War… What is it good for? The Agency-Client conflict. Isn’t it time we gave peace of chance?

November 22, 2010

Dog eat dog? Nonsense.


Not a happy word, is it? Particularly when it comes to agency/client relationships. Typically, conflicts are created when a marketing agency considers working for clients in the same category i.e. cars, QSR, etc. It’s not allowed.

There are countless examples, many we never hear about. On a personal level, two conflicts come to mind. The first involved my father, Larry Postaer and his agency. Back in the day, when DDB merged with Needham my dad was the CCO of Needham L.A. Their flagship account was Honda in America. Alas, DDB brought with it the Volkswagen car account, then more well known. Rather than give up Honda (which would’ve been the result), dad and his partner, Jerry Rubin elected to acquire the L.A. office (no simple feat) creating Rubin Postaer & Associates.

The second case involved a conflict within my current agency, Euro RSCG. In Chicago, we were quite proud of our work on Valspar paints, having helped launch the brand in America, A truly integrated case study, we did our finest work for them and won numerous awards for doing it. But then our European offices picked up the Dulux paint account, a huge player overseas. Our client had global aspirations, and despite support from their marketing department, the corporation gave no quarter. Chicago had to part ways with Valspar.

In the first case, all ended well. 30 years later, Rubin Postaer & Associates (now RPA) still enjoys a vigorously healthy relationship with Honda –and Acura for that matter.

The second conflict was not so kind. At least on a local level. We lost our creative flagship and an inspiring case study. For what? A brand most of us had never even heard of in a relationship 2,000 miles away.

I wonder if these so-called conflicts are just plain silly, especially in a time of multi conglomerates. Basically, there are only four or five advertising holding companies. The odds of them lording over clients in the same or similar category are overwhelming. Is it really fair to tax one agency over another? Similarly, on the client side, one company can own brands in numerous categories. If an agency commits to one brand does it have to defer to all the other categories in that client’s portfolio? Crazy.

What are we afraid of? That an account executive will run down the hall of his or her agency and steal trade secrets or marketing plans from another team working on a similar brand? Really? We trust that our CPA or lawyer won’t divulge delicate information to another member of the firm. Is our trustworthiness in Adland so fallible? Don’t answer that.

Frankly, in the transparent new world is any information all that precious, particularly in marketing. Ad campaigns are shared willy-nilly online. People tweet what they’re working on. Tag lines come and go. Why are we so protective of our work? No one else is.

In my opinion, conflicts are like appendixes. They usually cause harm and who wants them anyway?


4 Responses to “War… What is it good for? The Agency-Client conflict. Isn’t it time we gave peace of chance?”

  1. it’s all about the intell and as i call it “the kgb”. everyone holds their kgb close to heart. as a rep i experience it daily from agency people. i often wonder what agency folx think i might do with info – perhaps be a town crier? makes sense that agency clients hold their kgb dear too. your line about people tweeting what they are up to is so very true. i have found twitter to be an outstanding “unpeel the onion” tool!

  2. Talk about an out-of-date concept. As if knowledge of what a competitor is doing in a particular campaign is ammunition of any sort.

    Not in an era where it isn’t a campaign that differentiates a brand anyway. It’s an entire brand vision, voice, personality, set of values, and way of operating in the world. No one could quickly mimic all that, or even strategically respond to all that, even if they were reading every conference report written by the agency to the client.


    Bravo, Steffan. Call it as you see it.

  3. You are absolutely spot on, Steffan.

    We’ve all been burned by the silliness of conflicting accounts. It’s high time this practice ceased.

    Besides, what’s going to happen when these four of five holding companies become one?

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