‘Is the AOR Dead’ Debate: 2014 Edition

By Shawn Paul Wood 

AORToday we bring you the latest chapter in the spirited conversation that comes up in most creative industries on a yearly basis. This time, the two combatants debating the death of the AOR are:

  • In the blue corner keeping it cheesy,  Kraft Foods Group Chief Marketing Officer Deanie Elsner
  • And in the red corner helping you get your snack on, Dana Anderson, VP of marketing strategy and communications for Mondelez International

The feud started when Anderson published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal and opined that AORs are “no longer the pathway to Oz for clients or agencies.” Elsner took some serious umbrage with that sentiment from Anderson (for context, the two worked together at Kraft Foods before she flew the coop for Mondelez in 2012).

And so the debate is on.


Elsner has some experience with AORs as she has managed the likes of mcgarrybowen (Oscar Mayer), CP+B (Jello) and TBWA New York (Planters). She believes in the AOR experience because where there are many minds, there are many ideas. Elsner told AdAge:

“The big idea is still alive and well…[but] translation of that [idea] across different media channels may be more executionally appropriate outside of the AORs. Or the AORs will have to figure out a way to translate [ideas] across different mediums in a more cost efficient way.”

And therein lies the rub.

targetaudienceMany people believe that the only organizations that need an AOR are smaller businesses that either don’t have the bandwidth to work with all these communications agencies or don’t have the experience to do anything with them in the first place. It makes sense to place digital here, media buying there, creative here and PR there…doesn’t it?

How about aiming for a target audience? Surely the process inspires more trust when it involves three different agencies with one bullet a piece rather than one agency with three bullets. You would think rapid-fire aiming can have its issues. Then again, it’s not like the snipers at each firm aren’t assigned to the largest accounts.

Perhaps agencies are viewed as the equivalent of your local cable provider because bundling creates benefits. A client’s decision to lump everything together helps develop brand equity, messaging consistency and work productivity. Or does it??!

Maybe it’s because of ROI. CMOs must appreciate the ability to crunch numbers and quantify metrics on a project basis rather than applying the method to a month, a quarter, or even a year’s worth of work. Surely, that’s the reason for spreading the wealth among other agencies, right?

Back to Anderson’s editorial, which got this convo going in the first place:

“Creativity in all of its forms is vital to consumers, so it’s vital to us. Everyone wants brilliant creative partners of all shapes and sizes to join them in getting to a better, happier place. Yes, our ecosystem is changing. The evolution has begun. It’s time to ask yourself, ‘What part will you play?'”

What if you can play all those parts well? Stay tuned in 2015…