Magazine article ADWEEK

Post-Founder Foundering

Magazine article ADWEEK

Post-Founder Foundering

Article excerpt

Advertising agencies may be "one of the business world's most idiosyncratic enclaves," as writer Noreen O'Leary notes in this week's feature, "In the Shadow of the Founders," but it's not completely unique. The story of a charismatic founder that winds up embodying the company is one that is repeated across all industries. The most notable example right now is Apple, which has become so synonymous with founder/CEO Steve Jobs that any rumor about his precarious health situation makes the company's stock price vacillate like an EKG reading.

Advertising is a bit different than selling electronic gizmos, though. For one thing, founders tend to name agencies after themselves, which makes separating the man (or woman, though most are men) from the company a bit harder. Secondly, without exception, such founders have got to where they are by advancing a creative vision or philosophy that defines the agency, which is why someone who knows the business can easily tell a Cliff Freeman ad from a Hal Riney one.

Not surprisingly, there are multiple examples of agencies imploding shortly after the founder dies or separates himself from the company. As detailed in O'Leary's story, that's the predicament facing Fallon, the agency, which appears to have lost its footing since founder Pat Fallon ceased having direct control over the company. Freeman's eponymous agency seems to be suffering the same fate.

Is this a verdict on the indispensability of the founder/CEO? Hardly. The ad world is rife with counter examples, including Ogilvy & Mather, which has certainly thrived in the decades after founder David Ogilvy retired in 1973. …

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