Power Politics

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Soviet Officials on May Day

When I started my career adventure, I set out under the erroneous assumption that everyone got along, that everyone worked toward mutual goals, a spirit of collegiality drove corporate decisions, and a general feeling of Gemütlichkeit guided every business action. I was disabused of that notion starting in 1974. Sometimes various forms of power were flexed by individuals and groups to serve different agendas.  I present three examples:

#1 MINE IS BIGGER THAN YOURS

In the early 70’s, Chevrolet was bathing itself with sports sponsorships.  College football, NFL football, MLB baseball, and even the Soap Box Derby.  Network TV sponsorships, network radio sponsorships, local TV and radio sponsorships. They even had celebrity endorsement deals with former Olympian Jean-Claude Killy, and an up and coming Buffalo Bills star named O.J. Simpson. Chevy was spending a lot of money on these properties.  The challenge was “Are we maximizing our investment?”  That translates into, “How much can we squeeze out of the buys?” Campbell-Ewald Autry Hotelcame up with the perfect solution.  One that would “maximize the investment” as well as allow everyone to get out of the snow and ice of Detroit in January and play golf in Palm Springs. The “Chevrolet Sports Merchandising Conference” was invented. Chevy was sponsoring the California Angels.  Gene Autry owned the team, as well as Golden West broadcasting, which owned many stations receiving Chevy media dollars. Gene Autry also owned the Gene Autry Hotel in Palm Springs.  “Let’s hold the conference there!” Invitations (summonses?) went out to all of the station reps carrying a Chevy-sponsored team. They were being invited to attend the Sports Merchandising Conference and show what they had been doing to “maximize the buy.” The first conference got ugly.  Some teams and stations had lots of money to “maximize” the buy.  Many times the money was buried in the cost of the media sponsorship. Some stations didn’t. KMOX in St. Louis had the money. For their presentation, they flew out the late, great Jack Buck, the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. Everyone would play golf in the morning, with the first presentation of the day scheduled for 1 PM.  Jack and the KMOX guys were waiting for us when we entered the room, having just completed our grilled hamburgers and bloody marys.  Once we had all been introduced to him, we took our seats. Jack began by telling us how honored KMOX and the Cardinals were to be associated with Chevrolet. He talked about being #1 in whatever you do.  He mentioned the Chevy logo on the outfield wall, and the in-game freebie promos. He then cued lou-brocka projector which showed Lou Brock breaking the single season stolen base record. “Lou Brock is a champion,” Jack said as we watched the moment, “he knows how to win.  He knows how to……. WAIT!!! Why am I telling you this, let’s have Lou tell you in his own words. Guys, please welcome Lou Brock.” On that cue, Lou walked into the room from behind the screen. He acknowledged our standing ovation.Brock-a-brella He spoke about being a champion, being #1. He then personally signed replica bases for each of us and gave each of us one of his novelty Brock-a-brellas. The KMOX presentation had now gone 25 minutes over its allotted time. Nobody cared. This was how to “maximize the buy.” The bar had been set. The next presenter was the National Sales Manager for WCCO, Minneapolis. He tentatively approached the podium.  He had the look of a man who knew that he was doomed.  “Hi, everybody. Thanks for sponsoring the Twins. We are really, really thankful. He then reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small Twins’ pocket schedule. “Uhh, we printed the Chevy logo on 300,000 pocket schedules. Uhh, we’re really, really grateful to you folks. Hey, what a beautiful hotel you got for us here. Did I say how really, really grateful we are? Well, thanks.”  He crept away from the podium to polite and mercy applause. He was probably on his way to the garden to commit ritual seppuku to atone for his shame. I turned to one of the Campbell-Ewald heavy-breathers who was here from Detroit.  “That poor devil, he didn’t have a chance.” He responded, “Yeah, but you can bet your ass that next season we’ll get a lot more out of WCCO. That’s why we have these conferences.  Nothing pushes you to perform like the fear of being shamed in front of your peers.” Hmmmmmm.

#2 “HEY, WHAT’S YOUR NAME AGAIN?”

I was headed back to Las Vegas to call on the local Chevy dealers and get input for my weekly reports. The calls were pretty uneventful, until I got to the dealership owned by Fletcher Jones. Jones was a successful, multi-franchise dealer.  His son now runs a very successful Mercedes dealership in Newport Beach, CA.  I announced myself at the Chevy dealership reception desk. After a few minutes I was led into a massive office, festooned with sales awards, trophies, and autographed pictures of celebrities. I introduced myself.  He asked me why I was visiting him.  I said it was to provide “input to Detroit.” He then leaned across the desk and stared directly at me.  “When is Chevrolet going to get it through their thick heads that Las Vegas is an important market to them and add us to their Top 25 market list so we can be part of their spot TV buys? Ford is killing us.” I had an answer.  Sort of. I knew that Las Vegas was on the cusp.  There were three markets all vying for the cherished final 25th spot. “Well, Mr. Jones, right now it’s close, Las Vegas is right in there..”  “Humph,” he said, as he swung his chair around toward his credenza, picked up his phone and punched in three digits. He was business-man-fear-nailbiting-300x214speed dialing someone. I could hear someone answer.  “Hey, Fletcher Jones here, I want to talk to Bob Lund.” For those who haven’t seen previous posts, Bob was a GM VP and General Manager of Chevrolet!  “Hey Bobby, Fletcher Jones here.  How are you and the wife?  Yeah, still hot out here. When are you going to come visit? Bob, I need to ask you a question.” Jones turned to me and said, “Hey, what’s your name again?”  I told him. “Bob, I have one of your Campbell-Ewald guys by the name of Tom Cavanagh here who says that you guys are adding us to the Spot Market list.  Are you?” What if Lund said no?  Was this how my career was to end…limping out of a dealership in Las Vegas? Maybe I’m not too old for med school. “You are!!! Bob, that’s great news.  I’ll tell my local agency to plan around your buys. Take care, bye!”  Bob Lund had just arbitrarily made the decision that our media scholars were slaving over. Fletcher Jones wheeled around toward me with a smile on his face.  “Son,” he said, “sometimes you have to know when to push ’em.”

#3 WRAP YOURSELF WITH THE CLIENT

This example is pretty straightforward. Align yourself with powerful, or soon to be powerful, people who work at the client. Dick O’Connor, who started at Campbell-Ewald as a trainee in 1956, was the Chevy Account Director. He reported directly to Tom Adams, the chairman. As I had mentioned, being a field guy was the best way to pick up on rumors about change. Information leaks didn’t move from Detroit out, but from the field in. Chevy had just promoted a fellow to the job of General Sales Manager. It was their second highest position. His best agency buddy was Paul John, who worked for Dick O’Connor. The new GSM was traveling to all of the Chevy regions to meet the staffs and key dealers. Paul John accompanied him. My fellow field guys who had attended the meetings told me that Paul was being introduced as the Chevy Account Director!!  What?? We had received no company memo. What was going on? The regional meetings ended just as Campbell-Ewald was calling us to Detroit for Greek civilization, Plinth of kouros statue, bas-relief depicting wrestlers, circa 510 B.C., detail, from Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, Greeceour field meetings. We were gathered in the conference room on the first morning, waiting to hear from our Field Director. Instead, in walked Tom Adams and Dick O’Connor. Tom spoke to us. “You may have heard some wild rumors out there that there is a new Account Director. Well, as long as I have anything to say about the running of this agency, Dick here is our Account Director.” That’s what we wanted to hear!  We all applauded. Two days after I returned from the meetings, I got a copy of an all-company memo.

TO: The Staff

From: Tom Adams

Subject: Dick O’Connor Promotion

I am pleased and proud to announce the fact that, effective immediately, Dick O’Connor is being promoted to the position of Vice Chairman of Campbell-Ewald. Dick has served us for almost 20 years. In his new position, Dick will oversee the day-to-day operations of the agency as well as our business development activities. His skill and business acumen have proven to be great assets for this company. Through his leadership, our relationship with our Chevrolet client has grown ever stronger. Please join me in congratulating Dick on this well-earned promotion. By the way, Paul John takes over as Chevrolet Account Director.

Well, at least this meant that the client was happy.

Next:  More Tales From The Darkside

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