Stuart Smith on Toyota’s ad dilemma

Sack him, or back him? That’s the dilemma facing Toyota chief Akio Toyoda as he mulls the advice from his agency chief, Bob Seelert – chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

Sack him, or back him? That’s the dilemma facing Toyota chief Akio Toyoda as he mulls the advice from his agency chief, Bob Seelert – chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

Seelert has taken the highly eccentric course of contradicting in public his client’s decision to continue advertising, amid a hail of criticism accompanying the global recall of about 8 million vehicles.

Due credit to Seelert for making a point about his client’s best interests at the expense of the agency he heads, but why is he doing it in public?
It’s tempting to conclude that Seelert, a former client himself (mostly at General Foods), cannot resist playing the management guru. About a year ago, he brought out a book entitled Start With The Answer: And Other Wisdom for Aspiring Leaders, full of pithy insights into how to run a business.

What Toyoda thinks of this, we can only conjecture. He’s a bookish, thoughtful fellow known to have been deeply influenced by Jim Collins’ latest management blockbuster, How The Mighty Fall. Indeed, he has gone so far as to judiciously apply Collins’ analysis to the plight of his own company.

Somehow, I suspect he will be less sympathetic towards Seelert’s two ha’pence. For a start, Seelert’s views on Toyota advertising are far from gaining universal approval among crisis management experts. Then there is the not insignificant matter of causing the chief executive of a Japanese corporation (however modest, personally) to lose face in public through openly questioning his judgement. I’m sure Seelert’s senior colleagues at Saatchi have been vociferously reminding him that Toyota has a choice.

That choice is called Omnicom, which has lost almost all of its General Motors business in the last year. It could go for more of the bits of business that remain, such as Chevrolet. But I’m sure the significance of this spat has not been lost on Omnicom chief executive John Wren.

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