PD Scullin

2 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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The Madness of Ad Agencies That Willingly Choose Their Own Hell

The Madness of Ad Agencies That Willingly Choose Their Own Hell

Having been away from the game for a little over a year, I watch with morbid curiosity as the ad agency business continues its downward slide.

The latest? The RFP recently issued by General Mills.

GM, like many clients, are going away from agency-of-record relationships. Now, the big CPG wants to buy its creative ala carte.

Creative tapas, if you will. 

Now, get a load of General Mills’ conditions to play the RFP game: 

  • there’s absolutely no compensation for the pitch process (FREE spec work, baby!)
  • GM owns all the ideas, all the intellectual property
  • payments will be on a 120-day schedule (agencies don’t need cash flow, do they?)
  • the briefs are “blind”–– agencies don’t know the brands involved, number of projects up for grabs, how long the contract will last, or what the nature of the assignment will be
  • The company will be handling the process by itself, no agency consultants will be involved

It looks like many of the agencies contacted are bellyaching about the restrictive conditions. 

What will they do about it?


And then play the game. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, right?

These agencies deserve the clients they get if they win a project or two. And they deserve to suffer the incredible pain these crappy clients will inflict on them.

What did they expect? General Mills is announcing right up front its rules of engagement–– “heads we win, tails you lose.”

The company respects the agency’s intellectual property so much it will take it away and own it outright. 

Intellectual property is easy to come by, isn’t it? All you need is a roomful of monkeys and some keyboards.

Rest assured the clients will second guess every piece of creative. They’ll play “devil’s advocate” and ensure the idea has no edge and zero potential to offend the gentlest of sensibilities. 

They will improve the agency’s work ensuring it is innocuous and flaccid.

So the result is creative that’s easy to ignore and acts as a consumer repellant.

And for this smooth working relationship of revision-hell, the agency will get the joy of waiting for its payment.

Four months flies by fast when you have fixed expenses, right?

Sadly, there will be countless agencies that will try to get in on this RFP. They want the glory of working for big brand names and the potential to play on the national stage.

These agencies will willingly choose to enter into an abusive relationship, one where they are not valued as anything more than idea providers.

“We didn’t like any of the ideas you showed, so go back to the agency and jiffy up some more! Come back Tuesday and let’s see what you got! And bring some Krispy Kremes and Starbucks…”

This is what the marketing communications world has devolved to. For any agency owner, there is only one defense against it.

Just say, “No.”

If you don’t value what you do, why the hell should anyone else?


Patrick Scullin (aka PD Scullin) was a founder of ASO Advertising and recently left the ad game to write what he wants, wrangling parts of speech to entertain and amuse.

He has an upcoming novel, SAWDUST, and writes two blogs: The Lint Screen (satire, smartassery humor, pop culture ramblings, and advice for people getting hip replacements) and Empathetic Adman (marketing pontification).

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PD Scullin

2 years ago #3

Thanks for reading and contributing. There is precious little fun left in the ad biz. Onward!

Paul Walters

2 years ago #2

PD Scullin . Well I've been out of the business now for over ten years and the arguments you present ( which are good ones ) are exactly the same as they were when I was still slogging away pitching ( for free) to get a big name client. If all ad agencies stood up and said ..." no more" things might change, but you know what? They won't !
Mama Mia

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