Why Madison Avenue Is Boycotting AMC's Reality Show 'The Pitch'

mad men joan

Photo: Screengrab / AMC

All of adland will be glued to the TV on April 8, when a new episode of Mad Men will be followed by AMC’s latest reality TV show, The Pitch, which features real ad agencies pitching the ad accounts of real clients such as Subway, Frangelico, Popchips, and Waste Management.

The one thing no one will see on the show, however, is a big New York agency of the type that actually dominates the advertising business. Madison Avenue has boycotted the show en masse. Here’s a list of shops, compiled from here and here and here, that were invited to participate in The Pitch but who said no:

BBDO, Leo Burnett, DDB, DraftFCB, JWT, McCann Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather, TBWA/Chiat/Day, The Grey Group, Deutsch, Pappas Group, Mullen, Carmichael Lynch, Gotham, Hill Holliday, Wunderman,  Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Fallon, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners, Arnold, Mother, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, JWT,  The Martin Agency, Zimmerman, Pereira & O’Dell, and Saatchi & Saatchi.

In other words, pretty much every significant ad agency in America walked away from this show.There are two reasons: The first is that decent-sized agencies just don’t need the publicity—they already have a ton of clients. The second reason is cowardice. As Anthony Pappas of the Pappas Group explained:

“… if cameras are everywhere, privacy is likely to be invaded, process can be disrupted and, yes, that secret sauce can be spilled. Controlling the message, a guiding principle for all marketers, becomes impossible with reality TV.”

That was a reasonable position to take in 1995. In today’s media environment, however, only idiots still try “controlling the message.” Media is no longer a thing that clients get to control—it’s an interactive free-for-all in which you have to be comfortable in an endless dialog with your fans and critics alike.

Doug Spong, president of Carmichael Lynch, said he didn’t like the fact that the winning agency might not actually win any actual business from the clients on the show:

“… at the end of the day, we decided that the tremendous time commitment, lack of anything financially tangible at the end (even if we were to ‘win’ the assignment against the competing agency) and risk to our reputation as an agency simply outweighed any reward for participating. Personally, I was worried that the drama involved in reality programming today would alienate and offend some of our clients, turn off blue-chip prospects, and leave everyone with the question of ‘Why do we have so much time to play make-believe when there’s so much deserving client work to be created and produced.'”

And last but not least: Ad shows on TV have historically failed.

Meet the agencies that will compete on The Pitch. We've divided them into categories. First: THE OLD SCHOOL

These guys have been around the block more than once.

  • The Ad Store: Paul Capelli's boutique has been a New York fixture for decades. He last made headlines offering vacations in his Italian villa to new clients, after complaining about that country's bribe culture. Capelli goes all the way back to the mailroom at Ally & Gargano--a statement whose significance you'll only understand if you're about 50 years old.
  • Bozell: For many in advertising, the reaction here will be, 'Bozell still exists? No way!' Bozell Worldwide, founded in 1921, was once the eighth largest ad agency on the planet, but it was merged with Lowe Worldwide in 2001 and essentially ceased to exist--except for the managing partners of the Bozell office in Omaha, Neb., who cheekily bought themselves and the name from Bozell's corporate parent, Interpublic Group. Clients include First National Bank and a lot of Omaha companies no one has ever heard of.
  • DiMassimo Goldstein (a k a DiGo): Mark DiMassimo has been a thing on the New York ad scene since the 1990s. He traces his roots back to the Chapman Direct unit of Young & Rubicam in 1988. This shop is the latest incarnation to bear a variation of his name. Has done work for Nike and Comcast.
  • Bandujo Advertising and Design: Small, low-profile agency with a lot of regional New York clients. Its biggest clients have been Chase, Citi and Smith Barney, but the shop has only done small direct mail pieces for those companies. Founded in 1993.

THE CULVER CITY MAFIA

The production company that makes The Pitch, Lambert Studios, is based in Culver City, Calif. By amazing coincidence, three of the contenders on the show are neighbours:

  • Kovel/Fuller: This Culver City, Calif., agency's key clients include Sizzler and Pacific Life. You've probably seen the humpback whale ads on TV.
  • Muse Communications: Another Culver City, Calif., shop. This one does minority targeted work for clients such as Honda and Wells Fargo.
  • WDCW LA: Yet another Culver City, Calif., agency, This one is a branch of Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener. Clients have included ESPN and the NBA. Unlike most agencies on the show, their web site is honest about the fact that most of their work has been done on a project basis for their clients--in other words, they weren't the lead agency on the brand.


THE SPECIALISTS

Some of the contestants have a more narrow focus than others:

  • Conversation: Super-trendy new media agency based in New York. Clients include Children's Place and Svedka. The shop lists a dog, Winston, among its executive leadership. Watch for staffers with mohawks, vintage glasses, gauge earrings and other hipster accoutrements.
  • SK&G: based in Las Vegas, this shop specialises in hotels and casinos.
  • Womenkind: Another New York shop, but this one specialises in marketing to women. Clients have included Post and DSW.

THE HOMETOWN HEROES

Not all ad agencies are based in New York and L.A. Don't underestimate the hicks from the sticks!

  • McKinney: All eyes will be on McKinney as this Durham, N.C., agency is probably the biggest name in the show. McKinney made its name running the Audi account for a few years. It currently works for Nationwide and GNC. McKinney has most at risk in the show--if it doesn't win anything the other agencies will be able to brag that they kicked the big agency's arse. Don't doubt the shop's cojones, though: Management bought itself back from holding company Havas in 2008--a rare move.
  • BooneOakley: Based in Charlotte, N.C. Was named Ad Age's 'Southeast Small Agency of the Year' … in 2009. The shop is best known for persuading Ruby Tuesday to blow up the last of its old-style restaurants on video to prove its relaunch was serious.
  • FKM: Don't mess with Texas! This shop has three offices in Houston, Dallas and Austin. It will be interesting if it pitches Waste Management because FKM's web site currently names the garbage removal company as a client. Hmm.
  • The Hive: This San Francisco shop is probably best-known in the West for producing hundreds of regional ads for Macy's until 2003.
  • Jones Advertising: Big in Seattle. Jones was one of Starbucks' first ever ad agencies from back in the day when no one had heard of Starbucks.

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