Too big. Too slow. Too much noise. Choose to collaborate & create rather than efficiently manage

Too big. Too slow. Too much noise.

Choose to collaborate & create rather than efficiently manage

I had a good discussion over the weekend about the future alignment of big agencies and big brands. The debate focused on three core issues

  • How we need to test more things out to meet the changing needs of customers
  • How much quicker everything has to be
  • If the big agencies are geared up for such fast turnaround & innovations

Really the debate was around the final question – I know they are trying to change but not always succeeding. Time is running out. I believe that this current downturn will cause fundamental changes to the relationship between clients, brands, agencies and consumers. The pressures that will force this tipping point are both from clients and from within the agencies and, specifically, their top talent.

The proliferation of specialist agencies that started 20+ years ago with media separating from creative, relationship marketing execution separating from advertising, identity studios involving into brand consultancies, the rise of digital specialist beyond web developers and online advertising and the formation of a few places that are more generalist idea not execution offerings has left clients dealing with too many agency contacts, all great at some things but not everything. During the same period, the Management Consultants have proliferated exponentially inside many of the same clients. It’s no wonder senior clients feel time starved, over advised and generally frustrated.

Even though many of the Holding Companies have been successful in pitching a “one-stop-answer” for Billion Dollar businesses, these pitches are so in the sights of procurement that the decision is only over lowest price and how many people (sorry, FTE’s – full time equivalent people) are involved in the deal. Therefore the focus is driven by a combination of efficiency (to make the deal profitable) and management (to ensure consistency of service) as much less on delivering better creative ideas. Consumers and customers (and indeed staff) need to be understood, connected too, delighted and heard, which are driven by creativity, insights, cut through and smarts = better creative ideas.

Sure, the Holding Company has a number of specialist agencies who are geared up to deliver their specialism brilliantly – and they do. A lot of clients form their own rosters of specialist agencies who are world class at their specialism. There is great talent in these agencies – but too much overlap and duplication stops the talent performing at their best for the brands.

The overlap takes the form of big teams with too many different disciplines working apart and only occasionally meeting. A big brand may have between 5-7 agency teams working on it. These teams usually work in different agencies or on different floors within big agency groups. All teams have roles that are specific to the agency and not for the client. They are assigned by a basic billing model that allocates a percentage of time per task.

Too many agencies still have first-point-of-contact people who represent the agency to client rather than create things or provide insight. Many of these traditional roles are replicated across each of the client’s agencies – whether from the same holding company or not. Too many account managers or project managers or junior this and still-in-training-for-that. Important internal roles, less important external roles, but all the roles are accounted for, paid for and in each process from each discipline & in each agency. Clients also have proliferated roles to look after executional disciplines and follow the process to execute things with too many levels and with a niche focus aimed inside a company rather than in gaining real insight with their consumers outside,  in order to provide meaningful, rewarding experiences that is demanded of 21st Century Branding.

We hear a lot about noise from a consumer’s perspective with millions of messages in too many channels – ironically there is an internal noise in these agencies that can be distracting for both clients & negates the very reason they may have hired agencies in the first place – namely to create and improve brands and their relationships with consumers, customers and staff -  but also the noise affects the top talent inside agencies. The ‘noise’ takes to form of

  • Running an agency – reporting, communicating, managing, meetings, meetings
  • Reporting to the holding company
  • Internal processes (often to update people for not at client meetings)
  • Being allocated to other clients (it’s not uncommon to add the FTE percentages so that people are allocated 3 months for every one month of time)
  • New business gathering
  • Training younger people – or use them as blockers.
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings, politics, politics, politics

This noise not only distracts the top talent away from building brands, it frustrates them. Everything slows down the processes of creativity. The talent spends less & less time with the client and at the client and/or in the world learning – it has a big knock on frustration at the client too. The frustration has always been there, but today, the holding companies are so pervasive, a lot of options for clients and agency talent can seem to be out of the frying pan & into the fire.

Their clients need talent to succeed in getting new ideas our more quickly but are getting increasingly frustrated when the good ideas are slowed by over burdensome process & models and or in forms that are difficult to test – these days testing has to be done in real markets not in real market conditions or focus groups and be small enough to fit on a model of “do, learn, do again, do different.” This includes having dialogue with consumers on a weekly basis not in annually or for a big launch.

The change has begun. Some of the clients are early adaptors. Much agency talent are leaving to collaborate with other talent to create new models, to choose to work on projects they want too, or with other talent they respect. The freelance model of choice. Smaller creative boutiques are happy to recognise they don’t know everything but know enough talent outside to mean the client can get access to the best talent. Clients are picking specific teams from their agencies to work directly with together rather than via each individual agency. Virtual networks, collaborative villages used to be the prerogative and vernacular of tech start ups.

Hence the rise of “open source collaboration” – whether within smaller, more fleet of foot, agencies set up to keep that way or choose to work as an individual or dynamic team to focus on creating & making things. Clients want to work with the best creative and strategic talent. They are rarely all in the same agency. And they are always the most sought after in the agency. Holding Companies don’t always give top talent the freedom of choice or the full freedom to create. Clients themselves  have too many balls to juggle to stand still.

Creative collaboration direct with clients and consumers is one way of ensuring that breakthrough ideas are tested quickly in order to build growth back into a clients business. At the same time, it breathes passion back into creative people – right and left brained brand builders who want to make a difference  – who are not turned on by efficiency and management process that they are increasingly frustrated with.

Smaller, faster, focused creativity is like adrenaline to the best agency talent – not managing efficiently. It’s choosing to give your all to a project or a brand. The same at the client. The same for consumers. The effect is positively infectious. Of course there are times when it still happens at big agencies and big brands. At pitches and launches – in times of crisis management. The trick is to make these acute one off periods more regular, more often. Otherwise what will happen is that creative brand projects will be worked on by a creative collective – to deliver a powerful impact to a consumer’s experience or a meaningful role for a company’s staff on the customer journey.

These collectives will not be retained to work beyond the agreed project. Another project could follow but not immediately with the same brand. The teams will mix and match themselves over time to complement each other to drive each solution and then move on to choose another. As this process developed, creative talent & innovators will merge with other advisors in the management consulting field. Choosing to collaborate, whatever the fee or reward is for the collective or the client will be based on short term shared goals and outcomes. This form of collaboration provides the opportunity  for each person, client or creative, to keep being curious,  right or left brained, to make an impact, to be a part of a wider community, to solve difficult or interesting problems quickly and feel increased self worth, beyond the measure of a salaried job with the accompanying processes and management responsibilities.

So yes, it was an interesting debate on Saturday night. An optimistic one too, because these are times of change, where action will trump inertia, and fear fuelled doom mongers do not have to be right. The debate happened at a charity ball for Mencap’s Grove Cottage. The power to do good by many for a few was apparent, in our little community.




Jaime Oliver – a 21st Century Brand

Jaime Oliver – a 21st Century Brand

Really interesting biography in today’s Times by Alex Renton , which poses the question is Jaime the Elizabeth David of our times?

He questions the place Jaime has in the history of British cooks and the influence of his legacy of Food. Really interestingly, Alex Renton makes the observation that Jaime Oliver has become “one of Britain’s best brands.”

In the 12 years since TV’s Naked Chef, Jaime has become so much broader than a “Chef” – and as we entered the 21st Century Jamie’s fame grew – as did many more Ramsey, Rhodes et al – but Jaime moved on from offering good/great practical food through to social projects like Fifteen and School Meals.

What Jaime Oliver has done is built his brand on his core strengths and then, importantly, taken its influence into society to make a difference. His audience understand him. He has a relationship with them. His competition respects him. He stays true. He inspires.

A 21st Century Brand is all about having a role with customers and Jaime gets that. It’s about innovating, which Jaime is unafraid of doing. It’s about being a positive force, taking small useful actions.

He takes risks – he mortgaged his house for Fifteen. He compromises – the Sainsbury spokesman role was a good source of funding but led him into conflict and criticism. He has always brought his brand core – his blokey charm and determination added to food and cookery – to bear on as wide an audience as he can. He speaks at the UN and battles Governments to just do good.

Comparing him to TV Chef’s and Great British Cooks misses the point. He’s more comparable to Branson and Botham in Britain, but Britain seems too small for his brand.

His place in history is still to be established.

Double Dip Marketing …part 2 (of 3)

Double Dip Marketing …part 2 (of 3)

Yesterday we asked what to do in the face of a Double Dip recession, where there was no clear best practice for marketers and fear is causing inertia. Two significant things have changed since the last Double Dip recession in the early 1980’s.

Firstly, brand actually matters & indeed is more important than ever – recognised everywhere in Fortune 500 company P&Ls. In the early 80’s the CFO didn’t regard brand at all. It wasn’t considered as a core business driver. Today it is oft quoted by CFO’s and Business Schools as one of an organisation’s crown jewels.

The second seismic change is of course the digital world of personal computing, the web and social connectivity and, with it, the democratisation of the customer’s voice as the prime influence on brand. Many of today’s top global brands are themselves digital and have a fundamentally different relationship with their customers than those product led brands of 20+ years ago. The brand’s relationship with its customers is much more important that the relationship with the company providing the product or service. Brand is about the role it plays in a customer’s lives not the messages being broadcast at them by the company.

The impact on marketing has been significant:

  • A sharp increase in C-suite focus on the company’s brand (but not always a place at the top table for the CMO);
  • Proliferation of new disciplines and agency relationships to cover digital & media proliferation (result being interagency politics, bickering about who is more important, being compounded by a decreasing influence by the CMO across many of the organisation’s silos)
  • Brand strategy is not treated with the same focus as brand execution
  • An increasing importance on spending efficiency, sometimes over that of effectiveness (and often without a clear brand hymn sheet that everyone sings from)
  • An increased turnaround of people climbing the career ladder (with average tenure of marketing managers slipping under a year)
  • Brand stories being interpreted differently along the customer journey – so weakening the customer experience

Add to this the increased pressures of time and budget, juggling too many balls too quickly has resulted much inertia and frustrations.  And now the fear of Double Dip has brought some Marketers to a shuddering halt. Their Boards have become even more risk averse and demanding. Budget cuts have returned and yet growth initiatives are expected to succeed immediately.

Inertia increases stress and, as Dale Carnegie said; fear needs to be broken by action.

Here are 3 things you could do quickly.

  • Change how you do what you do
  • Recreate your brand story
  • Innovate at warp speed

Read about these actions in part 3 (of 3) in more detail tomorrow.

What’s your number?

What’s your number?

Great tool from BBC via UN Population Fund that calculates where you stand in history given that 7 Billion people will soon be alive on Earth.

My son just turned 13. He’s the 5.98 billionth & I was the 2.9 Billionth.

He’s more worried about sustainability, the environment,  about being fair and his effect on others than I ever was. That’s good, because he & his generation need to.

And brands that want relationships with that generation need to too. That is not a CSR program either. That means having it entwined in your brand essence, because if it is simply lipservice, these smart teenagers spot it a mile away.

What’s your number?