Monday, January 15, 2007

Do Agencies Give a Shit?

I sometimes wonder whether ad agencies really give a shit about producing advertising that really sells.

Now that I'm firmly entrenched back in the client side after a couple of years working for small agencies, it's starting to become a lot clearer.

Here's my story: I've got 16 years of marketing experience at a high level with some of the biggest companies in the world. I love advertising and communication. I reckon I'm pretty good at what I do, and my strategic skills are one of my strengths.

So one day I decided to start my own consultancy and become a freelance planner/marketer. I'd always wanted to work as a planner on the agency side and spoke to a lot of people in the industry who assured me that the ad game was crying out for strong, strategic client side experience.

I didn't disagree.

That was two years ago. I reckon I did some great planning work (and so did my clients and the agencies who I helped win a lot of new business for). True 360 degree planning - the way the top planners and articles in B&T and AdNews talk about how it should be done. With great results for the brands I worked on.

The only 'problem' was that it was all for smaller agencies (ad/design/promo).

I thought I had the skills for a bigger agency, but none of the bigger agencies were interested in me. I got nowhere with a lot of agencies and definitely nowhere with recruiters for the ad industry.

Through my own contacts though, I got so, so close to planning roles at Y&R, DDB and JWT. Even to the point of being offered a job (which changed dynamics somewhat when they changed the rate at the last minute to a 100% bonus system based on the amount of new business I brought in. But sorry, I don't work for free).

The real irony was that for all three agencies, not one of them had the guts to call me and tell me I didn't get the job. They just crawled back under the creative rock and went quiet. That's ok, I guess...I just find it strange given that their job is to communicate.

My problem? I was seen as a client, through and through. One of those people who doesn't really appreciate the power of great creative. Someone who makes life difficult for agency people because we're so narrow minded. Someone who might even think...horror, horror....that a Brand Power ad might actually be the best advertising outcome. And even though I hate Brand Power, sometimes it probably is the best option.

Sure, I love creative work and believe in the power of a great creative idea, but it's not always the best way to sell more product. When has an agency ever recommended that the problem is not advertising, but pack graphics or PR or sampling?

Meanwhile, every planner jumping off the plane from the UK seems to have no trouble picking up a guernsey. English accents go a long way here in Sydney. Fair enough - that's my competition. That's life.

But I've seen a lot of English planners struggle with planning disciplines taught in London put against briefs from volume driven FMCG clients where the goal is to sell 4 million loaves of bread to the average aussie living in Telopea, or Bayswater, or Woolawin. As a client, I haven't got time to wordsmith 3 words in a half day session, only to see them disappear in a puff of dust at the first creative presentation.

Am I pissed off? Yeah, a little.

I can count on two fingers the amount of planners who I think have really added strategic value to my brand. And none to those who have added strategic value to my non-brand related business (eg margin improvement, NPD, trade, internal comms etc). You know....the other stuff that makes money.

Most planners have been pretty rubbish. Sorry, let me rephrase....most planners are certainly not worth the value agencies charge for them over the course of a year. Bear in mind this is my experience, along with a couple of marketing directors I've talked to as well.

So back to my original point. Sometimes I wonder whether agencies really give a shit about producing advertising that really sells.

Because if they did, they would be more open minded about bringing in people who have a true open mind about the role of advertising. They'd be open to people from client side who can add so much insight to the way clients think and operate and add value from so many perspectives.

I think agencies are scared of people who don't see absolute creative work as being the God of Brands. It seems like it would almost be too threatening to have someone with client experience in the boiler room, diluting brilliant creative work with ridiculous client side ideas and insights and suggestions designed to increase sales.

Deep down, big agencies are creatively driven, not (client) sales driven. The end goal is advertising. The means is managing the client to deliver the most creative outcome.

In client land, the end goal is sales. Advertising is one means to deliver it. And I'm not sure things are changing in any hurry.

Is this blog topic inflamatory? Probably. Is there another argument here? Most certainly.

But I haven't seen the argument made too many times (eg never) and this blog entry and a glass of wine seemed like an interesting to do this time of the night.

Good night


Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Vando. Great post. This goes straight to the heart of one of my biggest bugaboos: that very rarely do agencies and clients sit down and really talk about how advertsing works. This sparks off a ton of other thoughts that I'd love to talk with you about. But sadly I have to catch a plane. Will check back in to see the response!

Gavin Heaton said...

Go Vando! A focus on outcomes and delivering value is sorely missing in many discussions about brands and advertising. This is why the linakge between agencies and media need to be dismantled. It is why independent planning agencies are so much on all our minds (esp Emily's).

You are in good company at the moment ... both Marcus Brown and Mindblob are discussing the same topic at present. Interesting times!

Anonymous said...

Right on vando! I think for a creative industry it is remarkably narrow minded when it comes to recruitment and cross-functional moves. Its always easier to recruit someone that has directly relevant experience than take a risk on someone who might have a fresher approach and different ideas. If it's any consolation I think the same is true on the media owner side...

Vando said...

Hey guys, thanks for your comments. I've been thinking about this for the last day since I put this up and wondered whether I was just being a pissed off whinger who didn't get my own way.

But at the same time, shit happens and I reckon there's a valid point of view in there somewhere. Geez, I love working with agency people. Even for the agencies where I didn't get a gig, they are tremendous people who are really passionate about advertising and great to be around.

But there's something holding them back when it comes to adding a fresh perspective into the agency. Possibly the same way clients revert to one end of the spectrum when it comes down to results - they go for the non-emotional, non risky, non- creative approach. There's too much at stake when trying to deliver the result.

Agencies revert to the opposite. They're taught to believe creative is the be all and end all . When I did AWARD school, it was clear that this was the one and only way to progress in advertising. Agencies tend to gravitate towards the emotional, risky, creative approach. For agencies, that's the best result.

When Peter Garrett sings "The rich getting richer, the poor get the picture", is he referring to the poor people as the smaller, more flexible, more strategic shops in town?

Ten years ago when he was singing this, the environment was the domain of the Greens. Nowdays we're all pretty certain that the world is being fucked up. Ten years makes a big difference. I wonder how the ad industry will look in 10 years time?

Doug said...

great post mate.

although I can't comment on the english/oz debate (regrettably I've yet to set foot in Australia) I do agree with you about the outcomes vs. outputs line of discussion. I (sort of) wrote about this too recently, and I really do believe that for agencies (creative, media, pr etc.) to be taken seriously as a business partner (like management consultants are) rather than mere supplier, we need to get more au fait with hard-business outcomes (the result of our work).

many fall woefully short. but some excel, and these are the ones who I believe will endure and ultimately prosper

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