Kickbacks, commissions and working for free

Long ago, but not that far away, the ad biz was a very different place, kids....

Long ago, but not that far away, the ad biz was a very different place, kids.

Not that I’m old or anything, but I’ve been told there was a time when not one single Canadian ad agency with sufficient cash flow to buy its president and his good wife a couple of airline tickets to the ICA off-season Bermuda conference had ever gone under.

Yes, it was that swell! When I was creative director on one of Canada’s biggest accounts at the tender age of 24, the client would come to a meeting at the agency once a year and say something like well, we spent eight million with you last year and it seemed to work, so we’ll spend 10 million with you next year. And then they’d notice it was almost 11:30 and repair to Winston’s for the afternoon.

A nice long lunch was probably the least you could do for a client who, in 20 seconds, had fundamentally written you a cheque for one million, five-hundred thousand in the next calendar year. A year, by the way, in which one could purchase a new Corvette Stingray for five thousand bucks, just to put things into perspective.

Such was the gentle genius of the 15% commission system. Of course, you’d have to purchase ten million bucks worth of TV time. But you’d only pay eight million, five hundred thousand for it, ’cause you were an accredited agency, old chap. And you’d have to send your ex-CBC TV producer to Los Angeles to make four or five TV commercials. But you charged back your costs, and added seventeen-point-six-five for your trouble as well.

The late, great David Ogilvy went one better. In Ogilvy On Advertising he advises clients to offer their agencies sixteen per cent commission. This, he felt, would focus their minds on the business, as well as double their profit on the account. You’ve gotta like the man.

And if that wasn’t a pretty good way for agencies to make enough money, there were lots of more, um, resourceful schemes floating around. The wink-wink-nudge-nudge invisible volume rebate was rumoured to be the funding source for half the Christmas parties in town. And they were big parties, too.

One agency was famous for never paying the final one-third of the television production houses’ bills. (Ultimately, there wasn’t a film house in the city that would even quote on one of their storyboards, but it took years for that to happen!)

Another agency would base its new business pitches on the promise that if they were awarded the account, they’d take several million dollars of Other People’s Money from their bank account and invest it in shares of the client’s publicly traded stock, causing it to rise both sharply and predictably. Well, you can’t say they weren’t creative!

If you’re curious about how agencies and buying services get paid today, the answer seems to be every way you could possibly imagine and then some. The official ICA party line is nicely enunciated on their Web site, and it’s interesting to note that in 1995 in the U.S., 14% of advertisers still paid a full 15% commission, down from 33% in 1992. Forty-five per cent paid a reduced-rate commission, and 35% paid fees.

So there are commissions and shaved commissions and fees and bonus arrangements and stock deals and kickbacks and incentive schemes and the ever-popular how’d you like to work for free deal.

I polled some industry pals on how they get paid, which is just a bit more awkward than asking them what they like to do in bed. One top outfit said a campaign is seventy-five thousand. A roll-out of an old campaign is fifty.

There are people who charge everybody in the agency, from president to lowly gofer at a hundred-and-change an hour. The Workers’ Paradise Approach! This means never having to tell your client your own rate is actually five hundred bucks an hour.

I’ve heard there are agencies who, from time to time, say they work for free, but charge like bandits as the work goes through their satellite studios, printers, and sundry captive suppliers.

Personally, I tell clients that my hourly rate is that of a mediocre downtown lawyer. But after speaking with my friend the hotshot downtown lawyer last week, I find I’ve recently been charging less than a mediocre downtown lawyer. Shit.

I asked Gary Reinblatt (yeah, the McDonald’s Gary Reinblatt) how agencies should get paid. Gary, who’s undoubtedly spent billions and made trillions by willing the creation of great advertising, replied It’s never what you pay. It’s what you get.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to promote the cause of what he calls intelligent advertising, and to attract clients who share the notion that many a truth is said in jest. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.

Corner Officer Shifts: Martin Fecko leaves Tangerine

Plus, PointsBet Canada and Thinkific name new marketing leaders as Lole gets a new ecommerce VP.
Corner Office

Martin Fecko departs Tangerine 

After roughly two years of serving as Tangerine’s chief marketing officer, Martin Fecko has a new gig. And this time, the financial services vet will apply his marketing leadership to a new sector, having been named CMO of Dentalcorp.

Fecko will lead the dental network’s end-to-end patient journey, support its overall growth, and work to maximize patient experiences across every touchpoint, the company said in a release.

“Martin’s in-depth expertise in engaging and retaining customers through a digitally enabled experience will be valuable in realizing our vision to be Canada’s most trusted healthcare network,” said Dentalcorp president Guy Amini.

Prior to joining Scotiabank’s digital-only banking brand in late-2019, Fecko was country manager for Intuit Canada and spent 10 years at American Express in consumer and digital marketing.

PointsBet Canada nabs former Bell marketer as it pursues expansion

Dave Rivers has joined PointsBet, an online gaming and sports betting operator, as Canadian VP of marketing.

Rivers joins from Bell, where he was most recently director of brand marketing and sponsorship, responsible for driving the company’s national sponsorship strategy and portfolio. He will report to PointsBet Canada chief commercial officer Nic Sulsky.

According to Sulsky, Rivers will “play a key role as we prepare to launch a business that is unique to our roots here in Canada.”

PointsBet has a significant presence in Australia, where it was founded, and in the U.S. In July, it named Scott Vanderwel, a former SVP at Rogers, as CEO of its Canadian subsidiary, one of several hires aimed at establishing the company’s presence locally.

Thinkific names first CMO among other executive appointments

Vancouver’s Thinkific, a platform for creating, marketing and selling online courses, has appointed Henk Campher as its first chief marketing officer as it invests in marketing to support its growth plans. It has also upped Chris McGuire to the role of chief technology officer and moved former CTO and co-founder Matt Payne into the new role of SVP of innovation.

Co-founder and CEO Greg Smith said Campher and McGuire “will play key roles building high-functioning teams around them and optimizing investment as we continue to carve out an increasingly prominent and differentiated position in the global market.”

Campher joins from Hootsuite, where he was VP of corporate marketing. Before that, he was VP of brand and communications at CRM giant Salesforce.

Lolë names new VP of digital omni-commerce as parent company exits bankruptcy protection

The Montreal-based athletic apparel and accessories retailer has appointed Rob French as VP of digital omni-commerce.

French will lead Lolë’s efforts in consumer insights, supply chain-to-consumer models and online customer journeys. In what is a new role for the company, he will also work to grow the company’s retail brand. He arrives with sixteen years experience in ecommerce, having spent the last few years as chief digital commerce officer at sporting goods retailer Decathlon.

In May 2020, Lolë parent Coalision Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection, citing several years of losses as a result of a downturn in the retail clothing market, increased competition and excess inventory – problems exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the filing, Coalision was seeking an investor or purchaser of its assets.

It successfully exited bankruptcy protection last year and is currently rebuilding its executive team, according to a spokesperson.