Bob Bloom learned that resolving conflict between his ad agency's creative and marketing departments took careful planning and a set of common goals.
Bob Bloom learned that resolving conflict between his ad agency's creative and marketing departments took careful planning and a set of common goals.
On a late summer's day in 1970, Ray Trapp roared into Dallas driving a gold Mercedes-Benz 190SL. The 30-year-old marketing executive wore a pin-striped three-piece suit and a crisp white shirt with monograrmmed cuffs. He cut a very different figure from the casually dressed art directors and copywriters at Bloom Agency, a family-owned advertising ageney that had hired Trapp for his impressive seven-year marketing record at New York's Ogilvy & Mather.
Trapp represented part of the wave of talented new recruits that Bob Bloom, president of the agency, viewed as the key to reshaping the company from a local shop that had catered to a bevy of small retail aecounts to a major southwestern agency with prestigious clients. One of the catalysts of this transformation occurred in 1969, when Bloom decided to take a long shot and compete with a major New York agency for Jax Beer, a New Orleans account with annual billings of approximately $3.5 million. The dark horse landed the account and grew 30% overnight.
Bob Bloom had learned that to deal with bigger, more sophisticated clients like Jax, he could no longer rely on a team of generalists who not only handled an account but also wrote copy and purchased media space. Work had to be divided up and done by people with specific skills in marketing, media planning and research, and production. Little did Bloom realize, however, to what extent this new breed of specialists would disrupt business. In a creative organization -- a research laboratory, engineering firm, architects' office, or advertising agency -- it is often difficult to get bright, often egotistical, people to exercise their varied talents and, at the same time, care about the company's product and goals. Getting creative people to act as a team can be painful and frustrating. But that was a price Bloom had to pay to turn the small advertising business his father, Sam, founded in 1952 into one of the country's 35 largest independent agencies with more than $100 million in billings and a roster of accounts that includes Libby, McNeill & Libby; Anderson Clayton Foods; Schering-Plough; Block Drug; and Liggett & Myers Tobacco.
In 1970, Trapp and his account executives were headed for a collision with the creative department, the people who write the copy and produce the advertising that ultimately makes an agency "hot," or not. Trapp and the other account executives dealt directly with accounts, thereby creating a wedge between clients and the creative department. "The copywriters and art directors, who were used to calling the shots, felt betrayed," recalls a former employee. "They didn't want some bushytailed account executive telling them they had to get the client's name on the package 10 times."
When advertising campaigns failed, the marketing department complained that the creative group didn't meet specifications. Creative blamed marketing for not providing enough information about the clients' needs. "Relationships started blowing apart," recalls Richard Baker, a former Bloom employee. The creative department declared that no one from marketing was allowed in its offices. Some creative supervisors stopped attending company meetings and sent representatives instead. One claimed that he got so tense in meetings that he would have to leave the room and go to throw up.
Not only was Bob Bloom spending more and more time trying to settle disputes, but he was also attempting to keep abreast of every departmental decision. He spent weekends with two briefcases full of work, dictating into a pocket recorder. On Monday morning, a slew of memos were distributed throughout the company. At the last minute, Bloom would halt projects, start new ones, and ask for changes from managers he had put in charge of projects. "Bob wanted to do everything," recalls Mark Oken, senior vice-president and media direetor. "He created incredible red tape to try to track a lot of the things that he couldn't keep up with any other way."
While the agency was in the midst of this turbulence in the early '70s, Bloom heard Robert J. House, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto, speak at a Young Presidents' Organization meeting (see INC., September, page 73). House touched a nerve in Bloom as he described to his audienee of company presidents a behavioral model, developed by David McClelland at Harvard University, that categorized people as primarily achievers, power seekers, or affiliators.
"As House described an achiever," says Bloom, "I recognized myself -- someone consumed by the future, constantly setting goals." Bloom was fascinated that a model could be applied to people. He hired House and his collaborator David Berlew, president of McBer & Co., a Boston management consulting firm, as consultants. Since House had provided insight into his behavior, Bloom hoped that the professor might help him understand what was going on at the ad agency.
Unlike those who believe that creative people should be insulated from marketing managers and clients, Berlew and House felt that interaction between these two groups should be encouraged. Conflict was inevitable. On the theory that the right side of the brain controls creative behavior and the left side, the rational, they argued: "Put a bunch of right-brained and left-brained people together and you're bound to get sparks." But they felt that this tension was responsible for the effective advertising the agency turned out.
"In an advertising agency," remarks Berlew, today president of Situation Management Systems Inc., a Plymouth, Mass., company that produces management development programs, "creative and marketing people are the equivalent of the research and development scientist and tbe salesman: They speak different languages. Fortunately for the research and development scientist and the salesman, they do not have to work together very closely. Account services and creative do have to work closely together and therein lies the rub." For the most part, the creative people develop something out of their gut. They say, "I don't care what the client wants, this is what works." For a marketing person, however, success is typically measured in dollar volume, the number of new accounts, and profit.
Berlew and House met with Bloom's employees in team-building workshops. "They [Berlew and House] created more problems than they solved," says Richard Schiera, vice-president and associate creative director. "I'm one of the few people who didn't get shrunk. " Schiera refused to attend eight staff sessions on problem solving and role negotiation. "I'm not into organized anything," he remarks, surrounded by the unconventional personal props decorating his department: an elephant made out of old tools, a miniature dirigible, and 1,000 feet of masking tape loosely wadded into a ball.
But although Schiera and a handful of other Bloom employees spurned the meetings, all top management participated, and there were soon real changes in the way the agency did business. Creative supervisors, for example, stepped in again to ensure the earliest possible involvement in developing strategies with clients and the marketing department. The agency also developed a worksheet that outlines a campaign's creative, marketing, and media strategy. Each supervisor then signs the sheet, agreeing to the preliminary plan. "Getting involved from the beginning does a lot to get rid of the 'us and them,' " says Michal Lawrence, a Bloom vice-president and associate creative director. "I've worked at agencies where I've felt my head had a set of plugs on top. They'd just plug me into whatever problem needed solving at any given time. I never really felt a connection with my work or my accounts."
This feeling of connection, says Bloom, "requires one hell of a lot of communication and role clarity." People need to know what their jobs are, what is expected of them, and where they fit into the company's future. In a start-up, Bloom says, teamwork occurs naturally. But when a business grows to more than 300 employees, as the Bloom Agency has, such informal teamwork deteriorates. To prevent this deterioration, Bloom has introduced performance evaluation reviews (PERs). At least once a year, everyone in the company, including Bloom, evaluates his own performance, as well as that of his supervisor and his subordinates, and sets sixmonth goals. "Sure, there's a lot of fuzziness," admits Bloom. "Job descriptions, for a creative person especially, aren't clear-cut. The important thing is that everyone should be able to say to his supervisor, 'Hey, I've got a problem. I don't know what's expected of me.' "
Spending time writing down objectives initially strikes some people as a waste of time. "At first I resented the whole business," says Schiera, propping his boots on the art deco bar in his office. "But it helped me do something I'd never done in my life, which is to think about what bothered me and what excited me in my work. It was like a revelation that all of a sudden I should have goals."
By encouraging evaluation, Bob Bloom has created a climate where people feel free to criticize him. Tony Wainwright, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloom Agency, formerly with Marschalk Co. in New York, has helped Bloom almost double its billings in the last two years. Last year he appraised his boss's performance. "One of my critiques of Bob was that he cloistered himself," says Wainwright. "He'd get in his office like a mole. 'You've got to get out, walk around, and talk to people,' I told him.
Bob, by his own account, prefers solitude. "I'm constantly going to dinner parties and leaving early," he says. "I'd rather spend three hours sitting at the pool by myself. " But, says Wainwright, Bloom did get out and circulate. "At first he scared people to death. People couldn't figure out what he was doing in their offices."
In recent years, Bloom Agency has added a twist to PERs by subjecting the agency to its own grilling. Each year the company undergoes an assessment of its performance in a meeting with each client. "We don't allow ourselves to get defensive," says Wainwright. "The clients end up telling what's inside here," he says, pointing to his gut. Often, dissatisfaction results not from a problem with the advertising but because of a personality conflict. "It's like being in a marriage: If your wife doesn't tell you she doesn't like it if you leave dishes in the sink, you don't change the habit, and it becomes an irritant. You have to address yourself to the irritants."
In October, Bloom landed several new accounts: Abbott Laboratories' Murine Eye Drops, Murine Plus, and Clear Eyes, as well as Wine Group, producer of Mogen David and Franzia wines and Tribuno vermouth. Bob Bloom has reason to be pleased -- but little time to gloat. "In this business," he says, "you have to maintain a sense of urgency" and anticipate problems that growth will bring.
Beginning in 1973 with the creation of Automated Production Inc., a typography and reproduction services company, Bloom Agency began to spin off subsidiaries that specialized in communications services, including industrial advertising, public relations, and sales promotions. Last March, Bloom Cos., the holding company for the subsidiaries formed in August 1980, acquired Mathieu, Gerfen & Bresner (MGB), a New York agency that has handled such prestigious imported products as Perrier sparkling water and Remy Martin cognac. "The acquisition has given the company a very different shape," says Bloom. "We're going to have to find ways to accelerate integration and capitalize on the Dallas -- New York axis."
Just as in the early 1970s specialization bred parochialism and created a rift between the creative and marketing departments, Bloom predicts, the current diversification of Bloom Cos. will require a whole new technology of communications that, he admits, "I don't even understand yet."
Once again Bob Bloom considers "communication and role clarity" as critical elements in managing growth. He has appointed a management committee consisting of the top managers from the business units, which meets weekly to discuss everything from financial and new business matters to morale and turnover. Each fall, when Bloom Cos.' three-year strategic plan is rolled forward, the committee reviews the profit and volume goals for each business unit.
Planning entails more than discussion. Every year each of Bloom Cos.' 17 top managers -- including Bob Bloom -- are required to draw up a list of no more than 10 goals. The goals, arranged according to an appropriate measure -- dates, dollars, or percentages, for example -- are reviewed by Bob Bloom, as well as by the company's compensation committee, made up of 3 outside members of its 10-member board of directors. Once the goals are agreed to, Bloom places each person's top 3 goals on a chart. "We have 17 people doing different jobs, all pulling the same wagon," he says.
At Bloom, managers don't think up goals just for the exercise. Accomplishing objectives affects the size of bonuses, a combination of cash and stock. Placing such value on achieving objectives does more than provide incentive. "Bonuses are common in the agency business, but most of the time they're very discretionary," says Bloom. "When we hand out bonuses at the end of the year usually 10% to 30% of a person's annual compensation, and we talk about goals, everyone knows it's not a bunch of baloney."
Planning strategy and compensation takes time, admits Arlen Bryant, who represents the creative department on the management committee. "To go through that process while you're trying to create advertising and put out the day-to-day fires is a lot of work, but it's critical if you're going to create your own future." "Creating your own future" may sound like a cliche, but Bob Bloom and his employees take it seriously. Furthermore, people say that one of the reasons they put up with the planning procedures is that Bob Bloom works harder at them than anyone else.
"Bob's mind is way out in front of where it has a right to be," says Pete Mathieu, chairman and creative director of MGB. "He's made an investment in the future of the business," planning for growth that is unheard-of in most small agencies and rare in many larger ones. Mathieu argues that Bob Bloom 's planning ultimately liberates, rather than stifles, creativity. Adds Wainwright: "Bob's planning is the best I've seen in the advertising business. What that means is that I can spend time with my clients and try to think of a great idea. That is the big contribution that an agency can make to a client. One idea can make all the difference in the world."