May 30, 2007

Roehm Is Burning (Wal-Mart)

I've no doubt that the higher-ups at Wal-Mart rue the day they'd ever heard Julie Roehm's name.
Because the damage she's doing to their respective reputations is far worse than anything they'd ever imagined.

There's always been something of a cloud over the post- Sam Walton leadership, with many suspecting that Wal-Mart's phenomenal success was due to his genius and his genius alone.

So when Wal-Mart abruptly fired Roehm last December and pulled their newly-awarded account from DraftFCB, there were many who saw it as a sign that management was again in disarray. Why had she been left alone to run the agency review? And given her relatively sparse resume, why had they hired her in the first place?

As allegations of Roehm's misdeeds spilled out into the press, Wal-Mart management was left with egg on their faces again: If she was as unstable as they'd been painting her, why had they hired her in the first place? And, if they suspected something was up, why hadn't they intervened sooner?

Then Roehm filed a lawsuit and Wal-Mart hit back hard, with evidence of marital infidelity, blatant favoritism, violations of company policies and attempts to secure a job for herself and her paramour. Which seemed like a clever position for Wal-Mart to take... until the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story detailing how Wal-Mart hired former CIA and FBI agents to run a black ops operation of sorts on their own employees.

This then got tied up with an unrelated story about how some Wal-Mart employee was intercepting emails sent to a reporter and Wal-Mart's reputation took another hit.

Which might not have mattered as much, had their profits not been sinking faster than Bush's approval ratings. The business press was awash in stories about Wal-Mart's missteps in trying to take their merchandise upscale, an operation they'd entrusted primarily to some woman named Julie Roehm, who, by the way, they wound up firing and is now suing them for all sorts of things.

Roehm did not go down quietly, firing off various retorts both legal and PR-related, most of which resulted in stories about Wal-Mart's financial woes, the incompetence and lack of vision of the current leadership, their failed marketing plans and by the way, they're being sued by some woman who used to work in marketing who claims that everyone from the CEO on down was on the take and violating company policy.

Which they vehemently denied, of course, until today's Journal comes out with a story that starts "Wal-Mart Chief Bought Ring From Firm's Vendor" and details the sweetheart deal CEO Lee Scott got from the Aaron Group.


Now Wal-Mart is not going to go out of business because of this. Far from it. But the current leadership may not be able to hold onto their jobs much longer unless they turn the ship around fast. A feat that's going to be that much harder given the lack of confidence from investors, both potential and current.

Bet Lee Scott is wishing he'd bought out Roehm's contract, let her go quietly and waited another six months before switching agencies.

But what really sucks is that it's not the Lee Scotts or Julie Roehms who will get screwed here. It's the low-level Wal-Mart employees who'll get laid off or have their hours cut as the company attempts some sort of "cost-cutting."

May 19, 2007

Wither Verizon

So the big news this week is that Verizon had pulled all their advertising for the main brand (Verizon land lines and DSL and their new FIOS fiber optic cable TV) and their cell phone brand (Verizon Wireless) and grouped it all together at McCann.

Big losers are DraftFCB and McGarry Bowen, who had a big chunk of the account for direct and brand work, respectively.

But you have to wonder why an advertiser like Verizon bothers with a place like McCann in the first place. I mean it wouldn't be out of the question if clients like that started turning to "discounters" to create their campaigns.

Look at Verizon. They pump out hundreds of price-focused retails ads every year. What they really need is a media buying service with a few in-house copywriters and graphic designers. Because they're clearly not interested in a creative way to say "200 minutes for just $49.99/month" Ditto the pieces of paper (I know they have some name in the direct world) that they stuff in your bill telling you about their latest promotional offer.

So why not hire someone who won't charge them very much money? There are lots of companies who'd follow this model. Right now, from my Toad Stool, the only reason 75% of all advertisers (and I'm being seriously genereous here) have an ad agency is so that the CEO and CMO can tell their friends on the golf course that "Y&R is handling our ads."

But once is sounds just as clever to say "Yahoo is handling all our ads" the BDAs are really, really fucked. Verizon will still need someone to create some brand spots for them. But again, they can hire a freelance creative team to do that-- they certainly don't need a full on thousand person agency to create spots telling the world that their service is the most reliable.

May 18, 2007

Oh Mother!

So Mother, the not-very-successful New York branch of the very-successful London agency, is reduced to filming self-promotional TV spots. (I think that's what this one is doing, it's hard to tell.)

Only what they've come up with is an exact duplicate of a Saturday Night Live mock-commercial. During one of the really bad seasons.

No idea what they were thinking. The whole spot is completely and totally ripped off from SNL, down to the timing.

It's a shame because they've got some good people working there. They can, and hopefully will, do better.

Linked In

I'm always amazed, when I go to the networking site Linked In, how many people I know are actually on there. I mean everyone from old creative directors to headhunters to friends from college who are now lawyers and bankers (and making lots more money than I am-- the I-bankers in particular.)

Most of them, I'm sure, wound up there the way I did: some casual acquaintance emailed me, asking me to join, and figuring I had nothing to lose, I signed on. A few more people found me and that was that.

There are a few people who really work Linked In, people who have several hundred "links." But by and large the magic number seems to be somewhere south of 10. So much for networking sites, huh?

Generate This

Props to MakeTheLogoBigger for finding this video on YouTube. It's a fine example of real consumer generated content. Not the crap that ex-ad guys do for clients for free. (e.g. Doritos, NFL)

Not-bad-for-an-amateur video some kid made, probably using a video camera and iMovie.

Just because he thought it'd be cool.

May 16, 2007

Awards Show Season

Okay, so I'm back. Rest time is over.

Today's topic is Award Shows, since we're in the midst of Award Show Season.

Now I'm sort of ambivalent about award shows. When I was a junior Toad, I lived for them. I was a total One Club junkie, dragging myself to every event Mary Warlick dreamed up, seeing every client imprecation to make the logo bigger or add an extra word to a headline as yet another ad lost to the books. I worshiped everything Fallon or Chiat did, pored over the annuals like a Talmudic scholar, and generally looked down upon anyone who didn't have (at least) a finalist certificate to their name.

But that was then.

Now I see the awards shows for what they are: a chance to celebrate the fairly uniform taste of a bunch of well-paid early-30-something males with the sophisticated sensibilities of the urban hipster, e.g. the creative directors who judge the One Show, D&AD, CA and the like.

I mean really, look at what wins.

They're generally good ads, cleverly written, with beautiful art direction. But they all appeal to a very specific demographic. Play off of things that are funny or cool or absurd to that demographic.

Which would all be well and good, only most products are not marketed to that demographic. My mother and her posse, if they were to judge The One Show, would no doubt reward Kaplan Thaler handsomely. Along with Arnell or Laird of some other fashion agency. That's what speaks to them-- the Burger King, for instance, leaves them baffled. The Tadpoles, on the other hand, would give pencils to anything with lots of crashing or major league sports heroes. If it's got Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant in it, it's f-ing brilliant in their book.

My other beef is that the rise of the internet has made the one real benefit of award shows -- the ability to showcase great work you might not otherwise have seen-- obsolete. I can go on AdCritic, AdFreak and dozens of other sites and see all that.

Which leaves awards shows with the sole contribution of helping up-and-coming agencies enhance their reputations.

I also wonder what steps they can really take to prevent fake entries these days. In the pre-internet era, they'd demand proof that a spot really ran (hence the urban legend of the One Show spots that all ran, just once, on Dec. 31st in Nome, Alaska.) But what constitutes "running" these days? The fact that it's up on You Tube? A live url? Seems like it would be pretty easy to do that yourself.

Anyway, it's good to be back. Looking forward to the conversation.