'After a few years of trying to get the (Met's) curtain up at 8 o'clock every night,' Crawford admits, 'I am a little more understanding, I suppose, of how people work in the advertising business.' His sigh is almost audible when he goes on to say, 'In this stable, at least, there's no one quite the equivalent of Pavarotti.'
That's not to suggest dealing with the likes of Phil Dusenberry, creative chief of lead Omnicom agency BBDO, is a day at the beach. 'It's not,' Crawford says with usual candor. Nor, for that matter, is courting Bill Tragos, the chief of TBWA, a $1-billion shop that Omnicom will acquire in mid-May through an exchange of shares. 'I've known Bill for years,' Crawford volunteers, 'and I'll admit that on more than one occasion he has gotten under my skin.'
Still, the chuckle that accompanies Crawford's admission reveals just how comfortable he is with potentially prickly characters. That doesn't mean he's a pushover - he's not. 'I have a point of view of what will work,' he says. 'Within reason of that, I try to be flexible. I think you have to in a service business, but that doesn't strike me as particularly brilliant or innovative.'
Maybe it's not, but it is unusual. In an industry where fear is rampant, rank is privilege, and blood is awash, there are as many talented but troublesome veterans pounding the pavement as there are receiving paychecks for challenging, in a productive way, the status quo. Some creative superstars - forever consigned to freelance, it seems - have been told, even by well-meaning shops, that the rewards promised by their portfolios are no longer worth the risks associated with their temperaments.
Crawford, by comparison, knows his job is to grow Omnicom rather than feather his own nest. The result has been an organization chart that is as responsive to talent as it is beholden to reporting relationships. Crawford's disposition is what recently lured Tragos & Co. into the fold. His attitude is what allowed Andy Berlin to be salvaged from Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein a year ago, after Berlin had a falling out with his cofounders, and assume the national stage for DDB Needham. And, just last week, it was Crawford behind the personality-packed spinoff of Merkley Newman Harty from staid financial shop Doremus & Co.
'I've never seen easygoing people as great business builders,' Crawford says of his own accommodating but never easygoing nature, 'whereas people who can make great things happen almost always produce major side effects.' Although he surely knew as much before his '86-'89 sabbatical from BBDO (the 'big bang' of Omnicom took place during his absence), Crawford's tenure at the Met provided major reinforcement.
It's impossible to imagine a tougher re-proving ground: The Met is not only notorious for star wars within its own constellation of tenors and divas, but also perennially conflicted between art and commerce. Equally relevant is that, while no ego is too small to go unacknowledged, no detail is too big to be obvious.
Crawford, on returning to Madison Avenue, has demonstrated he is as adept at dealing with the latter as he is stroking the former.
As modest as the Merkley Newman Harty spinoff might seem in the overall scheme of Omnicom, Crawford has been grappling with it since his return. 'We acquired Doremus in the '70s, before the great '80s surge in financial advertising,' he explains. 'And while Doremus has always been great in that particular field, it has never delivered on its two other parts - investor relations and corporate-and-consumer advertising.'
Crawford first fixed the investor-relations part by having Doremus acquire Gavin Anderson & Co., an international expert in the field. That left general advertising, a problem Crawford started solving two years ago by hiring Parry Merkley, still fresh from his success as creative director of American Expres' 'Portraits' campaign.
After providing state-of-the-art technology, Crawford not only allowed Merkley to assemble his own team but practically shoved a new nameplate on the door.
Merkley eventually came around after sensing Doremus was to consumer advertising what Toyota was to luxury driving. 'They could have spent many millions and many years getting the world to accept they could manufacture a $50,000 car,' he says, 'or, instead, they could simply launch Lexus.'
In Merkley's instance, however, it was Crawford who encouraged the principals to use their own names rather than continue Merkley's search - well into nine months - for something 'conceptual.'
'If they're the ones doing all the work, why shouldn't it be their names?' Crawford asks. Why, as any impresario could tell you, it practically goes with the proscenium.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)