Betrayal or Just Business? Answers

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(Image by Mark Matcho)
(Image by Mark Matcho)

Recap: Dalia Jackson was furious. When Darren Zayne left global agency Benson & Keyes to launch Aspire, she went along as his first client.

Jackson, CMO of Great Gardens, knew that Zayne had talent and potential, so she stayed through ups and downs, and tested and helped to hone new services and strategies Aspire offered. And now she was listening to Great Garden CEO Chris Styler tell her that Aspire took on Garden Magic, Great Garden's number one competitor, as a new client.

Jackson feared how that would impact the current partnership; more, she feared that Great Gardens might lose ground to Garden Magic. Styler wanted to know what Jackson planned to do about the situation.

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March winner: Mark Hammar, president, Total Data Solutions

Jackson must set up a meeting with Zayne to discuss the conflict. Ad firms specialize quite often in specific verticals such as nonprofit, associations, automotive, financial, retail, etc. So, this is not out of the norm. The talking points for Jackson should be well thought out before the meeting so she can cover all areas of this relationship and not just the anxiety she has. When Zayne pitched Aspire to Garden Magic, he probably had to handle many of Garden Magic's objections and concerns that would likely align to Great Gardens' own objections and concerns. In the end non-disclosures and formal contracts with sensitive termination language should be able to make this relationship work. In addition, it may be possible to leverage incentive-based bonuses for performance and growth within that same new contract.

Other responses

Tobey Miller, data processing technician, Advanced Direct Inc.

I think Jackson is selling herself short and possibly overestimating Aspire's influence over any of its clients. A marketing agency is only as good as its clients' decisions. Let's assume that Jackson's Great Gardens is the number one chain and Garden Magic is number two. Garden Magic is likely number two because of the marketing choices it's made over many years. As good as Aspire is, there's no guarantee that the agency will do “magic” for Jackson's competition. It's more likely that Garden Magic will continue its marketing path, leveraging Aspire's offerings only as they fit into that path.

If Jackson truly believes in Aspire's strategies, she will continue to make the smart, sometimes daring, marketing decisions that have made Great Gardens number one, with the support of Aspire. If Aspire is as good as Jackson thinks, they will know how to manage both accounts fairly and without conflict. I see no problem with this arrangement.

Ann Hertelendy, marketing project manager, UC Berkeley University Relations

I would advise Jackson to have a frank discussion with Zayne. She needs to be able to voice her valid concerns and have Zayne address them. The discussion could go many ways—ranging from Zayne deciding that taking on Garden Magic is a self-cannibalizing prospect (so he would terminate the relationship with Great Garden), or Jackson believing that staying at the same agency as her competitor could potentially benefit Great Garden long-term. (“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” as they say.) Either way, Zayne was not transparent about the acquisition and certainly has some ruffled feathers to soothe.

John Warrilow, director, Clear Design The question here is: was a divorce pending anyway? Clearly, Zayne doesn't understand that loyalty is a two-way street, and he didn't know that for Jackson it's very important. Here's a customer he's had for seven years and never found out that her key concern was integrity.

Seven years is a long time to be with the same agency; as the adage goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Could double-digit, year-over-year growth be maintained by the current relationship? Aspire had no doubt seen the same growth as its clients; Zayne needed more and bigger clients to feed his growth, and gardening retailers is one area of expertise, so Garden Magic seemed the ideal new client.

Jackson's option is to do the same; there would be no issues over the next three months as her marketing plans are in place and it would take as long for Aspire's plans for Garden Magic's to kick in. So she should go out over the next couple of months and see what young and fresh marketing companies could or would provide the loyalty she was used to.

Tom Martin, VP of marketing and advertising, Allen Finley Advertising

Assuming that Jackson did her due diligence and Aspire signed a confidentiality agreement with Great Gardens, she should be able to prevent Aspire from taking on the competition, Garden Magic, as a client with the threat of a lawsuit. In other words, she should demand that Aspire drop Garden Magic as a client or Aspire will lose Great Gardens, be sued, and potentially lose everything.

However, if you put the legal action aside, Jackson has plenty of leverage to prevent Aspire from taking on the competition as a client. Her first option is to point out that the competition has been steadily losing marketshare to Great Gardens every year. Aspire should recognize the red flag of a company on the downslope reaching out for salvation by trying to hire the agency and use a confidential marketing approach to save the company. Both Aspire and Great Gardens are in a position of growth, which is equal to longevity. A short-sighted approach is not beneficial to Aspire.

Our agency had a long-term (20 years) global furniture supply company as a client. It was understood that creating any work for their direct competition would lead to our termination as its agency of record. We didn't have any kind of confidentiality agreement or non-compete contract, but our loyalty was always with our client.

Lawrence A. Tillinger, proprietor, SFLI

Would Ford's agency take on Chevy as a new client, without previously having resigned the Ford account? Jackson should contact Zayne to express her disapproval of Aspire's simultaneous carrying of two clients that compete directly with each other, and tell him that Great Gardens is considering its options, including setting out its business for proposals.

Jackson should request that CEO Chris Styler contacts Zayne to express Great Gardens' disappointment, disillusion, and disapproval of Garden Magic's new client status at Aspire, and to ask Zayne to resign the Garden Magic account. At the same time, Jackson should suggest to Styler the exploration of a merger between Garden Magic and Great Gardens.


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