Bucked from their jobs by the industry’s economic upheavals, ad execs-turned-consultants are undercutting agencies and riding high." data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" data-auth = "" >

Back in the saddle By Debra Goldma

Bucked from their jobs by the industry’s economic upheavals, ad execs-turned-consultants are undercutting agencies and riding high.

You’ll find them in all the better suburbs, tucked away in a spare room in their homes In a crueler world we might simply call them unemployed. But in the brave new environment of the freelance economy, they have a moredignified name: consultants.
With ever greater frequency, marketers are relying on the expertise of consultants in launching new products, repositioning old ones and devising advertising strategies–tasks once thought to be the heart and soul of the ad agency business.
Who are these consultants? They’re your former colleagues, of course. Layoffs, which now occur like ritual bloodlettings, have left Madison Avenue littered with bodies whose jobs will never be resurrected. Only a minority will find regular work again in the shrinking agency business– and the older and better-paid an executive is when his job disappears, the more unlikely he’ll find a new one in this hopeI-die-before-I-get-old business.
So advertising’s dispossessed are installing phone lines, computers and faxes, and they’re taking their resumes (which are identical to yours) directly to your clients who are increasingly receptive to what they have to offer. Add in marketing executives whose former companies have gone through the familiar convulsions of mergers, shakeouts, downsizing and reorganization, and you have a formidable pool of competition for clients’ marketing dollars. And in a business environment where employers show the kind of phobia toward long-term relationships once reserved for the singles scene, consultants who require no commitments are increasingly attractive.
“There’s a shifting balance in where and how things are getting done (in marketing),” says Richard Roth, who runs a consulting firm out of his Chappaqua, N.Y., home. “It’s the same people doing the work, but it’s being done differently.”
Different almost always means cheaper. Even consultants who command hefty fees invariably cost their blue-chip clients less than agencies. Peter Tannen, who works for clients such as Frito-Lay, Nestle and Campbell’s, observes, “Agencies can say, ‘We’ll do this kind of work for you,’ but the cost to the client, after you figure in overhead, is astronomical. And if the client knows that it’s Fred and Harvey actually doing the work, he’s saying, ‘Why can’t I just have Fred and Harvey do it?'”
Different also often means older. Consultant David Herzbrun, for 37 years a copywriter at Doyle, Dane,
Bernbach and other agencies, now works from his home in St. Helena, N.C. He has teamed with an adhoc group scattered over the Eastern Seaboard. One colleague is a marketing executive who was squeezed out of his job in a corporate reorganization, another is an ad guy who returned from a European assignment to find his agency had been sold and his job made redundant. All have seen their 50th birthday. Yet the same clients who want to see unlined faces on their creative teams seem to appreciate gray temples on their strategic advisors.
Even more telling than the fact that clients are relying on consultants is the fact that they’re turning to them for strategic help. “More clients are asking me for strategic direction or to give strategic guidance to their agencies,” reports Roth. Because downsizing targets highly paid senior employees first, “the best strategic minds are fewer and farther between in agencies,” he says, and the remaining key management “spends all its time on administration, chasing new business and doing damage control.”
Herzbrun’s clients are particularly blunt about their lack of confidence in the strategic abilities of agencies. He explains that all of his new-product project reports include “advertising executional guidelines–suggestions for tone of voice, whom to target, how to talk to them, media suggestions. I ask my clients, ‘Why do you want me to do this? Why isn’t your agency doing it?’ And they say it’s because the agencies are no damned good at it. They laugh at the notion that an account guy can become a marketing guy. There’s an enormous amount of contempt for agencies out there.”
The more strategic thinking is farmed out to consultants, the more agencies are reduced to mere suppliers of creative product. The problem is that, for most products, the power of creative has been diluted by proliferating media and the rising power of retailers. Says John Bissell of the consultancy Gunderson Partners, “Today creative alone is not going to work–unless you’re talking about some image product like Pepsi or Coca-Cola.”
Did he say Coca-Cola? The advertiser that “outsourced” its creative to talent agency CAA? Such a turn just goes to show that once the task of marketing begins to fragment, no agency bailiwick is safe from encroachment.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)