Jun 4, 2007

Red Carpet Blues

A few of you have asked me if, as a not-that-ancient alum, I had any perspective on Ogilvy's recent troubles.

The answer is, I honestly don't. Frankly, I'm baffled, as they seem to be in as good a position as an large NYC-based agency could be in these days.

They've got a strong DM and Interactive division (OgilvyOne) that's actually in the same building.

Which should be pretty significant-- many of their big agency competitors only have one part of that equation, e.g. a strong direct division (Y&R and Wunderman ) or a strong interactive arm (DDB and Tribal). And while Ogilvy's two halves may be more integrated on paper than they are in reality, they at least give integration lip service, which is more than several of their competitors do.

On top of that, they actually do some good work and they've got lots of smart and talented people working there, notably in account management.

So what gives?

Two theories I've heard bandied about, which may have some degree of truth to them are:

A. The whole Shona Seifert mess, while downplayed by people in the ad business, may scare off perspective clients more than anyone realizes. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with it. Shona Seifert was the former president of Ogilvy who is serving (has served?) an 18-month prison term (along with the former CFO) for doctoring time sheets while Ogilvy was working on the ONDCP account.)

B. Ogilvy's senior management team isn't exactly warm and cuddly. Several of them are also somewhere close to 7 feet tall. Combine the physical intimidation factor with the very white, very old school/old money feeling of the place and you can see how perspective clients could be left feeling kinda cold.

Now there's a third theory, which is the one I'm prone to subscribe to: bad timing and bad luck. Sometimes the ducks just don't line up. And while there's probably some degree of truth to the first two theories, I think bad karma may be at work here.


HighJive said...

Are Ogilvy’s troubles unique in any way? Seems all of Madison Avenue is swirling down the toilet.

So many agencies tout integration, and the holding companies have created a scenario where everyone can and will claim united offerings. But is it real or bullshit? One issue is that clients are controlling the integration; that is, they give their branding to their favorite branding shop, interactive to a different interactive shop, direct goes to Howard Draft (semi-kidding), etc. Despite all the hoopla, few “integrated” agencies have succeeded at combining services while still making profit. The leaders and accountants quickly learn that each division works off different business models (and more importantly, different profit schemes). Plus, the integration is less real than you might think. Recently met someone who once worked at OgilvyOne (which is a great direct agency), and he revealed the same stuff Lester Wunderman did about the Y&R-Wunderman merger in his autobiography—that is, civil and turf wars, disagreements, lack of respect and more confound collaboration.

That said, I’ve often wondered another point: Did you used to post on other blogs under the e-name of The Late David Ogilvy? Your writing style and attitudes are similar to that writer’s work.

Alan Wolk said...

Sorry, this is the only pseudonym I use.

Mostly to prevent friends and colleagues from demanding preferential treatment on the blog and from discussing issues offline, ad infinitum.

What blogs did the Late DO post on?

As for integration, Ogilvy does have a number of accounts--- IBM, DHL and AmEx, among them-- that use all of its various resources (general, direct & interactive)and on paper they are all supposed to work together as one big happy family.

In reality, the situation is much closer to the picture your friend paints.Whether this will change or not remains to be seen. But last time I checked, the general agency still called the shots.

HighJive said...

You bring up the key issue, in my opinion: The general agency still calls the shots. In the new “media neutral” landscape, the lead “vehicle” often can and should start with the efforts formerly (and currently) labeled “below-the-line.”

To clarify, LDO posted comments on other blogs, mostly Ernie Schenck’s blog and AdPulp.

Alan Wolk said...

Agree totally, HJ

But for that to happen, general (e.g. print/radio/TV) creatives would have to give up the deeply held belief that "if they were any good, they'd work in General Advertising."

Now the "proof" of that (and I've been just as guilty as anyone of holding that belief) has long been the significant salary differential between the various disciplines. But that seems like it might be changing.

When it does, I think you'll see direct and interactive getting the respect they deserve.

NB: The high salaries paid to flash designers have yet to translate to high salaries paid to interactive CDs or even art directors and copywriters.

Anonymous said...

Ogilvy, like other old-school agencies, is feeling the chill because it's dying of old age. does a good PR job on the new media front but we all know that's hot air.

Until quite recently i worked at a similar type agency and it felt like the Titanic. Couldn't wait to get out. No clue about digital and no real intention to either. It's a generational thing i think. upper management will never get it. they're the TV generation.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am an ex-Ogilvy-er who worked on IBM and was privy to various 'high level' meetings. Not so sure about the Shona effect (possible), but I believe their problem is stunningly simple yet profound: unoriginal work.

For this, I primarily fault Chris Wall.

Talented as he may be (open for discussion), he forces his minions to conform to a terribly old-school house style: Long copy. Heavily talky TV. Ponderous. Obscure.

He is unbelievably dismissive of anything he hasn't done and constantly pumps his own ego up by talking about the low levels of difficulty for brands like Mini, Apple and Nike (I have heard him say this on numerous occasions.)

He has even resorted to copying himself, resurrecting color bars Kodak (switched to yellow yellow, still shot by Pytka).

For the Sprint pitch they spent $1 million dollars to have Pytka shoot several dialog-heavy spec spots which apparently the client found somewhat confusing.

It goes downhill from there. Jan Leth is far from a digital superstar, creatively speaking. When I have heard him talk about Web 2.0, he sounds like a media guy. It goes downhill from there.

Still, it's not as bad as McCann...

Anonymous said...

The whole O1 and O&M moving in together is one big load of crap too.We're all sitting on the same floor now in offices that are right next to each other but guess whose getting the brand-new furniture and whose not. the whole move just made everyone more defensive and territorial.

Anonymous said...

Shona Seifert deserves what came to her - Ogilvy did not. Ogilvy missed the boat by not grasping digital and other innovative platforms in the late 90's. The days of David Ogilvy are long gone. While still a strong agency in many ways, Ogilvy is dated and has rested in a comfortable place to the benefit of more competitive, innovative and exciting agencies.