Al Ries on Draft FCB: All Things to All People

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The advertising and marketing industry is still digesting news that Interpublic Group of Companies Inc. will merge its Draft direct marketing agency with its branding-focused Foote Cone & Belding shop.

Howard Draft seemingly won the better bargain in this alliance that will be called Draft FCB once the merger is complete in six to 12 months. He also takes his chairman/CEO title from Draft to Draft FCB. Mr. Draft thinks the timing couldn't be more right for the deal.

"The science of what Draft has historically done is very attractive in an age where the consumer is squarely in control and clients are clamoring for strong ROI," Mr. Draft said.

"Since Draft and FCB have complementary skill sets and tools, once the new agency is firing on all cylinders, we'll be well-positioned to deliver results in highly creative and effective ways," he said.

However, a respected marketing strategist who is tracking the Draft-FCB merger is unsure this deal makes sense. Al Ries, a noted author and founder of focusing marketing consultancy Ries & Ries in Roswell, GA, has seen this before.

"It's a classic example of an agency trying to be all things to all people," Mr. Ries said. "This is not to take anything away from Howard Draft, who has done a terrific job in building a direct marketing agency.

"But combining a general agency with a direct marketing agency is creating an agency without a clear-cut position," he said. "Sure, some clients -- mainly small ones -- will like the idea of one-stop shopping. But big clients like to deal with specialists."

Mr. Draft's stance is that advertisers these days want to build brands and generate response at the same time. And that does seem to be the trend, more in the United States, but catching on overseas. Mere branding impressions may not cut it any longer, if the assault on television spend is any indication.

"I believe Draft FCB will offer best-in-class services across the spectrum of marketing disciplines in a holistic and harmonious way," Mr. Draft said.

"With one P&L, there will be no more fights over budgets between the ad guys and the marketing service guys," he said. "Advertisers won't need to call in and manage an army of 10 agencies. Instead, we can offer one-stop shopping anywhere in the world. Clients are already telling me they find that to be a very attractive proposition."

Mr. Ries will need some convincing before he buys that theory.

"A direct marketing agency for their direct marketing programs," he said. "A general agency for their consumer advertising."

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