Michael Farmer: will there be a (much-needed) new Madison Avenue Makeover?

By News Author

Michael Farmer: will there be a (much-needed) new Madison Avenue Makeover?

News Author

Guide and writer Michael Farmer is among the most incisive and educated commentators on promoting and the broader enterprise atmosphere. His new e-book Madison Avenue Makeover: The Transformation of Large and the Redefinition of the Advert Company Enterprise might be launched on the Cannes Lions on June 27.

Right here he appears at how the enterprise orthodoxy of shareholder worth has affected promoting (and never in a great way.) From C-Suite Blues.

The standard of CEO management has deteriorated, hijacked by short-term “shareholder worth” considerations and corrupted by excessive CEO compensation ranges, that are themselves pushed by short-term earnings and share value ranges. The deterioration started within the ‘80s and ‘90s, with the rise of deregulation, world competitors, technological modifications and the rise of funding banks and institutional traders who promoted M&A as a method of rising firm share value ranges. Boards determined to pay very excessive compensation ranges to encourage CEOs “to have some pores and skin within the recreation.”

In 2021, a typical CEO at one of many prime Fortune 500 companies within the US was paid $27.8 million. This stage is about 350 occasions the compensation of a typical employee. Earlier than shareholder worth boiled down company objective to issues of cash and wealth for shareholders, CEO compensation was solely 30-40 occasions the compensation of a typical employee.

CEO pay has grown quicker than tuition at personal universities and schools. CEOs stay a life as we speak that was inconceivable only some many years in the past.

Shareholder worth has made many company executives very wealthy, and this sort of wealth has had a significant affect on the standard of company pondering, priorities and actions. There have been many failures within the market: Kodak, Sears, Nokia, Toys “R” Us, Circuit Metropolis, Yahoo, Borders, GE, Blockbuster, BlackBerry and up to date financial institution failures like Signature Financial institution (CEO pay $8.6 million), Silicon Valley Financial institution ($9.9 million), and First Republic Financial institution ($17.8 million).

Media holding firm CEOs at Publicis Groupe (CEO pay $3.3 million), WPP ($8.4 million), IPG ($13.2 million) and Omnicom ($20 million) have been adept at taking part in the shareholder worth recreation, however holding firms are very weak as we speak. Every of the holding firms generates earnings by means of “labor-based charges” earned by their subsidiary firms — media businesses, inventive businesses, manufacturing firms, PR companies, analysis companies, information and evaluation suppliers and the like — firms who obtain “charges per head” from their shoppers for the people who find themselves assigned to work on their accounts.

Purchasers have relentlessly reduce the charges paid over the previous twenty years, however the holding firms have survived and elevated shareholder worth by aggressively downsizing their firms yearly to take care of revenue margins.

This downsizing may need been okay if company workloads had been declining, however fairly on the contrary, workloads have been rising whereas charges have been declining. Downsizing within the identify of shareholder worth has liquidated a lot of the expertise within the trade, and businesses are actually “underpaid sweatshops” the place company personnel battle to maintain up with the work required by their shoppers. Holding firms have managed to “make their numbers” by means of this crude and short-sighted method. What they haven’t been in a position to do is keep their shopper relationships. Purchasers now flip over each 3 years or so. The company downsizings have actually had an adversarial impact on company high quality. Purchasers now change businesses frequently, looking for decrease charges with each change of company.

The downsizing recreation can’t proceed. The holding firm businesses are already on shaky floor, even when Wall Road traders and analysts will not be but conscious of the workload versus staffing versus high quality issues.

What’s going to make issues worse sooner or later, in fact, is AI, which may change (by as we speak’s estimates) as much as 35% of the individuals who make up company headcounts. What’s going to occur to holding firm revenues when shoppers both use AI themselves or pressure businesses to make use of AI to decrease their headcounts and charges? Will holding firms survive such a dramatic decline in staffing and earnings? If holding firms keep a enterprise mannequin based mostly on “promoting heads for a payment” to their shoppers, they may certainly get into highly regarded water.

Until holding firms pivot to receives a commission for the work they do moderately than being paid for the variety of folks they allocate to shoppers, they’re certain to enter the rogues gallery of failed firms listed above.

Holding firm CEOs have to personally lead transformations all through their portfolio of firms. This can create an uncomfortable scenario for these CEOs, since they may not be capable of give attention to “making the numbers” They must fear in regards to the progress of their transformations as nicely.

Thus far, in my expertise, solely Large, the modest-sized digital inventive company owned by IPG has gone by means of such a change, led by Mat Baxter, World CEO. Large’s instance might function a bellwether for different businesses — or for the holding firms themselves. (Large’s transformation has been documented in “Madison Avenue Makeover: the Transformation of Large and the Redefinition of the Advert Company Enterprise,” to be revealed in the summertime of 2023).

Shareholder worth is predicated on an phantasm that CEOs can handle certainty and keep away from taking dangers. But, transformations require risk-taking. If there have been any purpose to pay CEOs main quantities of cash, it must be due to their successes in taking measured dangers for the longer term moderately than counting on the knowledge of “making the numbers.”

Let’s see how WPP, Publicis Groupe, Omnicom and IPG play the AI hand within the coming years. AI poses a significant threat for every of those firms. How will they be led? That’s a good query for CEOs Mark Learn, Arthur Sadoun, John Wren and Philippe Krakowsky.