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Author Archives: Michael Farmer

About Michael Farmer

Michael Farmer is Chairman of TrinityP3 USA and author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter: an inside view of fee-cutting clients, profit-hungry owners and declining ad agencies, which won the Axiom Gold Business Book Award for the best marketing / advertising book of 2016. He currently serves as Adjunct Associate Professor of Branding and Integrated Communications at The City College of New York (CCNY) and is at work on a new book about the challenges facing Chief Marketing Officers.

Take the Pledge! End Madison Avenue’s Manslaughter!

Madison Avenue’s self-destructive practices need to come to an end!  In the wake of a decade or more of marketing cost reductions, CMOs have lost credibility and power; procurement departments have confused benchmarking with marketing, and demoralised agencies have seen their capabilities severely compromised through downsizing, juniorising, and Scope of Work inflation. Cost reduction programs have run their course. They were never a credible substitute for brand growth as a way of delivering shareholder value. Continue reading

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The Ad Industry at War with Itself

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the publication of ANA’s “media transparency” recommendations, which followed a major investigation of media agency practices. Lest we forget how central media transparency is to ANA, Bob Liodice (President and CEO of ANA) and Doug Wood (outside legal counsel) published a MediaVillage article in mid-July reminding us that “if the allegations against the [media] agencies are true, the behaviour is reminiscent of past high-profile financial scandals.” Continue reading

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Who’s Guilty and Who’s Innocent in the Industry’s Transparency Wars?

Bill Duggan recently penned a piece in MediaVillage.com continuing the ANA’s attack on ad agencies – this time over production transparency, which is the code name for unethical and possibly illegal bid-rigging activities conducted by some agencies to secure production contracts at favourable rates. A previous transparency issue, media transparency, was investigated by ANA in 2016, and it confirmed instances of media agencies enriching themselves at client expense through rebates, kickbacks and other “non-transparent” practices, many of them not forbidden by existing contracts. Continue reading

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ANA and 4As Duke It Out in a Complete Mismatch

ANA, ever-faithful and aggressive on behalf of its advertiser members, struck a second blow to 4As recently — a right uppercut to the chin — with a new ANA study of advertising production practices. The report detailed “a range of improper behaviour, including allegations that some agencies have steered production contracts to their in-house production and post-production outfits by urging other companies to inflate their prices during the bidding process,” as reported in WSJ. Continue reading

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Ad Agencies: Prisoners of a Creative Past

Who needed “hands-on management” when revenues were high and automatic, workloads modest, TV dominant, creativity celebrated, brands growing, agencies respected, employees well-paid, parties outrageous and clients long-lasting? Creativity was the foundation of agency success, and to nourish creativity, management got out of the way, lest its intervention destroy the magic. “A creative agency needs to operate like an ant colony,” declared Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, “where every ant knows its job and has the freedom to do it. As long as we hire and inspire the right people, to do the right thing … our agency should grow and our creativity should flourish.” Continue reading

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“Creativity” Versus “Improved Results”: The Paradigm Needs to Change

Ad agencies and advertisers are victims of the belief that “creativity” is the basis of their current relationships, and that “more creativity” will give them more of what they need. Ad agencies have promoted “creativity” since the days of Bill Bernbach, more than 50 years ago, when agencies were at the top of their game. Advertisers, as their clients, continue to hire agencies for their perceived creativity, provided costs are rock bottom. However, “creativity” is no longer delivering improved brand performance or increasing shareholder value. The search for more creativity is making victims of agencies and CMOs alike — neither lasts very long in a relationship. It’s time for a new paradigm. The “Creative Paradigm” is out of date. It’s not working. Continue reading

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Ad Agencies are Just Like Cruise Ships

We don’t see many Big Ideas any more. Content may be king, but content is forgettable, millions of tiny ideas in a million different places. Can anything new be said about a product? Or an industry, like the advertising industry? Well, I’m not a creative — more like a dreaded management consultant. Nevertheless, here’s a cross-industry Big Idea, free for the asking: Ad agencies are just like cruise ships! Don’t dismiss this out of hand. Read on! Continue reading

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Agencies Struggle with Declining Prices

Since 1992, the average price for creative agency deliverables has declined by 70% in today’s dollars, according to my research [1] for Madison Avenue Manslaughter.
Nevertheless, agencies have managed to deliver growing profit margins for their owners throughout this 25-year period. How was this possible? Are agencies still “fat,” as many procurement executives believe, or have they starved themselves to generate profits in the face of declining prices? Continue reading

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The Terrible Outcomes of Lower Growth in Advertising

Growth is the engine of wealth and success. Stock prices soar. Companies expand, hire and promote, and salaries rise. Optimism abounds. Everyone has a place in a growing future. The party does not go on forever, as we know. Growth rates slow, and sometimes they halt — the reasons vary, but it’s inevitable. Still, the end of growth is shocking, and the advertising industry is now facing the shock. Continue reading

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Ignorance of Pricing is Ruining Ad Agencies

All companies sell products or services at a price, and managing price is a major responsibility of top management. Car companies sell cars, and sticker prices are marked on side windows. Coca-Cola sells concentrate to its bottlers, setting price per gallon to match market circumstances. Pizza-Hut sells pizzas in restaurants, and pizza prices are marked on the menus. Bain sells consulting studies to corporations and prices them by study length and complexity. Agencies, though, are confused about what they sell and how to price it. Their ignorance of pricing is ruining agency operations and destroying agency value for clients, employees and holding company owners. The advertising industry is the only industry in the world without a concept of pricing. Continue reading

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Heaven and Hell in Advertising

Share183 Tweet86 +18 Share10Shares 287This post is by Michael Farmer, Chairman of TrinityP3 USA and author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter: an inside view of fee-cutting clients, profit-hungry owners and declining ad agencies, which won the Axiom Gold Business Book Award for … Continue reading

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Are Advertisers “Bad Hombres” for Their Ad Agencies?

Ad agencies have had a tough time for the past decade. Reduced retainers. Disappearing AOR relationships, as clients expanded their portfolios of agencies. Inflating Scopes of Work, straining the capabilities of agencies’ downsized and juniorised staffs. There’s more to this. Auction-based bidding of SOW projects. Inhouse agencies. Advertising relationships embracing management consulting firms. Significantly shortened agency-client relationships. Continue reading

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The Low Road or the High Road for Ad Agencies compensation?

The industry road that ad agencies are wandering down is about to narrow. Sooner or later, agencies will find themselves at a fork that is less like a choice and more like an inevitably. The fork will not involve a 50-50 choice. Heads to the left; tails to the right? No; it’s not that kind of fork. The choice will be between the High Road, to the left, and the Low Road to the right. The choice is not about political choice during this Trumpian age. It’s not about Blue States to the left or Red States to the right. It’s not about brands-as-causes versus brands-as-brands. Continue reading

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Industry Transparency Is a One-Way Mirror

Advertisers have found many ways to dominate and commoditise their ad agency relationships. Transparency is the latest hot issue, justifying outrage over certain media agency practices and setting the stage for reviews of media contracts and fees. Agency hiring and firing remain another advertiser favourite, and the pace of agency replacement has certainly quickened over time. Next in line are declining fees and growing creative Scopes of Work, along with benchmarking studies, the threat of internal agencies, intellectual property disputes, project-based bidding and lengthened payment terms. Continue reading

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Advertisers with Performance Problems Turn to Management Consultants

“Watch out! They are coming!” reported The Drum when Accenture and Deloitte appeared on the pitch list for Nissan-Renault’s global account review. They are “spreading their tentacles, seduced by marketing services!” Accenture sees it another way: “CMOs are seeking our talents, not the other way around.” Is consulting going to the mountain, or is the mountain coming to consulting? Continue reading

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