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August 18, 2011
Sometimes the Ad Industry Gets an 'F' in Decorum
Is our business everyone’s business?

This week, there was a story in AdAge where Joel Ewanick, CMO of GM, spoke about one of his agencies, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and their ongoing work for Chevrolet.
Instead of generalizing about the quality of the work, Ewanick answered it straight on. Indicating that he was pleased in general, he added, “It hasn’t been consistent. To get an A, you have to be consistent. That's more of C and B work when you can't find the consistency.”
Marketers comment all the time about their campaigns in progress or work that’s been completed. But to grade an agency outright in public while they’re still working on an account? Is this appropriate?
I know that if I were the management at Goodby, I’d be pissed to read that in a leading industry trade publication. If I were a copywriter on that business and saw that assessment of my work, I’d think back to every client suggestion or tweak, no matter how small, that in my opinion would have made an “A” idea or execution a “B” or a “C.” And I’d be resentful. So it certainly doesn’t appear to be indicative of a healthy agency/client relationship.
To me, it sounds like a marriage where, instead of just venting life’s daily struggles and triumphs on a blog or soliciting counseling or advice, one partner just broadcasts that they’re unhappy so other suitors can start calling and the town gossips can get some good scoop.
But let’s step back for a moment. In some fields — sports, entertainment, politics — it’s common for performance criticisms to be made in public. But how did it get that way in advertising? What purpose does it serve to be so open about what other businesses keep to themselves?
While we work in a professional services industry, it’s a high-profile one, and a small world. So industry gossip, account comings and goings, hirings and firings, and other tawdry bits of who's doing what and to whom always get a broad hearing. I can’t imagine the accounting industry has to deal with this. (And yes, as a contributing writer on AdPulp, I’m as guilty of feeding this beast as anyone.)
Advertising is a commercial art form. And let’s face it: Everyone’s a movie critic. Everyone’s a TV critic. That’s why advertising is so publicly talked about and discussed.
In this case, the fact that we’re talking about Chevrolet also needs to be factored in. Car accounts are big, sexy, and in the case of GM, something many Americans have a stake in. Yes, people of all walks of life will have an opinion. So perhaps it might be our (the advertising industry public, or the public at large) business to know that GM wants better work out of its current advertising agency.
We’re living in a world of too much information. In the age of social media and reality TV, it seems acceptable for everyone to share everything, no matter how trivial or salacious. I suppose that we’ve gotten accustomed to this public knowledge in advertising, and now the rest of the world is catching up to us.
But still, advertising, like the auto industry, is business of people, profits, and sales. You need all three to thrive. So I’m not sure it pays to have Joel Ewanick issue a public report card for his ad agency. Maybe it’ll charge up Goodby to deliver only the truly “A” work. Maybe some folks there will use a picture of Joel Ewanick as a dartboard.
I don’t think we’ll see a day where advertising and marketing operate like other professional services industries. Loose lips, a juicy story, and a secret love of schadenfreude will always be parts of this business. I guess when it comes to the way we conduct ourselves, we’ll always be graded on a curve.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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