It’s the worst job in advertising right now: being the lead ad agency for troubled retailer JCPenney.
But that’s where JCP is hiring, according to Ad Age.
The company’s troubles are legion: CEO Ron Johnson was just ousted; the company lost 32 per cent of its sales; the decline came after a huge — failed — rebranding; all the stores are being redesigned so they look more like a Macy’s style department store with branded “shops” inside them; customers are confused as to whether JCP offers discounts or every day low prices; and the staff are demoralized.
The management is in turmoil, too. New CEO Mike Ullman is a temporary hire, so any agency that gets the job won’t have a permanent relationship with top brass.
And a bunch of marketing talent recently bailed from the company: Sissie Twiggs, VP-media for digital marketing; Lisa DeStefano-Orebaugh, VP-strategic marketing; and Greg Clark, VP-creative marketing, Ad Age reports.
There’s turmoil on the agency roster, too. JCP used Peterson Milla Hooks and Mother. They’re both fine shops. PMH has plenty of retail experience and Mother has a fine creative rep. But they were on duty during JCP’s death spiral.
It’s previous agency, from 2011, was Saatchi & Saatchi New York. Ad Age suggests the time is right for Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts’ triumphant recapture of the account. But Roberts is too smart for that: The account is a quagmire. Any agency that takes it can’t guarantee a long tenure on it, and the fallout may be more damaging to the shop’s crwative reputation than the billings are worth. Agencies are judged by their clients, after all.
Lastly, Sergio Zyman appears to have some sort of key role at JCP on the advertising side. Zyman, as everyone remembers, was the guy at Coca-Cola who thought “New Coke” would be a good idea in the 1980s. He has since carved a path as a mercurial marketing consultant. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing: does any agency want to work for a client who’s a bigger star than the work will ever be?
And, of course, Zyman was brought on during the Johnson reign. Even if he hires a new shop, the new permanent CEO may shuffle the marketing decks again leaving the new agency without its champion.
Some agencies will relish the challenge: There’s nothing to lose here, after all. If the work is bad you can blaim it on a dysfunctional client. If it’s good, then you can claim you rescued a corporate basket case. You get the billings either way.
The problem is that, given the instability at the client, will those billings actually cover the internal headaches that the account will generate?
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