Monday, May 25, 2015

Is It Smart For Us To Go Upstream?

I've suggested before that instead of constantly cutting costs, we should consider how to make more money.

However, there's a right way to do that and a wrong way.

The wrong way, IMHO, is proposed in an article in AdWeek this week by Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, chief strategy officer at FCB Garfinkel New York.

Kofi starts by summing up what he sees as the problem, by using a quote from a Diageo marketer that has gained quite a bit of attention recently: "Agencies unable to prove they are driving value for clients risk becoming little more than dust."

It's an attention-grabbing quote, but even a quick analysis shows it to be somewhat meaningless. Surely any business, in any field, anywhere in the world, faces oblivion if it is unable to prove it creates value?

But I guess it's his solution that I really disagree with. Kofi writes: "The client-agency relationship needs to start way upstream of the communications brief. Clients need to invite agencies into the depths of their business, to share all of their data...we need to become true general contractors."

Presumably, becoming 'general contractors... upstream' means going into areas beyond marketing. Sounds exciting. But here's my question. What are we actually going to do, when we start getting involved with areas beyond marketing? Are we really going to get involved with finance? HR? Distribution? Manufacturing?

We just don't have the skills.

Are we really proposing to send a Comms Planner to a finance meeting, to sit alongside the Client's Finance Director, and a couple of guys from Goldman Sachs?

Are we really proposing to send a Copywriter to a meeting about building a new factory, alongside the Client's Head of Manufacturing, and a couple of guys from Balfour Beatty?

It's a joke.

And worse than that, it depreciates what we actually can do.

In an age of commoditisation, marketing (and hence marketing communications) are more important than ever.

Land Rover was once a unique product. Now everyone makes an SUV. Gordon's once had a near-monopoly on gin. Now there are 50 gins. 

In fact I'd turn the Diageo marketer's question back onto the client companies themselves: how is the average maker of a vodka, beer, training shoe, mid-size sedan, vitamin, juice, or coffee... or provider of insurance, mortgages, or personal loans... doing anything to drive value for their corporations?

Their products are almost completely undifferentiated. The corporate structures (of large corporations) are almost all identical. Their financing and management techniques do not significantly differ.

It's primarily marketing that can make the difference.

And yet 80% of CEOs do not trust their marketers, and 70% of CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from business results. (Source). 
The truth is that it's not we who need to go upstream, it's our Clients.

The Marketer is able to create far more value for the corporation than the Manufacturing Guy (since most companies are making me-too products), or the HR person, the legal counsel, etc.

Given the importance of marketing, every Marketing Director should sit on their company's board. Hell, every CMO should be sitting right next to the CEO.

And we should make it our mission to help them get there.

Because if they rise - which they deserve to - we rise.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The ECD Who Doesn't Sign Off Any Work

Very interesting interview this month with Nils Leonard, Chairman and CCO of Grey London.

The bit that really jumps out is that he claims he doesn't sign off any of the work.

Let's rewind. When Leonard first took over at Grey, a few people carped along the lines of 'how can he be an ECD when he's never done any great work as a creative', which is a rather foolish argument, akin to questioning Arsene Wenger's managerial ability on the grounds that he was a mediocre left-back.

Leonard's success is undeniable. Grey London has been utterly transformed under his watch. The agency where people "went to die", and whose creative floor was once known as "Jurassic Park", is now arguably one of the most dynamic in the world. In the last five years, the place has won a shitload of awards, and more than doubled in size.

So what did he do that was so different?

I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but he himself prefers not to tell us. Because it certainly can't be any of the three points he makes in his interview.

The first of these was his decision to go open-plan. As regular readers will know, I'm not a fan. But perhaps Leonard has a new take on it? "We tore down the offices", he says, "and for a reason: it literally is a physical barrier between an idea happening or not if you have to stop outside a door and knock to go and talk to somebody." 

Sounds hip, yeah. But if you actually examine it, I reckon this argument is super-weak. I mean... is that really such a huge barrier - a fucking door? Last time I checked, doors do open. And fairly easily, too. I don't recall them being much of a barrier when we had them at DDB London. They certainly never kept any suits out who wanted to come in. Or indeed anyone. They simply knocked, and entered! And once inside, you could actually have a proper chat... which in an open plan office, you can't.

But anyway, whatever the merits of open-plan, this move cannot be the cause of Grey's recent successes (21 pitches won out of 24), since every other agency in London has gone open-plan too. Hence, no competitive advantage there.

His second point is around looking for what he calls 'long ideas' rather than 'big ideas'. This means ideas that people want to spend time with, rather than simply ideas which can support multiple executions. And he's walked the walk here, for example producing a stage show 'The Angina Monologues' for the British Heart Foundation that was also broadcast on TV.

He's phrased it beautifully - "long ideas" - but a commitment to producing longer-form content cannot be the source of Grey's competitive advantage either, since every other agency in town is doing the same.

His last point is around "no sign-off". Leonard explains that a team consisting of a creative, a planner, and "I guess, a suit, or a producer" (he means a suit, but doesn't want to sound old-school) takes ultimate responsibility for the work - not him.

There are arguments both ways here. Yes, it's true that if people know the buck stops with them, they feel a greater sense of ownership, and may create better work. But on the other hand, you could argue it's a mistake to remove the CCO from the process - does it really make sense for the agency's best creative not to be involved in the work? 

He's certainly being a little disingenuous by reducing the CCO's role to a mere 'sign-off'. The good ECD's or CCO's or whatever the top person is called in an agency are doing a hell of a lot more than just signing off the work. They're adding to it, improving, finessing... sometimes transforming it.

In any case, once again this can't be the secret of Grey's recent out-performance, since many other agencies in London operate exactly the same system - including the last two where I worked, DDB and BBH - as do many other agencies around the world.

And it's certainly not true that this system is, as Nils Leonard claims, significantly faster. "If you trust people," he writes, "you don’t put barriers in the way and you speed up the process... you’ll be twice as fast as most agencies."

Really? Twice as fast? The ECD gets a day or two max to have their input - sometimes an hour. That's not 50% of the entire strategy/ideation/creative direction/presentation process. It's way, way less.

So what is the real reason for Grey's success, and why does Nils Leonard not tell us, instead making claims for the success of his agency which sound modern and groovy, but which aren't actually any different to what every other agency is doing?

In my view, the major change that has made the difference at Grey since the arrival of Nils Leonard... is the arrival of one Nils Leonard.

Obviously he doesn't say that in the interview, since it would sound horribly immodest (not to mention old-fashioned) to claim that one great creative leader can make the difference. But we all know that they can.

I have no interest in crawling up the bloke's arse, since I'm 10,000 miles away and not planning to go back. But by all accounts he's just very, very good at his job. Highly charming, highly creative, great with clients, great with ideas, great at hiring... and of course, great at PR.

And surely it's this latter quality that explains why in his interview he weaves a compelling story - a parable of modernity and inclusivity - rather than revealing the rather boring and old-fashioned truth.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Problem With Lying

I'm attending some important research groups on Monday night... and feeling a little worried about them.

Why? Because people often lie.

In the polls, about 33% of people said they would vote Conservative. In last week's UK general election, about 37% did so. In other words, 4% of people simply lied.

Of course, some people think we lie.

The latest annual study conducted by research firm Roy Morgan into the perceived honesty of different professions has placed advertising in 29th place out of 30. Only car salesmen ranked lower.

I've written before about the irony that advertisers are perceived as dishonest, when the truth is that we don't lie to people, it's the people who lie to us.

The great strategist Russell Davies, on leaving advertising, famously described what he wouldn't miss: "Endless focus groups with company car drivers - constantly lying about why they drove the car they did."

He's so right. No one is going to admit in a research group that they drive a certain car because they want people to think they are rich, or successful, or sexy. But surely those motivations are in there.

And I'll never forget an interview that artists Jake and Dinos Chapman gave to GQ magazine. When shown examples of the brothers' work (similar to the picture above right) a selection of GQ readers unanimously claimed that they didn't like their art, because it was "ugly."

The Chapman brothers' response? "They're lying." The brothers reckoned that the real reason the GQ readers didn't like the art was because "they were turned on", and knew it would be socially unacceptable to say so.

Until neuromarketing research works properly, and we can actually see inside people's brains and discover what they are really thinking, rather than what they say they are thinking, we should continue to be suspicious of what people say. Very suspicious.

Monday, May 04, 2015

I Think We Should Abolish The Word 'Creativity'

Wendy Clark, a senior Coca-Cola marketer in the US, is well-known in Agency circles as a force for good - a Client who has supported great work, time and time again.

And I love that - as chair of the Effectiveness jury at Cannes this year - she writes an article that instead of arguing for the primacy of effectiveness, makes a plea for the importance of creativity.

"If you leave creativity behind, you are leaving some measure of effectiveness behind too," she writes.

Very cool.

However, I do have one quibble with her argument.

She develops her theme by making a big play around the word "and", arguing for work that is both creative "and" effective.

And I guess I feel that 'creativity and effectiveness' are not similar concepts that can be linked together with an 'and', like 'fish and chips'.

Because they don't exist on the same plane really, do they? Surely effectiveness is an outcome, and creativity is a means of achieving it?

"Effectiveness is our goal, creativity is our tool." That's how Nigel Bogle always used to phrase it.

In other words, effectiveness is a hole in the wall, and creativity is a sledgehammer.

Let's face it, you could still have a successful advertising campaign by filling media space with a completely literal and uncreative message.

Here are two executions in which the communication is identical.

First, expressed without creativity:

Now, with creativity:

The first execution could still be effective. A lot of people like Wayne Rooney, and a timely and well-bought media placement that reinforces the association between Nike, Rooney and England could help drive affinity for the brand.

But the second execution will be more effective (because more impactful, more memorable, and more cool. Yes, in sportswear, cool matters).

The fact is, we Agency people are not using creativity because it's more fun for us. (Although it is). We are using creativity because it increases the effectiveness of advertising. Creativity is an amplifier, that's all.

The problem we have is that too many Clients think we like creativity for its own sake, and hence they lack trust in our recommendations.

So what if we stopped using the word 'creativity' completely?

The Creative Department would henceforth be known as the Effectiveness Amplification Department, and the Creative Director as the Effectiveness Amplification Director. Creative awards would be called Effectiveness Amplification Awards. 

What do you think?