George Parker: what the demise of WPP’s Enfatico tells us about ‘the agency of the future’

The Agency of the Future. Part Two.

Unknown-7As I promised you at the end of last week’s piece, this is the absolutely final, final episode of the world’s greatest book on advertising (He said modestly!) You won’t have to suffer any more, unless you’re a masochist and buy the bloody book. Anyway… Here’s the last bit.

In the years since Lintas was founded, many others have jumped on the bandwagon of creating a totally dedicated agency that would concentrate solely on the service of a single client on a global scale. Virtually all have failed; most of them disastrously, yet this doesn’t seem to have tempered the appetite for BDA’s, and BDHC’s to continue trying.

However, many believed that in 2008, WPP had finally realized the ultimate one client/one agency solution that would make both parties happy and rich. It was not to be.

It was obvious from the beginning that the Poisoned Dwarf (Sir Martin Sorrell) had made Michael Dell an offer he couldn’t refuse. As usual, it had little to do with the quality of the work or the level of service that would be brought to the account… It was all about the money. No one knows the exact figures, but rumors were flying that the agency would operate on razor thin margins, and would make its money from the volume of work passing through the operation. Or, as summed up by the title of a long defunct British TV comedy about a couple of East End tailors… “Never mind the quality, feel the width!”

In typical bean counter fashion, many spreadsheets and Power Point presentations were created to show that the Dell dedicated agency could serve as a single point of reference for a client that was claimed to have been using 800 agencies globally. Personally, I believe that was a crock of shit. At the time IBM consolidated all its work in Ogilvy and Mather, it was using less than 80 agencies, and IBM was much bigger than Dell and operating in many more markets.

So, “Enfatico” was created. Initially called “Da Vinci,” the name was dropped as being a little too pretentious. Having said that, no one seemed to have a clue what Enfatico meant. A visit to their web site didn’t provide many clues, although the introductory page did establish one thing… “Building a new global agency required a delicate touch. There were loud noises. Broken rules. Crushed silos. Blown-up preconceptions.” As you can see they shared Nero’s enthusiasm for breaking, crushing and blowing things up, particularly silos. No wonder, the company logo was a giant sledgehammer!

Enfatico immediately hired nearly a thousand employees, working out of fifteen offices scattered around the globe, including an entire building on Madison Avenue, for which Sir Martin signed a ten year lease. Rumors are that he’s currently using it as a parking lot for his collection of “Rollers,” now that his ex-wife got the two parking spots he used to have at Harrods as part of a particularly nasty divorce settlement.

Within months, Enfatico rolled up its sleeves and got down to work producing its first campaign… For itself! Featuring sledgehammers and wrecking balls, as expected, it focused on the agency’s ability by break, crush and blow shit up. It couldn’t show any of its on-going work for Dell, ‘cos there was no work on-going. In fact, in its two year existence, Enfatico never produced a single global campaign for its solitary client.

images-1All the offices were closed, there were massive lay-offs, and a small skeleton crew was absorbed by WPP roster agency, Y&R, to service the business. At the time of writing, even that no longer exists and Enfatico has completely disappeared. It was the biggest, fastest disaster in advertising agency history. When asked why it failed, Sorrell (left) replied: “Because it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. And the two prime movers behind it left Dell.” He’s talking about Dell’s Chief Marketing Officer and Advertising Director, who were both dumped by Dell for their less than startling performance. Which raises the question that if the agency/client relationship depends on a couple of dodgy people, shouldn’t there have been a lot more mano a mano going on between Martin Sorrell and Michael Dell?

But hey, in common with most of Corporate America’s senior management, when the shit hits the fan, it is always someone else’s fault. This is why Sir Martin’s pay packet, at the time of writing, just increased by 50%, and he is still on track to pick up his $96 million “Performance” bonus in a couple of years.

And just to prove he’s always right, he’s doing it all over again. In late 2010, WPP formed “Team Mazda.” Situated right next to the client’s offices in Irvine, California, the shop will be structured as an agency totally dedicated to handling all of Mazda’s North American marketing and advertising. They are leasing lots of offices and hiring tons of people. I fully expect them to start breaking, crushing and blowing shit up any day now.

As expected, “Agencies of the future” pop up with endless frequency. Most are based on some new break-through technology or methodology. Some are merely the merger of two long existing sclerotic dinosaurs, which end up creating an even bigger sclerotic, dinosauristic, completely fucked up organization that is completely out of touch with modern marketing and communications mess-o-potamia.

Others emerge out of the primeval ooze, as a result of the gnarly gobbling up, by an aging dinosaur, of a new digital startup, which just happens to be the flavor of the week. The principals of the startup are forced to serve out their obligatory, two years hanging around time, before picking up their millions of buy-up dosh, then going off and creating another potentially lucrative startup. Meanwhile, the dinosaur is left with an empty shell, which it shuts down, then buys another startup.

crowd-sourcingIn the last chapter of my last book, “The Ubiquitous Persuaders,” I described how some new agencies had created a business model in which, rather than selling services, they sold intellectual property. However, that didn’t work out; those agencies that still exist on that somewhat naïve principle have gone back to selling services. Now, the flavor of the week is “crowdsourcing.” This is based on a very simple principle… The “crowdsourcing” agency throws out a brief to the entire advertising/creative universe. Meaning anyone who is not currently getting free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, or checking out the latest Thai Porn on their neighbors Internet connection, can come up with virtually any ad/jingle/video/whatever, and if your entry should happen to come up as the winner, you get paid enough to eat like a king at McDonalds for a week.

The other twenty thousand people, who sent in their pathetic submissions, get… Nothing! The crowdsourcing agency obviously negotiates a fat fee from the client dumb enough to consider this as the right way to go about solving their advertising requirements. The client also undoubtedly gets a substandard piece of work… But, they get it really, really cheap. Which is, after all, a major consideration for many BDC’s.

And just to show that the Adverati never stand still in their on-going quest to reinvent themselves, crowdsourcing has now evolved into “curation.” This is little more than a posher term to describe the aforementioned crowdsourcing. Instead of throwing the brief concerning the new campaign needed for Acme Nose Hair Remover to the seething masses, it goes to a rather more select list of people desperate enough to work for peanuts, if anything. But hey, if you’ve been “curated,” you must be special… Or, stupid!

I’m sure that by the time I write the final chapter to my next book… If, I’m still around, I will be “gob smacked” to discover how many new ways the existing BDA’s will have come up with to reinvent themselves as the next “Agency of the Future!”

But, never, ever forget… The great thing about the ad biz is that no matter how weird and fucked up it appears to be, it’ll get worse, ‘cos you can’t make this shit up. Like the cockroach, advertising has been around forever. It will continue to be around forever.

See ya next time around.

Time for a cocktail.


Readers of MoreAboutAdvertiing, who are breathing a sigh of relief, that my turgid efforts at explaining the ad biz to those currently unfortunate enough to be in it… Or insane enough to have aspirations to one day getting into it, are finally over, should be warned… You haven’t seen the last of me. Oh… And buy the fucking book!

 (Many thanks to George for his diverting and acute insights over the past few months. As he says, he’ll be back! Editor).
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