September 25, 2017

Beancounters, Not Creatives, Now Run Don Draper’s Ad Business

Don Draper must be spinning in his grave, or he would be if he had read Business Insider’s May 13 post by Jim Edwards titled “The 37 Richest People in Advertising, Ranked By Income.”

Of the 37 people on the list, only one was on the creative side of the advertising agency business. The rest were white male finance, legal, and management types – suits – with one exception: Mercedes Erra, board member of Havas and founder of BETC Euro RSCG, was the only woman on the list. She was #17 at $2.2 million.

The list was dominated by CEOs (11 of the 37) and CFOs, treasurers, chief accounting officers, and controllers – beancounters (ten of the 37) – and the list had only one Don-Draper-type chief creative officer, Jacques Séguéla, of Havas. He was #28 at $1.2 million.

If there were any agency conglomerate sDon Draper would want to work for, it wouldn’t be, WPP, Publicis, or Omnicom, because the big three in terms of total billing were tied for sixth in terms of the number of executives on the list of the 37 richest people in advertising. Draper would have wanted to be employed by little old conglomerate Havas; it had 11 of the 37 (27%).

In Don Draper’s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) the creative people are the stars, as they were in real-life Madison Avenue of 1970: Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Leo Burnett, and George Lois were all creative superstars who founded (or co-founded), ran, and skyrocketed their agencies to fame, glory, and riches.

However, in the 1980s and 90s, the agency business founders got a little greedy and their agencies started to go public in order for them to get big paydays. Then, large agency holding companies, mostly from Britain and Europe, started gobbling up the stock or just outright bought most of the creative-driven agencies. Finance types like Martin Sorrell and the Saatchi brothers took over and started making decisions based on making money, not on making great advertising.

The beancounters began controlling the ad agency business and started price wars — cutting commissions to earn business – and this trend plus cost-conscious advertisers led by procurement-officer mentalities have driven profits steadily downhill ever since. Instead of delighting customers with great ads, agencies began to delight top executives and board members with big bonuses. The agency business began taking on the greed, ethics, and inequitable compensation of Wall Street and left behind the creativity focus of Draper’s Madison Avenue.

So, instead of paying creative people to make great ads, WPP pays its CEO, Martin Sorrell, $27 million a year, its Finance Director, Paul Richardson, $12.4 million, and its CEO of WPP Digital, Mark Read, $3.4 million – the only three WPP execs on the list of 37. WPP pays Sorrell so much it’s no wonder it can’t afford to pay creative people a lot, and that really would set Draper off on another rage-filled binge.