Do You Want to Join the Madison Avenue Makeover Club?

Do You Want to Join the Madison Avenue Makeover Club?

By Guest Contributor Michael Farmer
Author of Madison Avenue Makeover, Michael Farmer, reveals what ad agencies need to be able to join the exclusive Madison Avenue Makeover Club.

The Madison Avenue Makeover Club is an exclusive club. Want to join? If you have to ask, you’re not invited. It’s more exclusive than the Bohemian or Belizean Groves, or the Alfalfa and Yellowstone Clubs put together. Thinking about White’s? Brooks? Boodle’s? They’re a piece of cake. The Makeover Club invented the word exclusive. It’s posh, privileged, swank, ritzy, respected – and open to the exclusive few agencies who can qualify. It’s not for the Madison Avenue masses or the perpetual victims of Madison Avenue Manslaughter. Membership rules are very strict.

Want to know more?

It’s a club of ad agency partners, not of vendors and masters. Let me explain.

Agency partners work hand-in-glove with their clients and with one another on important matters. Partners are equals, as comfortable together in front of a spreadsheet as in front of the fire with a glass of Armagnac. Club members are competitive, wanting to grow and succeed. It’s a club of winners, with a track record of success and of making big things happen. Club members create success for their clients.

What’s unique about the partnership is the shared belief that members can turn client underperformance into future brand growth in the marketplace. Millennials? They don’t scare us. Amazon and e-commerce? There are solutions. Transparency? Private label competition? Digital effectiveness? On these issues, we forge relationships that permit us to bring the best brain-power, analysis and creativity to solve these solvable problems. Makeover members are optimists by nature. Each agency brings something unique to the table. Agencies bring expertise, analysis, strategy, planning, creativity and production to client problems that need to be solved.

Partners are respectful of (and indifferent to) diversity by age, gender, ethnicity and other oft-written-about variables. What matters is what each partner brings to the ‘performance party,’ as it were, and who can be counted on to find solutions to the daunting problems that can get in the way.

The Makeover Club is a club of agency partners. Interestingly, equality of partnership is not a natural thing or an off-the-shelf condition in the marketplace. The partnerships in the Makeover Club are forged out of smart ideas – hard and intense efforts to identify and solidify common grounds on which enduring, performance-achieving results can be built.

We don’t do RFPs or use benchmarks. It is not from such dull tools that great works or great partnerships are forged. We talk things out. What do we want to achieve? How will we work together? Who will do what? How will we know when we have succeeded? How will we reward one another? How will we deal with problems and shortfalls? We agree to work together for as long as it takes, provided each partner demonstrates commitment, optimism and value.

You can see why we are an exclusive club. There are few who have the vision or the stomach to pass up short-term “gains” for the uncertain prospect of hard-won long-term success. We live in a transactional, instant-gratification world, where today’s short-term profits have a higher perceived value than long-term enduring success.

Well, that may be fine for others, but it is not fine for us and our club.

Who can join? Our members are the CEOs of transformed agencies. We’re open to holding companies and their owned agencies, although few of them yet qualify. Most big agencies and their clients are serial daters rather than relationship committers. They put too high a value on quick hits.

We’ve outlined membership rules in Madison Avenue Makeover: The Transformation of Huge and the Redefinition of the Ad Agency Business. Read it and see if you are interested in joining this exclusive club.


Prior to founding Farmer & Company in 1992, Michael Farmer was a strategy consultant with The Boston Consulting Group and a Director of Bain & Company. He headed Bain’s Munich, Paris and London offices during Bain’s decade of European expansion in the 1980s. He is the author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter (LID).

Suggested Reading

This book is the riveting story of Huge’s journey through its transformation effort ― from its initiation in 2021 to a rethink of the transformation in May 2022 to a revised structure and plan that put the program back on course ― with some significant delays. “It’s one thing to organize a change plan that assigns responsibilities to senior executives,” mused Baxter, “and another thing to have the sum of their efforts add up to something greater.” Madison Avenue Makeover provides a unique insight into how one company changed in order to survive, and at the same time, redefined the advertising agency business.

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