Brands such as Spectrum are, for all intents and purposes, monopolies. Their monopolistic stature affords them the illusion that they do not need to be the best in total quality.

I finally cut the cable cord and will just go forward with Spectrum internet service. The value proposition of cable TV evaporated long ago. I’m old enough to remember the promise that cable TV would be ad free with great quality programming, and it was… for a brief time. Advertising on Netflix? Stay tuned.

Dealing with Spectrum requires dogged determination. I called and spoke to an account representative and reduced my service to internet only. I could have likely completed this on the website, but it was not entirely clear to me how to accomplish the task. The phone seemed the only option. Now I know why. The call involved nearly 40 minutes in various stages of hold patterns and over 30 minutes of actual conversation. Finally, my cable service was gone, leaving internet only and netting me nearly $100 a month in my pocket. The agent instructed me to simply unplug the DVR and return it to a Spectrum store. There’s one nearby and I could just drop it off.

So, I went to “just drop it off.” I was not advised that I should call the store and make an appointment. I was number 12 in line and most people did not have an appointment. Twenty minutes later I was still number 12. At approximately 40 minutes, somehow, I had dropped down to number 13. I was listening to a podcast and the episode, at 43 minutes in length, seemed like it should get me to the service desk. No so.

The staff are exceedingly nice. Well trained to keep smiling, try to solve problems and sell, sell, sell. Most of my conversation on the phone was about various ways to lower my bill and keep me as a cable customer. When I finally reached the bottom of the sales ladder and I remained uninterested, the agent jumped to offering mobile service. At the Spectrum store, I was not getting out of there without the same mobile pitch.

As nice as the people truly are, the user experience stinks. I’m certain I would have been at the store much longer than 1 hour and 45 minutes were it not for the fact that a great number of the people (appointments or not) simply gave up and left. Customer retention through attrition.

Customer experience design is brand engagement. All the shiny, happy service agents in the world will not make up for a poorly designed brand experience. Why would I buy mobile service from a brand that demonstrates such little regard for my time?

A brand is more than a name or logo, a brand is an exchange in value.

Occasionally, rummaging through the back of the drawer turns up a gem. In this case, a merger pencil.  To me the no.3 lead was always the perfect choice, especially during a merger or IPO; no.2 was always a bit too soft. This was the mighty tool, long before we had computers on every desk. This, a blank sheet of paper and a cup of coffee was the ideal way to start any project. It still is a superior set of tools.

I have lived and worked through a number of mergers and IPO’s in my agency life and at this point, I can say with some degree of confidence that they are events that do little to elevate or even maintain the level and quality of the work. In fact, with rare exception, it is quite the opposite.

In the near term these events do very little to help most of the agency client base, save perhaps the largest.

Many years down the road, organizations like Wire and Plastic Products have turned up as global agency juggernaut WPP.  Sir Martin sure knows what he’s doing in this regard.  Before building WPP into one of the world’s top agency networks he was finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi  — note the pencil.

The team at WPP seem to have it all worked out, not so for the failed Publicis-Omnicom courtship. Was the proposed merger only love at first bite?

What’s working brilliantly for WPP did not turn out so well at the time for Saatchi & Saatchi. As the go-go 80’s imploded there was all kinds of intrigue and mayhem and loss of business as the operation began to unravel. Yet, it was fabulous to be there because at the time, it was the place to be…until it wasn’t. I should note that for many years now Saatchi & Saatchi is back on high ground and has been knocking out some great work, but it was a long road back.

Mergers and IPO’s come down to winners and losers. All the bather about a “merging of equals” or how being a publicly traded company will not change the culture are fantasies of good will.

When a merger works, it works because the dominant agency is a top-ranked creative powerhouse and that is the driving culture.

The executive team is identified and the agenda is supported and maintained throughout the process, across the entire new organization with no excuses and with respect all around. We see little turnover of talent and business. The goal is to deliver the same great product across the globe as well as around the block. A rising tide lifts all boats.

When it doesn’t work, it’s because the merger or IPO is an exercise in financial control designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

This unleashes all kinds of grief and stress because this agenda does not always align well with doing what’s right for your clients.  As a result, we see years of management change, talent flight and loss of accounts.

On the occasion of the pencil seen above, Saatchi & Saatchi Dorland was the UK based network agency and Saatchi & Saatchi Compton was the US arm. They merged DFS and Dorland to create DFS-Dorland which existed for a fairly brief period before they combined all of us into my very special Yellow no.3 pencil.

I save these pencils as Momento mori, small monuments of remembrance to the fact that even the best of hard work and talent can be defeated by the ephemeral trappings of scale for the sake of scale.

Pencils remain the most enduring way to put ideas to paper regardless of the names changing over the door.