DDB, Fallon, And Agencies That Go Up And Down

In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Lewis Lazare takes a look at what’s going on at DDB Chicago:

Dick Rogers finally lost his confidence in Dana Anderson.
After watching three years of tumult severely weaken DDB/Chicago, once a commanding creative force within the Chicago ad industry and far beyond, Rogers, the president of DDB North America, said Thursday that Anderson had resigned as DDB/Chicago president and CEO, effectively immediately.
In the end, the major account losses, coupled with the managerial turmoil, might have been the decisive blows that felled Anderson at DDB. Despite Anderson’s downfall, fans who know her well still insisted Thursday that she possesses strong leadership abilities and presentation skills.
DDB/Chicago had long been the major cash cow within the global DDB network. The ugly and unfortunate series of setbacks during Anderson’s reign, however, had put the shop in a much more precarious state. On Thursday, Rogers, DDB’s North American leader, at last moved to try to rectify that.

I’ve always thought that DDB in Chicago had a reputation for doing fairly good work for a shop of its size and nature. So how does a shop move from that to “tumult” and “turmoil”? I saw the same type of story published 2 weeks ago in Ad Age and Adweek about Fallon, which has long been above reproach.
So what causes agencies to go through these upcycles and downcycles? Is it people? Account losses? Turnover? Bad management? Bad hiring practices? It’s the subject of my new column on Talent Zoo.

I’ve always believed the best advertising people have an element of hunger and discontent in their personalities. It’s rooted in a simple desire to improve upon what’s been done before. Which is not the same as being disagreeable or arrogant, although those qualities are easily confused. Most people enter the ad biz hungry. But at a certain point, after initial success, contentedness take over: an impossibly cushy gig, a desire for more family life or merely the belief that one’s shit doesn’t stink. And in the course of an advertising career, that contentedness coincides with promotions to managerial positions. Many great Copywriters, Art Directors or Account Executives have no business managing other people as Creative Directors or Supervisors.
Look, it happens in many fields—take music. Bands start off young, pissed, inspired and raw. They make great music, sell CDs and get rich. Then they’re not so pissed and inspired anymore. So their subsequent albums aren’t all that good. But they still have their fans, and there are plenty of state fairs for those bands to play at for the rest of their careers.

Hey, I never said I had all the answers. But I like to make educated guesses. What do you think? Is it just a nature of all ad agencies to go through ups and downs?

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.

  • kamakazi

    The Ad industry has always had a very cyclical nature to it. Shops get really hot, the senior talent moves on, then the shop goes down hill. With Fallon’s case having been a former employee I can’t help think that the Publicis acquisition was the beginning of the end. In an industry where ideas are the capital, profit centric corporate holding companies do more harm than good.

  • http://http:/makethelogobigger.blogspot.com bg

    Throwing out a sports metaphor here. A great player rarely makes a great coach, as they expect everyone to be as great as they themselves were. Sometimes, average and sub-par players make better candidates: they had to work harder for it, they weren’t just born with incredible talent. (Gruden. Van Gundy. Madden. Landry. Knight.)
    I think it’s that leadership which flows downward. Just sayin.

  • veedub

    well if sub-par management is the answer, ddb et al should have no problems ;-)
    if you look at the great agencies, wieden…goodby…HHCL, it’s actually the opposite bg. it’s great creatives and thinkers at the helm pursuing a definite vision of what advertising can/should be.
    as opposed to talent-free, power-hungry politicians just desperately trying to make the holding company’s numbers.

  • troy

    DDB is down, but they’ll be back. The heart and soul of the agency is still there. The core group of creatives who have always done the heavy lifting is still there.
    It’s happened there before. They hire a bunch new people from the outside and only a few work out.

  • http://multicultclassics.blogspot.com HighJive

    Not convinced the big shops are going through ups and downs anymore. It’s really a continuous downward spiral, with an occasional braking of the descent, which may create the illusion of an “up.”
    The advertising industry continues to experience seismic shifts, and the big shops are unable to adapt and find ways to remain profitable. You’d be hard-pressed to name any big shop that’s doing well. Saatchi & Saatchi is doing a decent job of hyping itself, particularly with Roberts’ love marks notions, but it’s unclear if the hype is just smoke and mirrors. Give them credit for maintaining the s&m at least.
    The nomadic nature of clients is certainly not helping matters. The big agencies need big clients to make their profit goals. But the big clients are increasingly committee-driven, making it difficult to do great work. And without great work, you’re not going anywhere.

  • veedub

    good point HJ, it’s not 1997.
    i think the old dinosaur analogy certainly applies here. what are the big agencies? mass-market tv commercial factories. with a little “thinking” sprinkled on top. the industry has shifted dramatically and they haven’t.
    contrast them with the likes of say, Anomaly. no comparison really.

  • http://tangerinetoad.blogspot.com Tangerine Toad

    Holding companies are definitely responsible for a lot of the problems. It’s hard to make tough decisions when there are stockholders breathing down your neck.
    Veedub is right that visionary management makes for a great agency, It’s interesting too that so many great agencies were founded by people who weren’t previously superstars at hot agencies, but guys who set out to build their own unique brand of agency. (Alex Bogusky, for example.)
    Finally Danny, to your point about creatives not making good managers, there’s a famous old book about that. It’s called The Peter Principle and the gist is that in every organization, people rise to the level of their greatest incompetence.

  • http://tangerinetoad.blogspot.com Tangerine Toad

    @Danny- just read your essay on TZ. Great stuff

  • http://www.adcolumnist.com Danny G

    Thanks for the kind words, TT.