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Max, Dan, Jerry – 2012’s out-performers

December 14, 2012

League tables of achievement are as commonplace as turkeys right now. Why burden you with another one? Well, I’ve been asked to – by the good folk at More About Advertising. So:

Ad of the Year. Yes, I liked BBH’s “The 3 Little Pigs” and Creative Artist Agency’s Cannes Chipotle winner. Also, Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi’s work for – of all improbable B2C clients – air-conditioning specialist BGH. Of which this, directed by Juan Cabral, is the latest instance:

As MAA’s Stephen Foster puts it – “bleakly comic”.

My favourite, though, was “Follow the Frog”, a quirky satire of the desk-bound yuppie eco-warrior fantasising about making the World A Better Place. Writer, director, copywriter, art director is Max Joseph – clearly a bit of an Orson Welles in the making. The commercial was produced by Wander Films, a creative boutique in Los Angeles. The moral? You don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to save the rainforest. Just Follow the Frog by buying kitemark-certified Rainforest Alliance products. They’ll do all the ethical heavy-lifting for you: sustain the forests, uphold socially equitable farming methods, and guarantee that what you buy is economically viable:

It’s long – but isn’t nearly everything these days? The measure of the made-for-internet film is not its length, but how well it sustains our interest. On this criterion Follow the Frog succeeds very well. It’s got a good tale to tell, is directed with panache and enlivened by bold use of graphics. Oh, and it uses gentle humour to camouflage the piety of its evangelical message. Yes “Siri”, it get’s my vote.

Agency of the Year. I won’t beat about the bush: it’s got to be Wieden & Kennedy. International networks frequently produce isolated instances of brilliance (Del Campo being an example within the Saatchi organisation). Exceptional work, simultaneously executed on a number of fronts, is another matter. To take an investment analogy, W&K is a momentum stock outperforming in all its main markets. Whether that’s Clint fronting for Chrysler at the Super Bowl:

… London winning the £110m Tesco account – but also producing some of the most interesting creative work since “Grrr”:

Or Amsterdam’s slick spoof for the latest James Bond film, which neatly segues into its current Heineken campaign:

Person of the Year. Tempting to mention the name of Joel Ewanick, isn’t it? No one can be said to have made a bigger splash in the world of marketing over the past year. Arguably, however, the now-dismissed chief marketing officer of General Motors made headlines for all the wrong reasons. A change agent he certainly was, but were any of his changes for the good? And what sort of permanence will they have? We hacks miss him, but I suspect the wider marketing community will not.

Jerry BuhlmannInstead of anti-hero, therefore, I’ve plumped for a gritty go-getter: marketing services’ answer to Daniel Craig. Like Craig, he certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice as the archetypal smooth operator. But his coolness under fire cannot be doubted. Step forward Jerry Buhlmann, chief executive of Aegis Group plc. If there is one thing archetypal about Jerry, it’s that he’s a self-made media man. He started off in the “five to one” slot, in other words the lowest of the low in the full-service agency hierarchy, at Young & Rubicam in 1980. Nine years later, he was setting up his his own media-buying outfit BBJ – along with ultimately less successful Nick Brien and the downright obscure Colin Jelfs. BBJ – nowadays Vizeum – though successful (it handled for example the BMW account) was originally a “second-string” shop for conflicted WCRS media. Buhlmann’s career really took off when WCRS’s Peter Scott had the inspired idea of acquiring Carat – Europe’s largest media buyer – and floating off the combined operation as a separate stock market entity, rechristened Aegis. Buhlmann and his company were soon swallowed up by the independent media specialist, which offered him much wider career opportunities.

But was he a man capable of capitalising on them? While no one has ever doubted Buhlmann’s single-minded ambition to succeed, a lot have wondered whether he had the competence to do so. Yes, he had a mind like a calculator and razor-sharp commercial acumen, but where, oh where, were those human skills no less essential for making it to the top of the corporate pile? There was much mirth in the senior reaches of the media industry when Buhlmann got his first big break as head of Aegis Media EMEA in 2003. “It’s like William Hague trying to emulate Margaret Thatcher” was a typical response to his promotion. Then, as later, Buhlmann’s critics completely underestimated his ability to learn on the job. When he became group chief executive in 2010, the reception was scarcely less friendly. The master of ‘focus’ and ‘detail’ was incapable of taking the broader view vital to successfully running a publicly-quoted company, it was said. And then there was Jerry’s far-from-diplomatic demeanour: how long before he rubbed the City up the wrong way and had to be dispensed with?

It wasn’t as if Aegis was an easy company to run, either. As a (near) pure-bred media specialist, it was susceptible to squalls in the media every time the inevitable financial scandal broke. Inevitable, because media buying and peculation are bedfellows and peculation distorts financial performance – meaning in Aegis’ case it had to resort to highly public mea culpas every now and then. Other major media outfits, by contrast, have been able to rely on defence in depth from the much bigger marketing services organisations to which they belong.

Not only that, Aegis’s card was marked as a public company. For years, it laboured under the strain of being a takeover or break-up target. The strain became nightmarish when Vincent Bolloré, the shareholder from hell, took a strategic stake in Aegis and began engineering a series of boardroom coups.

Some of the credit for Aegis’ eventual soft-landing – a 50%-premium, £3.2bn cash deal with Dentsu, sealed last June  – must go to Aegis chairman John Napier. But that still leaves a lot owing to Buhlmann himself. Not only did he keep all the plates spinning in difficult circumstances, he also demonstrated a strategic clarity which eluded his predecessors. He ruthlessly pruned the company of its lower-margin research operation (by disposing of Synovate to Ipsos), but at the same time bolstered its pure-play media-buying profile with the geographical add-on of Mitchell Communications.

Not a bad result, all in all, for the man once dubbed the king of the second-string.

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Hans Riedel – the Porsche mastermind behind Jaguar’s bright Sparks ad plan

February 21, 2011

I cannot be alone in wondering what possessed Jaguar to pluck the majority (not all, note) of its $100m global advertising and marketing communications account out of Euro RSCG and place it in the hands of an untried joint-venture called Spark44, which will be head-quartered in Los Angeles.

If you don’t like the agency, fire it; don’t leave it clinging onto the business in nearly a third of your markets. If you do like the agency, but you’re unsure about the quality of its work, call a global review and take it from there. What’s happened here, by contrast, looks amateur and ill-judged: an accident waiting to happen at a time when Jaguar should be worrying about other things. Such as its dealers’ morale and the reliability of its new core product, the long-delayed XJ large saloon range.

Jaguar, which is part of Jaguar Land Rover and now owned by the family of Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, has been rather cryptic about the new marketing services JV – possibly because the news got out prematurely. So let’s try to fill in some of the gaps.

They say it’s not in-house but will be “100% dedicated to developing the Jaguar brand”. I take this to mean that 1) Jaguar is to be the majority shareholder in the enterprise and 2) that Spark44 will not be permitted to chase other clients.

In other words, the model is slightly different to Samsung’s relationship to Cheil (it can, but is so smothered it has never been able to diversify satisfactorily). And perish the thought we should so much as mention Kevin Morley Marketing – which for 3 unhappy years during the early nineties handled the £100m Rover brand. Even so, there are some unsettling parallels with KMM. As will be seen.

What little we definitely know about Spark44 comes from its website which, alas, has now been locked down with password protection (Nerves? Unreadiness? Both?). Before it disappeared from public view, a logo was to be discerned, in the form of a large spark-plug. The “44” part probably relates to the four partners ostensibly running the JV; and the fact that they will operate in Jaguar’s 4 main markets: the USA, Britain, Germany and China  – which, together, account for about 70% of the marque’s sales.

These four partners are: Alastair Duncan; Steve Woolford; Bruce Dundore; and Werner Krainz. Who? Well, good question. First, all of them have big agency backgrounds (McCann and BBDO figuring particularly prominently in their CVs), and specific experience on car accounts. Krainz (German, as the name suggests) and Dundore are creatives. London-based Duncan was until 2009 chief executive of McCann WorldGroup digital arm MRM Worldwide, and earlier helped to set up digital agency Zentropy. Finally, and most important, there is LA-based Woolford. Woolford, after a spell running a barber shop or two in LA, has been a group account director at BBDO (Mitusbishi being one of his clients); and also has a connection with McCann and Duncan, having – surprise, surprise – occupied senior positions at Zentropy and MRM.

But the really interesting thing about Woolford is his client-side experience: earlier in his career he worked for both Porsche and BMW. And it is this pedigree which has given him an entrée to the senior German car executives and consultants who now – effectively – run Jaguar worldwide.

Yes, the Indian Tata business dynasty may own Tata Motors – which bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford for £1.15bn in 2008 – but it is the Germans who run it. Last year, Tata put the respected former head of General Motors Europe and ex-BMW executive Carl-Peter Forster in overall charge of its global motor operations. Separately, but about the same time, it picked former BMW executive Ralph Speth as CEO of the Jaguar Land Rover division. Speth reports to Forster but – importantly for the future perhaps – the Speth appointment was made not by Forster but by Ravi Kant, vice chairman of Tata Motors.

Speth quickly set about refashioning JLR’s senior management in his own image. One of his most significant hirings is former senior Saab and Porsche executive Adrian Hallmark to the new position of Jaguar global brand director. Indirectly, Hallmark is a replacement – with much-reduced powers – for managing director Mike O’Driscoll, who leaves this year. Over the past 3 years, O’Driscoll – in charge of product and sales, as well as marketing – has been the key transition figure in the handover of Jaguar from Ford to Tata. Among other things, he was pivotal in cementing Euro’s relationship (which began during the Ford era in 2005) with the brand’s new owner.

There are a lot of names in this thickening plot, but let’s start tying it together with the introduction of yet another one. Speth has been surrounding himself with expensive consultants: in fact, Jaguar has been spending more on consultancy recently than it has on agency fees, according to one well-placed source. If so, that must be a tidy sum, since the Euro RSCG fee is commonly thought to be $10m per annum.

Prime among these consultants is one Dr Hans Riedel, who first made his appearance last summer, prior to the Hallmark appointment. It is Riedel (left) who is effectively calling the shots in marketing. Now about 62, he has worked full-time for only 3 employers in his life: Young & Rubicam; BMW, which he joined in 1980; and Porsche, from which, after 12 years, he retired in 2006. At Porsche he was Mr Sales and Marketing – the man who helped launch the sports-car maker’s third-leg strategy, the Cayenne 4×4 off-roader; and who oversaw an explosion of Porsche sales, which soared from 18,000 in 1994 to over 90,000 by the time he left. At BMW, he acquired extensive knowledge of the North American market helping, among other things, to reorganise BMW’s motorcycle operation there.

The point is this. Riedel quickly made his presence felt at Jaguar by cancelling an imminent global all-model ad campaign – to dealers’ consternation – and bringing in the relatively unknown Woolford as his right-hand man. Next thing we know, Woolford and his chums have carved out for themselves the lion’s share of Jaguar’s marketing communications budget.

In whose best interest is this marketing services JC being set up: Jaguar’s or the people running it? But, equally important: will it actually work?

First, a bit of background. Euro’s advertising strategy performed an early and vital service for the Jaguar brand. The “Gorgeous” campaign definitively pushed Jaguar upmarket, by detaching it from the Ford name and repositioning it as a luxury item. Its task was assisted by the scrapping of Jaguar’s entry model, the unsuccessful X, and the revitalisation of the rest of its range, the XF, XS and the XJ. Whatever quibbles there may be over the XJ’s reliability, all three ranges have been well received critically; and the 2010 JD Power ratings – which measure customer satisfaction – prove the point by ranking Jaguar the highest-scoring luxury marque in the US auto industry.

The “luxury item” strategy is remarkably similar to that which has prevailed at Porsche over the years, at a noticeably lower cost in marketing services expenditure. Riedel  – who must be regarded as the eminence grise behind Spark44 – was not a believer in bloated advertising budgets then; and the evidence is, he is not one now (particularly when it comes to the flim-flam of digital and social media).

Maybe he’s right to be so conservative: his track record speaks for itself. But there are also reasons for suspecting that Spark44 will not succeed in the objectives it seems to have set itself. Will it save Jaguar money? Initially maybe. Its problem is the brand’s global reach. Although it has sought to circumvent the issue of network overheads by leaving all the messy bits to Euro, Spark44 is still lumbered with a fundamental problem. It is servicing only one brand, and that brand must therefore, single-handedly, subsidise the cost of regional presence. There is a complexity of engagement  – and therefore expense – in that presence which may, so far, have eluded the drawing-board agency strategists. The Kevin Morley (left) experiment failed not simply because of the posturing, pugnacious personality of Rover’s former managing director-turned-adman, but because it was and remained a one-trick pony. It could find no substantial partner to spread the costs of a European network. Nor, in the last analysis, could it give advice that was in any sense robustly objective, tied as it was to a single paymaster. Morley quit before his 5-year term was up and, shortly afterwards, the business was sold to Lintas, later a part of Lowe.

Jaguar  might have been better advised to approach Havas with the idea of a 50/50 joint venture run out of Euro. After all, the infrastructure is halfway there already. Jaguar is handled by a specialist agency with a dedicated strategy unit, operating out of its two chief markets London and New York (not always in that order), in order to avoid account conflict with Peugeot. That way the Jaguar JC could have spread the risk while asserting greater control over marketing communications and the associated costs. What’s more, as a global strategy it would have been a good deal more coherent.

For all that, let’s not prejudge Spark44’s chances of success. We’ll know it’s working when, in about a year’s time, Speth turns his attention to Y&R’s global contract with the more successful Land Rover brand, and attempts to replicate the Spark44 model. Either that, or he may find himself without a job.


Would you Adam & Eve it?

November 11, 2009

Martin SorrellWhere does he find the time? Besides dealing with “fundamental strategic issues” every day of his working life (ie, every day), WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell has developed a formidable talent for litigation.

The latest scalps are a group of executives who conspired to swindle WPP over the purchase of one of Australia’s most venerable agencies, George Patterson. Briefly, two Patts execs (as they say Down Under), md Anthony Heraghty and ecd James McGrath, were secretly channelled $1.5m by the former owner, Pacific Equity Partners, to stay on for a year, as an inducement for WPP to pay a higher price. They duly did, then quit: which obviously left Hamish McLennan, the group ceo of acquiring WPP agency Y&R, looking extremely vulnerable; if not quite so vulnerable as certain strategic Patts accounts.

That was three years ago. Dogged legal pursuit has resulted in an unreserved apology from Heraghty and McGrath, and well over $10m damages extracted from all the defendants, including PEP. PEP, while admitting it knew about the agreements, has blamed lawyers Clayton Utz for poor advice. Sorrell is now, separately, pursuing Clayton Utz.

And the message is? Watch out for the High Court in London on Monday, November 23rd, when Sorrell attempts to extract a similar package from Adam & Eve, the agency that had the temerity to break away from WPP without asking. I am assured that nothing less than a grovelling apology and a great deal of money will suffice.


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