The Simple Ad Agency Life

In a recent segment of the reality TV series The Simple Life, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were interning at a New York creative ad agency.

The boss gave Nicole a terribly important assignment: reserving a table for lunch at a trendy NYC restaurant that is usually booked up a week in advance.

When Nicole completed the task successfully, the agency owner told her, ?I think you have what it takes to make it in this business!?

Unfortunately, I don?t think he was joking.

The three-martini lunch on Madison Avenue is a clich?, but amazingly, certain businesses ? advertising and publishing among them ? still seem to embrace it.

Here?s what this says to me about the agency employing Paris and Nicole:

1. They are so untalented that their method of making a client happy is to take him to lunch.

2. They place little value on their time (these fancy restaurant lunches can easily take 2 hours or more).

3. They don?t offer real value (in terms of increasing client ROI), and they hope by entertaining the client well no one will notice.

Maybe I?m just reading too much into this. But in my 25 years in marketing ? 23 years as a freelance copywriter and 2 years on the client side ? I saw too many agencies who viewed taking the client to a fancy lunch as their major achievement.

How sad — and pathetic.


341 thoughts on “The Simple Ad Agency Life

  • Now I know exactly why this show bothers me and I’ve never felt the urge to watch it…although, the fascination of watching a car wreck comes to mind.

    It’s business without substance.

    How many marketing, sales, advertising, and public relations consultants and firms would ever offer their clients terms of business to the effect of “if the services we provide don’t substantially advance your business objective, don’t pay us?”

    If the agency you cited were compensated on the basis of their work-product and measurable difference they provided their customer, their lunch likely would have been a working session in their office.

  • I don’t watch reality tv at all (unless you count the occasional episode of Queer Eye) so maybe it was explained on the show, but I’d like to know, just how stupid was the boss? Of course a famous/rich person can score a reservation at a trendy, popular restaurant. This is not an indication of success in the advertising, or any, business.

    As to the wisdom or value of long lunches with clients, I do think social connections with clients like the OCCASIONAL lunch out are useful, but certainly not as a replacement for good quality work.

  • LOL – I’d have to agree with you Bob. Sad, but true.

    Hey, try living in my small town. It’s the good-ole-boy system here and there are two local ad agencies which are considered ‘high-end.’ Neither of them want me for freelance work – at all. But both of them want me to work for them full time. Geez, wonder why?? *rolling eyes*

    I stay out of our local market for the most part though, because they’ve got it saturated, but they do the exact same thing. Client lunches and big bashes every year with their clients to show off their work. Sad, huh?

  • I don’t know, Bob … I think you’re reaching with this one.

    I agree the three-martini lunch is a poor excuse for client service, but I think we all know that selling is, in part, a relationship business. And the occasional lunch or drink or evening out at a ball game can be a very good relationship builder.

    Sure we can all do a better job of communicating with our customers and prospects through the mail, the telephone and the internet, but there is nothing wrong with spending some “face” time as well.

    As for the work product itself, I’m not sure that lunch at a fancy restaurant necessarily disqualifies anyone from doing good work.

    Like you, Bob, I have been a long-time critic of general “image-only” advertising that puts more emphasis on style than substance. I have very little patience for the whole “creative and awards-show” mentality that drives the advertising industry. (Sadly, I think this mentality has crept its way into the direct marketing industry as well.)

    But who should we blame here – the advertising agency or the client?

    Like it not, there are still many, many marketing directors out there who judge advertising and marketing services not by ROI performance but on the basis of a creative portfolio. Pathetic? Yes, but it’s reality.

    The late direct marketing and advertising pioneer, David Ogilvy, spent a good part of his career lambasting general advertising agencies for their ineffective and unmeasurable advertising. In one article I remember, he wrote something to the effect “You Generalists must be damn good sales people to get clients to buy what you’re selling.”

    He was being sarcastic, of course, but he was right. General ad agencies are very good at selling – they are good at selling themselves.

    I may not like what they sell or how they sell it, but I’ll give them this: they know what their customers want to buy and they give it to them – three-martini lunches or not.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.
    Milford, MA

  • Let’s talk branding here. Let’s say you are the agency CEO and you were approached by the network producing A Simple Life (simple mind is more like it – but I digress) with the offer of having Paris Hilton join your agency during the show. Would you have linked your agency brand with the Paris Hilton brand by saying, “I think you have what it takes to join our team”? Holy S**T – not even as a joke!

    – b

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