Wal-Mart Didn’t Invent the ‘Do-Over’

NEW YORK Wal-Mart’s brief and bizarre encounter with DraftFCB as its lead agency is certainly unprecedented in more ways than one. But it’s not the only notable recent short-lived client-agency relationship.

A handful of major accounts over the last decade have been awarded to agencies only to have a client rescind its decision at the 11th hour (or shortly thereafter) for various reasons.

“Some clients get nervous in the first few weeks of working with their new agency,” said one search consultant. “But I’ve never heard of someone pulling an account right after it’s been awarded.”

But it has happened, at least three times to Fallon in Minneapolis, with Domino’s Pizza, Gateway and Sun Microsystems.

In 1997, Fallon was a finalist in a Domino’s review, and after final presentations, client executives informed Fallon it had won the business. At that time, the account would have provided the shop with $7 million in annual revenue, according to agency founder Pat Fallon.

In his book, Juicing the Orange (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), Fallon describes the change of heart by the Domino’s arch-conservative founder, Tom Monaghan, whose subordinates told Fallon that Monaghan loved the agency’s creative for all of its clients.

But there was one exception: the pro bono Children’s Defense Fund account, which Monaghan wrongly believed had ties to the pro-choice movement. It did not, but Domino’s executives told Fallon it had to resign the pro-bono account in order to secure the pizza business.

“We declined the [Domino’s] business,” Fallon writes in his book, adding that doing otherwise would have sent a “chilling” signal to the agency’s staff.

Then, in February 2001, Fallon won Gateway’s then $250 million account after a review, but split with the client the same month. According to a Feb. 28, 2001 Adweek article, “Fallon broke off talks with the computer maker … in part, because Gateway intended to handle at least some of the account in-house, sources said.” A Gateway representative declined comment.

And who can forget the fits and starts of the $100 million California Lottery review that began in 2001 and lasted until 2004?

The account went from DDB in 2001 after a review, but following a series of formal protests, grievances and complaints from various other finalists in ensuing years, the California Lottery Commission held more reviews and the account turned over several more times.

After DDB, it moved to then Foote, Cone & Belding, then McCann Erickson before finally settling at BBDO in April 2004.

While California Lottery rivals the Wal-Mart review on the frustration meter, only the ONDCP scandal is on par with the recent Wal-Mart-related events for sheer drama and intrigue.

Ogilvy & Mather won the business in 1999, but after the government brought criminal charges of fraud against the agency regarding its altered employee time sheets, the account went into review in 2002. Two of the agency’s executives on the account, Thomas Early and Shona Seifert, were sentenced to prison.

FCB (which merged with Draft this past June) won the ONDCP account in October 2004 after the second review and many months of client deliberation.

Not all agency-client relationships are as abrupt as Wal-Mart and DraftFCB, but still end sooner than originally expected.

Last year, Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami parted with Gateway after just 10 months, and Subway left Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco after 11 months to consolidate at independent shop MMB in Boston.

Rarely, however, does an agency resign an account after a short courtship, but even that happened in this wacky year.

Independent Dallas shop The Richards Group won a review for 21st Century, an
insurance company, in June, only to resign it a few weeks later over what shop CEO Stan Richards called “creative differences.”

Catherine Bension, who ran that process for Select Resources International, acknowledged at the time that the client was “difficult.”

Before selecting The Richards Group, Century 21 had been with Dailey & Associates in West Hollywood, Calif., for less than a year.