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Start with the question: Why is Seelert criticising Toyota in public?

Sack him, or back him? That’s the dilemma facing Toyota chief Akio Toyoda as he mulls the controversial advice given him by his agency chief, Bob Seelert – chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

Seelert has taken the highly eccentric course of contradicting in public his client’s decision to continue advertising, amid a hail of criticism accompanying the recall of about 8 million vehicles globally because of accelerator and brake problems.

Due credit to Seelert for making a point about his client’s best interests at the expense of the agency he heads, but why is he doing it in public?

It’s tempting to conclude that Seelert, a former client himself (mostly at General Foods), cannot resist the temptation to play the management guru. About a year ago, he brought out a book entitled Start With The Answer: And Other Wisdom for Aspiring Leaders. It’s full of pithy insights into how to run a business, distilled by a man with a lifetime of experience (although, not in running his own).

What Toyoda thinks of this, we can only conjecture. He’s a bookish, thoughtful fellow known to have been deeply influenced by Jim Collins’ latest management blockbuster, How The Mighty Fall. Indeed, he has gone so far as to judiciously apply Collins’ analysis to the plight of his own company.

Somehow, I suspect he will be less sympathetic towards Seelert’s two ha’pence. For a start, Seelert’s views on Toyota advertising are far from gaining universal approval among crisis management experts. Many might accept that actively selling Toyota vehicles at this stage is unwise. A corporate campaign aimed at reassuring customers around the world is a very different matter.

Then, too, there is the not insignificant matter of causing the chief executive of a Japanese corporation (however modest, personally) to lose face in public through openly questioning his judgement. I’m sure that Seelert’s senior colleagues at Saatchi have been vociferously reminding him that Toyota has a choice.

That choice is called Omnicom, which has lost almost all of its General Motors business in the last year. It could of course go for more of the bits of business that remain, such as Chevrolet. All the same, I’m sure the significance of this spat has not been lost on Omnicom chief executive John Wren.

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One Response to Start with the question: Why is Seelert criticising Toyota in public?

  1. […] the very agency that is hatching the campaign. Earlier this year Seelert controversially chose to contradict his client in public about the wisdom of continuing advertising support while the faults remained unfixed. […]

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