By Brian Morrissey
The ad-agency business faces many challenges in times of constrained spending and with their role as strategic partners with clients called into question. Many in the industry have their opinions for how to fix this, but it was doubly interesting to hear the prescription of a top client. Brian Perkins, vp of corporate affairs at Johnson & Johnson, was asked at a seminar here in Cannes what he'd do if he were in fellow panelist Michael Roth's shoes as the head of Interpublic Group. Perkins' bold solution: Go private.
This isn't totally new. (George Parker offered a similar idea to the 4A's in March.) But it's interesting to hear Perkins endorse the view that managing their businesses according to the vicissitudes of Wall Street is hurting the agency world.
Is it doable?
"I'd argue [agencies] are a labor-intensive business, not a capital-intensive business," Perkins said. This would neatly solve the biggest knock on the holding-company structure: that they can't invest for or think long term because their agencies are under constant pressure to manage financial expectations in a business that's notoriously fickle.
Perkins' other prescriptions while playing IPG CEO were more ordinary: invest in talent, and figure out a way to bring media and creative either back together or working cohesively.
Perkins is also apparently quite happy with his digital shop, R/GA. He lavished praise on the agency repeatedly during his remarks, noting that CEO Bob Greenberg has the vision to put his agency in the lead role with clients. "It's inevitable the great digital agencies will gravitate toward brand stewardship," he said.