Letters from our readers.
April 10 1998 3:30 AM

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Ad Nauseam

James Surowiecki ("Buy This Ad Agency!") would like us to believe that the reason clients are jettisoning their advertising agencies is because the agencies don't know how to market themselves. In fact, much more has changed than meets the eye.

When David Ogilvy started his ad agency, corporations looked at ad agencies as marketing consultants. They would approach an agency and basically say: "Here's our product. How do we sell it?" Consequently, agencies were able to attract the top marketing talent around. On the research and account management side, this meant the top MBAs. And, because clients expected elite services from their agencies, they were willing to pay the high salaries such professionals demand.

That's changed. Management consulting firms realized that ad agencies had tapped a lucrative market in selling marketing services. And they already had a cadre of MBAs from the top schools. Suddenly, ad agencies were faced with substantial competition for one of their basic services. Eventually, they were no longer able to compete for the top MBAs, because these weren't the services their clients were demanding.


I don't really think it's fair to characterize this shift as a "marketing problem." I think it was a fundamental shift in thinking on the client side. Agencies had been seen as marketing partners. Now they're seen as service vendors, not unlike any other outsourced vendor.

Today, we have the sad situation where most marketing decisions are made long before ad agencies get involved. Typically, the client calls an agency and says: "Here's the strategy. Execute it as cheaply as possible." That's a big change.

--Jeremy C. Feldman

Seven Brides for Seven Geeks


What Michael Lewis ("The New Organization Marriage") doesn't mention is that these so-called power marriages are ever the same. Since Restoration comedy, the normative couple--he the rake and she the one who will never, ever agree to marry anyone--find themselves in society (read: office structure) at the highest levels and must prove themselves to one another by being bright, competent, and able to handle lesser people in their circle. Having done so, they finally agree to marry but with stipulations: She has privacy, freedom to pursue her own life and friends, control over money, etc. The deal is struck and creates a new kind of marriage--or so they hope. She wins the admiration of her peers for landing the rake and he wins by landing the filly who was known as impossible to break. Status achieved.

--Richard Geldard

Disheartened in Hong Kong

I thought you folks would be quicker off the mark. It's a pea-soupy spring Thursday morning in Hong Kong, and I was looking forward to a cup of coffee and dose of Slate to sort out Clinton's beating the Jones rap. Instead, you're still leading with Jacob Weisberg on Clinton's African apology ("Sorry Excuse") and Cullen Murphy's discourse on lying ("The Lie of the Land"). Scott Shuger's OK ("Today's Papers") but kinda warmed over and unsatisfying. I count on you guys for instant analysis, not the play-by-play. I don't know if it's connected, but you were quicker when you were free. After anteing up last month to subscribe I still love you, but this morning I'm disappointed.

--Jonathan FerzigerHong Kong

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