consolidated its $500 million global account at Young & Rubicam Inc. The decision followed a review with Citibank's roster agencies which the contenders thought was for a new global branding campaign-- not their respective assignments.
Y&R was not on the roster. It was invited to participate but declined. It's Y&R Inc.'s sister company, Wunderman Cato Johnson, that had $50 million in American Express billings. In 1990, Y&R Inc. convinced AmEx and AT&T a conflict didn't exist, although Lord Einstein O'Neill & Partners, in which Y&R held a 49 percent interest, was the agency for AT&T's Universal Card launch and AmEx was at Wunderman.
Usually, any competent holding company with multiple agencies can pull this off. This time, it was too close. Pitching Citibank would have jeopardized the AmEx business. Losing the pitch publicly would have been costly.
The situation was reminiscent of the pitch for GTE's $100 million account. Ogilvy & Mather, which at the time handled Nynex out of New York and Pacific Telesis Group out of Los Angeles, wasn't a player in the review. But it won the assignment.
Both agencies benefited from prior business relationships. For Y&R, it was Citibank's William Campbell, an executive vice president charged with running the global branding assignment review. He knew John McGarry, president of Y&R Inc., and Burson-Marsteller's Harold Burson from his days at Philip Morris USA. A Procter & Gamble connection between Charlotte Beers and Ed Artzt, who was on the GTE board, is said to have played a role in GTE's decision.
Similarly, it was Steve Jobs' desire to work with Lee Clow again that prompted Apple Computer to scuttle the review for its $90 million account and place the account at TBWA Chiat/Day.
When such things happen on high-profile, big-budget reviews, questions about the business are raised. Is it fair for a client to allow agencies to endure the cost of a pitch if they know they don't want a contender's service? Is it fair for an agency to negotiate with a current client's competitor?
Worry not, these questions don't have to be answered. Anyone in advertising who wants to be treated fairly in this day and age should find another profession.
And while there is little point in trying to console an agency that feels deceived in one of the aforementioned reviews, there may be some glimpses of a silver lining.
The decisions made by Apple, GTE and Citibank were made by marketers who knew what shop they wanted and why--and had the juice to pull it off.
In a time when so many clients won't hire an agency without first hiring a consultant, it's refreshing to see people put themselves on the line for an agency. Now, if they would only skip the bogus review process, everyone would be better off and agencies would not complain.
Client loyalty is clearly a dead issue.
Personal loyalty, however, is alive and well. Front-line agencies that compete in the rarified air of big-time accounts won't have to depend on rainmakers. Instead, they will rely on the quality of relationships carefully nurtured throughout the years. --Kevin McCormack