Madison Avenue Makeover is a new game, played quietly by a few players. Its rules are not entirely obvious, but The Makeovers are gaining momentum in the highly competitive marketing communications industry.
Madison Avenue Manslaughter is the industry standard game. Most clients and agencies are playing it, using a self-defeating playbook. This game sees brands that do not grow; CMOs who come and go like White House staffers; clients who abuse their agencies (declining fees; ad hoc Scopes of Work, vendor relationships); agencies who abuse their staffs (overwork, downsizings, lack of diversity, depressed salaries, unattractive career paths); cost reductions positioned as agile initiatives; executives who follow rather than lead, and greater creativity described as the solution, even though no one knows what it takes when funds have dried up. Profit margin, not creativity, is the real god, and all is sacrificed on its altar.
What are the rules followed by The Makeovers?
The management consultants, of course, have the edge as Makeovers because they have unceasingly focused on hitting home runs for their clients to justify 5x billing multiples for their highly paid, A-list professionals. In 1973, Bain & Company was the first to articulate a corporate mission to “redefine the management consulting industry to focus on delivering client results, not just producing reports.” Its clients, over time, outperformed the S&P by four to one, setting an example for others in the consulting industry, where it is now standard for a consulting firm to position itself as delivering improved results. Since consultants have been adding media and creative capabilities to their product portfolios, they are increasingly capable of carrying out full-potential plans for major advertisers -- and they’re winning at this game.
Media and creative ad agencies, by contrast, continue to work by Madison Avenue Manslaughter rules, letting clients take all the key initiatives: defining and arbitrarily cutting their fees, growing their undocumented Scopes of Work, moving SOWs in-house, etc. Agencies are far from being considered performance partners by their clients. That used to be the case, back in the ‘60s and ‘70’s, but those days are long gone. Today, agency client heads hang on to what they’ve got, fearful of client losses; the notion that they should be responsible for defining and implementing a client’s full performance potential is completely alien. “The client does not give us this role.”
There are new rules for Madison Avenue’s Makeover and a few insightful players are positioning themselves to dominate the game.
And the others? They’re receiving and giving a thousand small cuts, slowly over time, but every year is worse than the one before. They’ve learned to tolerate the pain, and they’re soldiering on to provide service and creativity, even though it’s not changing the outcomes.
One day it will end, sooner rather than later. The Makeover game is the only winning game in town.
Cartoon courtesy of Michael Farmer. Used with permission.
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