Soul Searching Gets No Respect At Ad Age

Ad Age is treating GSD&M CEO, Roy Spence, unkindly.
Exhibit A, this headline:
The trade mag feels that Spence’s walkabout at a time of massive layoffs at the agency is “a publicity stunt whose timing couldn’t be worse and whose true purpose was never really clear.”
What’s the deal?
A man can’t walk?

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. When has Ad Age ever been fair? They have their duty to schadenfreude, not to report on the news fairly.

  2. Right, and I think it’s quite difficult for people strapped in to their day jobs to imagine, or see the value in, such a sojourn.
    The other thing I’ll say here, is the negative premise is mostly about appearances. Ad Age and maybe some GSD&M staffers want the appearance of a captain at the helm. But Spence being in the actual office probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

  3. You have nailed it on the head.

  4. Tom Messner says:

    I thought he was really out of the agency most of the time, and I thought his walking his is launch for a Presidential race in 2012 or 2016 after bopping around as Governor of Texas signing bills and kissing babies.
    Ad Age does have a way with headlines, though:
    My two all-time favorites is a recurring one: “(BLANK) account handed to (whatever agency)” this after the damned fool agency had spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get the account handed to them.
    And more generally:
    “John’s Pizza repositioned as a full meal.”
    Thankfully, positioning has moved from the scene, along with John’s Pizza.
    By the way, I have no idea what the G, D, and M stand for. The S is well known enough, and having once been on an on-line panel with him, he seems like a funny guy. Monograms were the subject of a recent column I wrote which you might find amusing. Or not. HERE:
    Why do ad agencies love using their initials whereas law firms and brokerage houses hold on to the full names of their founders long after their wills are read and their remains buried or disposed of?
    Law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom gets shortened to Skadden or Skadden Arps but never to SASM&F. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, at worst, is cut to Paul Weiss; clients and adversaries alike would never call them PWRW&G. Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz could drop the great first amendment lawyer Martin Garbus’s name when he left and add the great advertising attorney Rick Kurnit without futzing around with incomprehensible initials.
    Merrill Lynch, for its part, dropped Pierce, Fenner, and Smith as easily as it once dropped Bean to add Smith. But never never never would it have considered adopting MLPFS.
    If Sullivan, Stouffer, Colwell, and Bayles had practiced law or peddled stocks and bonds instead of running a very successful ad agency, they never would have succumbed to SSC&B. Nor would Batten Barton Durstine and Osborn shorten itself to BBDO (no “and” nor “ampersand”). Oddly, neither of those agencies ever got shortened in conversation to “Sullivan” or “Batten” the way Doyle Dane Bernbach often was “Doyle” or Wells Rich Greene, “Wells.”
    Even two-name agencies went through the alphabet routine: Ammiratti and Puris (A&P), Ally & Gargano (A&G), and Benton & Bowles (B&B). B&B, when it merged with D’Arcy Macius or McManus (who remembers anyway?), became DMB&B.
    Foote Cone Belding, formed when the heads of the three offices of the agency Lord & Thomas took over and changed the name, eventually became FCB. Try to come up with better names than Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding to put on the door of an agency. How much more prosaic can one be than FCB? Alright, FDIC, FHA, FICA.
    Kentucky Fried Chicken morphed to KFC, thereby enlarging their franchise to those not particularly partial to the state of Kentucky, the art of frying or the serving of chickens. Plus KFC also has the potential to lure unsuspecting Knights of Columbus members searching for the local K of C.
    International House of Pancakes became IHOP, thereby spreading their constituency beyond breakfast, beyond pancakes, beyond syrup.
    British Petroleum became BP; International Business Machines became IBM; the Generals (Electric, Telephone and Electronics, Motors) became GE, GTE, GM; American Telephone and Telegraph, perhaps the first to alphabetize became, of course, AT&T, telegraphy early becoming passé.
    Telecom has gone through a lot of name changes, and Verizon should be congratulated for not adopting its ticker symbol VZ beyond the stock exchange. Verizon is the result of combining Bell Atlantic, New England Telephone, New York Telephone, MCI, Worldcom and maybe a few I have forgotten.
    Great names such as U.S. Steel abbreviated the United States part a long time ago, but its latest chopping loses any romanticism. Try to imagine during the Havana birthday cake-cutting scene in Godfather II if Hyman Roth had said: “We’re bigger than USX.”
    Maybe it started with radio station call letters. Thus Columbia Broadcasting System became CBS and National Broadcasting Company became NBC. American Broadcasting Company came along much later and slipped right into ABC. TNT, TMC, AMC, HBO, ESPN, ESPN 2, A&E,
    SNY, FSNY, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, BET, MTV, VH-1, VH-2 followed.
    Even abbreviations have abbreviated. The Minn of our youth became MN; Mass, MA; Calif; CA; and Penn, PA.
    Ad agencies slavishly follow this postal model, opting often for incomprehensibility believing that in their own cases, names are what you make of them. The place I am employed is called Euro RSCG because 15 years ago Eurocom acquired RSCG.
    Recently, a receptionist in the agency asked me what RSCG stood for since she had to say it 50 times a day. “It had been a French advertising agency,” I said, “Rostand, Séguéla, Camus and Gide.”
    She said, “Oh Séguéla. You’re pronouncing it all wrong. He wrote ‘Hollywood Lave Blanc,’ and ‘Force Tranquil’ didn’t he? I took French in school.”
    “When RSCG acquired us, we were called Messner Vetere Berger Carey Schmetterer,” I added.
    “Oh, lucky you did abbreviations or the poor receptionist would have had to say: ‘Good morning, Rostand, Séguéla, Camus, and Gide, Messner Vetere Berger Carey Schmetterer’.”
    “Or the other way around. Putting the Messner part first.”
    “Of course,” she said, “Much better.”
    Since 1986, the agency’s name has changed nine times with no effect. We live in a communications age when brands can be created, re-made, destroyed, re-created, re-named, re-formulated in a day.
    J. Walter Thompson, one of the oldest advertising agencies and one with one simple name that occasionally got clipped in a friendly way to J. Walter, recently and formally changed its name to JWT. The ultimate monogram, one would have thought.
    The management explained that baptizing itself JWT symbolized the turnaround that the agency had recently experienced.
    One of my partners, a buddy of CEO Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, the parent company of JWT, offered some advice at the time:
    “If they wanted to symbolize a turnaround, why not call it TWJ?”

  5. avidreader says:

    Dear Tom,
    Not that it’s any of my business, but I think it would be better suited and more respectful of you to perhaps leave a link in the comments section to your article, rather than reposting the entire thing in the comments section.
    Ya know, to allow for ease of continued commenting on this post and extending basic commenting standards.
    Or not.

  6. Tom Messner says:

    You’re right. A onetime transgression for which I apologize.
    “Better suited and respectful,” though, would not be the end result of linking anything to my column which runs on a repository of juvenalia ( That site’s founders insist on sans-serif reverse hideoso yellow on black type. I find that the type face on this site ( to be very readable on-line. Perhaps the most readable so
    I indulged myself in the typeface.