A recent piece in AdAge suggested that advertisers want a new media agency model, but aren’t too sure what such a model might look like. Actually I suspect advertisers know very well what they want. Whenever I speak to advertisers, which I do quite often, two key principles emerge that need to underpin any new model: Integration and transparency. That’s what most advertisers claim to want, yet it seems hard for agencies to deliver to either concept. Why might that be?
There has been quite enough from me about transparency recently. (Although there is more to come, I’m afraid!) So let’s take a look at integration.
The first thing to note is that “integration” is not the same thing as a “land grab.” In the former the roster agencies, working hand-in-glove with their common client put in place processes and procedures that ensure that they are encouraged and indeed rewarded for working well together, to the benefit of the client.
In the second, one agency, typically these days the media agency claims to be able to do everything, thus delivering integration in-house.
There’s a kind-of middle-path land-grab within which one holding company claims to be able to deliver an integrated service across its operating units. Sometimes this works; sometimes the agencies within the holding company fall out over who gets the largest slice of the cake. A kind-of internal land-grab.
The problem with the land-grab approach is that no-one is utterly brilliant at everything. Skilful people want to go somewhere where their skills are recognized and developed and where they can learn alongside other skilful people.
It’s ironic that media agencies are scornful of clients taking media in-house, or of developing their own trading mechanisms. That will never work: It’s all far too complicated and anyway they’ll never attract the top talent, they mock.
Yet they do the exact same thing themselves. The agencies have a point -- the main reason that most client in-house media experiments of the past haven’t worked is lack of resource, lack of commitment from top management and lack of top talent.
But isn’t it the same when the media agencies try and pretend to be hubs of creative excellence? Or providers of content? Or when they set up marketing science units in competition to far better resourced expert organizations?
One thing clients do tend to say is that they get tired of managing warring factions within their agency roster. Refereeing between those intent on land-grabs. Wasting time seeing agency presentations on topics about which they know far less than specialists simply in order to keep the peace. Herding cats is fun in comparison.
Years ago at Leo Burnett we had an approach called ICS (if memory serves). The idea was to offer a fully integrated service across communication channels, maintaining the purity and integrity of the original big idea.
We once presented to Cathay Pacific. Our pitch was that we should do everything that communicated with the public -- including the design and production of the antimacassars on the backs of the seats on the planes.
The Cathay client said something I’ve always remembered. In effect: “Yes, I buy the principle of taking an idea across channels, including antimacassars. But you had better be at least as good as the best antimacassar supplier. If you’re at least as good that’s good enough -- the benefit of integration will win you the day. But if you’re one degree worse than the best then that failure in quality will definitely impact how we see the rest of what you do.”
None of us are the best at everything, and land-grabs often end in tears.
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