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.
  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying, but I interpreted his comments very differently.
I thought his suggestion of 'getting upstream' was in order to develop a better understanding of the broader business problems, for which agencies could then apply their creative skills to.
We'll never be experts in the other disciplines you mentioned, but that doesn't mean creative thinking wouldn't be useful - whether that's helping to solve different types of business problems, or influencing better marketing briefs.
I think having a crack at 'getting upstream' is better than sitting back and waiting for briefs that might not be solving the things that really matter. What matters to people is something that agencies must have a perspective on.