Opinion | Features
- Today's edition of The Australian newspaper sees the News Corp title criticise public broadcaster for purchasing keyword search engine terms in an effort to drive consumers to its news websites. In this opinion piece Leisa Bacon, director of audience and marketing at the ABC argues that its digital advertising is no different to its other marketing efforts. All media outlets market their content. Billboards, newspaper advertising, back-of-bus signage, publicity and promotions on TV and radio stations are marketing tactics all of us as audience members are exposed to daily. The digital space is no different. This is simply the newest marketing arena. At the ABC we invest in creating strong, distinctive, Australian content and we want that content to be found by our audience. When an important Australian story breaks, like that of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s passing on Tuesday, all media outlets, the ABC included, will publish content across their platforms. And like all other media companies, the ABC wants to ensure its content, which includes many years of rich TV, radio and print archives, reaches as many people as possible. The ABC invests in Australian stories, content and conversations, often when others may not - we demonstrated this recently through our Mental Health initiative. In an increasingly fragmented media environment we need to help our audiences find and access these stories. In addition, the ABC has a rich archive of content built over many years, across all our platforms. It is of great benefit to the public to be able to access this material. In a digital environment, search is critical to help navigate this. Search for digital is like the TV Guide is for broadcast TV. It’s how audiences find things when they don’t know where to look. We need to have a presence, even though he ABC is fortunate to perform strongly in natural search. We add some paid search to this when we have content that’s harder to find, or a depth of content which will be appreciated by our audiences. It is a cost effective way of reaching our audiences. Across the keywords ABC bids on, we have a high average quality score on search which enables us to bid efficiently. Hence the spend figure quoted by The Australian in relation to Gough Whitlam was grossly exaggerated at $10,000. The real amount was about one tenth of this, a small amount to spend to help audiences navigate years of rich content across TV, radio and news stories. This is the role of a public broadcaster, to share important Australian stories. All companies act in this way, including other public broadcasters like the BBC, and frequently other government agencies, to help you find a service. Finally the ABC understands it is part of a wider media ecosystem which is why we also promote other sites, both across the ABC network and other news sites. For example, if you go to our Gough Whitlam news coverage, online links promote and drive traffic to other news sites, including The Australian. We do this because as a public broadcaster we understand the demands of our audience and the need for as much information as possible, regardless of the source. Leisa Bacon is director of audience and marketing at the ABC
- Jeff Goodby sat down with Miranda Ward on the sidelines of the Reset conference in Sydney this week to talk about whether Goodby Silverstein & Partners should have opened an office in Sydney when it won the Commonwealth Bank account in 2007, what he makes of the state of creativity locally and how if he were starting an agency today it would specialise in social media amplification. Having worked in Australia for nearly five years with the Commonwealth Bank from 2007, what have you made of the state of creativity during your visit? I think it's gotten stirred up a lot since I worked on CommBank, in good ways. Obviously a big couple of Cannes winners that have happened since I worked for CommBank and agencies like The Monkeys have really prospered in a lot of good ways. The clients in banking, the ANZ campaign, things like that have prospered. There's a lot of energy to do good things here and it's a country that's not so big and unweildy as in the US. You can still make a difference here with clients. The appointment of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to the Commonwealth Bank account did cause a lot of controversy - do you think it can work when a foreign agency comes in to work on a local client? As I've said to people here it's just a sign that Australia is in the major leagues when it comes to advertising to have someone come from the outside and work here on a big local account. That happens in the US all the time and nobody goes 'an American agency should be doing that, who the hell are they?'. Having started your own agency, what are the challenges of starting an agency and ensuring it remains relevant? To start an agency now is a real challenge. It's harder to get championed by the press now. When we started everyone wanted us to succeed. It's not a coincidence that Wieden + Kennedy started the same year we did. Everyone was hungry for something outside New York to happen. It's harder to get that effect now. You don't get any help with publicity now. The trades aren't as closely read as they used to be, so you have to do something that makes people crazy, that's the only way to make it work now. In the first year of your work you have to make something really great. What are the challenges creatives are faced with? Doing something that people notice, it's hard to do. The easier way to get things noticed in the past was to do something famous that was on TV and everyone saw it, but doing stuff on TV isn't necessarily the way to success. I always say make a difference in the world, not just at awards shows. It's always great to do something that people notice. You've been behind a number of successful campaigns, including the iconic 'Got Milk?' work. Is there a problem with agencies becoming too associated with one award-winning campaign and how can an agency move beyond that campaign's reputation? That's harder then ever now. It's a mixed bag, you succeed at something like 'Dumb Ways to Die' or 'The Best Job in the World' and then everyone's like 'now what?' And does that mean you can't do a certain other kind of a business? A bank or something. It's bad to get associated with a style, or one piece of work or one account, it's a bit of a limitation in a way. You almost have to try hard to find other things to do. It's a great thing to win all these awards but immediately you have to try and do something. Are clients and agencies becoming more concerned around risks of doing potentially controversial work? I think so and that's why I gave that talk. People are more timid then they were three or four years ago. They're more timid about their jobs, about the process and maybe it's for this exact reason that it's hard to make something famous enough to save your life. People see it as a mistake. That's one of the reasons I tell CMOs to get a lot of research to back up what they do. So if you do something you think is smart start collecting research on it that proves that it works so if your boss comes up to you and says 'Are you sure this is working?' you can quote something quickly and keep it alive. What is your view on the full-service debate? If I were starting an agency now I would try and limit it, I would not try to be full-service. I would try and get famous for doing one kind of thing, I'm not even sure what that is. I would probably try and do something where I promise that social media is going to become mass media. I've been screwing around with this tequila company that my brother and Andy Berlin and I are importing a tequila and I've gotten a lot of respect for being able to manipulate social media without any media. I've worked with people who are really good at it, and we've made some real strides in ways I didn't realise you could do if you applied yourself. Doing social media takes a lot of attention, you just have to monitor it. Starting to do this will make it do that. It's really interesting to do. When looking for new talent what are the skills you are after? I must admit I want people that aren't like the people in advertising in general, if you can get them. It's easy to go let's get a writer, he/she's famous, they're working on that, they've done that and you just keep recycling the same people through the system. It really is good to find people outside that system and it's not like we don't have those people, you have to have them, they know how to handle clients and meetings. It's really good when you can get an infusion outside of that closed system. You've come from a newspaper background - is there anything you learnt as a journalist that applies to advertising? I'm fast. I can write really fast because I had to. What is your favourite piece of work you have been involved with? I'm very lucky to have worked on a lot of stuff, I can't even answer that. One of the great things about our agencies is we don't have one account we're famous for, we've done a lot of different things and I'm really proud of that. Someone was talking to me about a campaign we did in the '80s for Chevys Mexican restaurants where we made commercials and threw them away the same day like they made the food. So it was like this commercial will be good by tomorrow just like the food at Chevys which we make fresh every day. But nobody would go 'I remember that'. If you had another local client would you open an office in Sydney? I told CommBank I was going to open a physical office, and I probably would, it's too far. We were very lucky that Mark Buckman and Barbara Chapman and the clients there really wanted an outside perspective, they wanted to break out of the community feeling and that was good. I don't think there are a lot of clients like that, most clients would go it's just too far for us. So if you were appointed by another Australian client, would a Goodby Silverstein & Partners Sydney office happen? Yeah I would, if it [the client] were big enough. I would now. The people of this country would appreciate that and we'd probably undergo a lot less of the flame-throwing that we got when we came here last year.
- In this cross-posting fromThe Conversation University of Canberra's Bruce Baer Arnold examines the issues at stake as Barry Spurr takes on New Matilda over the publication of emails.
Don’t be distracted by theatrics about political correctness, the boundaries of bad humour and professorial impropriety. The real excitement in the “Spurr Affair” has been occurring in the Federal Court. It is excitement about the shape of privacy in Australian law and about legal recognition of “public interest”. That interest is a compelling “right to know” as a basis of the liberal democratic state, rather than just public curiosity.
Prior to the release of emails from Spurr to as-yet-unidentified recipients, most Australians had never heard of the Sydney University Professor of Poetry. Supposedly jocular vilification in the email exchanges has attracted national condemnation since their unauthorised publication by New Matilda.
Publication has been justified on the basis of public interest. Do we need to know that one of the most senior academics at one of Australia’s most senior universities privately uses language that you’d typically associate with pottymouth characters in South Park?
New Matilda appears to consider that there’s value in knowing – and condemning – the character of one of the architects of the national curriculum review. It’s engaged in a naming and shaming exercise.
Apparently to deflect criticism of its action, New Matilda asserts that Spurr’s use of the university network means that his correspondence is public and thus not legally protected. That assertion is contentious; it means that any official – rather than merely any university employee – would be unprotected.
Spurr gained an interim Federal Court injunction to freeze impending publication of his email. He has sought other remedies, including disclosure of New Matilda’s source (who isn’t protected under whistle-blowing law).
His litigation is an opportunity to strengthen inconsistent recognition of privacy in Australian law. It may also reaffirm the principles regarding public interest highlighted in the Spycatcher and Defence Papers judgments. In these cases, the court recognised that informed public understanding on matters of national interest overrode concerns such as the maintenance of secrecy or embarrassing a government.
Spurr appears to be relying on the injunction provisions in section 98 of the Privacy Act 1998, the national information privacy statute, and a claim that publication breaches his common law right to privacy. New Matilda will presumably rely on section 7B(4) of the same Act, which strongly privileges the media.
Four things we have to understand about this case
- As an employee, Spurr’s use of the university network is covered by the institution’s “acceptable use” policy, typically tied to an employment contract. Policies associated with employment in Australian universities usually identify that some staff email is confidential and that all staff email is a university rather than public resource. Spurr and the university may disagree about who has copyright in the email. That copyright has been infringed by New Matilda, which may rely on traditional defences regarding reporting in the public interest.
- Protection of privacy in Australian law is complex, evolving and often misunderstood. There is disagreement about the best mechanisms for stopping a disregard of privacy and gaining compensation for that disregard. There is no comprehensive national law for damages occurring from breaches of privacy. Despite recurrent recommendations, the national government is unlikely to provide a statutory basis for such damages. Importantly, the national Privacy Act is weak but is not the only law that can protect personal life. The protection of personal life outside that Act is uneven but more common than often recognised, because much action is settled without a final judgment.
- There are competing claims of public interest. Spurr, like any academic and any non-academic, can reasonably expect that most correspondence will not be placed in the public arena. Along with all Australians he should expect a freedom from inappropriate interference, a respect for his privacy. There is a fundamental public interest in allowing people to be undisturbed. That clashes with New Matilda’s claim that there is a compelling public interest in knowing about the character and values of policymakers and educators. The litigation potentially requires the Federal Court to articulate a balance between those interests.
- Finally, the dispute may revive questions about media self-regulation. Are invasions of privacy a legitimate cost of a robust free media in an era where journalists might be imprisoned for reporting on national security? Can we expect News Corp and New Matilda to behave responsibly?
- Earlier this week advertising legend Jeff Goodby told a conference agencies should 'unlearn' everything they know about clients. Here Kate Smither argues deeper business knowledge displayed by agencies creates better marketing results. If advertising agencies are not bringing new thinking to their clients then they are really not doing their job and the industry will die. In fact the industry should die. But I don’t think our ability to think differently is limited by our knowledge of clients’ businesses. The brilliance of advertising is that we can put forward new thinking and unique ideas that will actually drive business results. The brilliance of advertising is not trying to “unlearn” everything in order to keep that thinking pure and fresh. [caption id="attachment_257929" align="alignright" width="234"] Goodby[/caption] I think that the idea of unlearning is actually about a call for the industry to maintain a healthy gap between marketing and advertising. I agree that the idea of unlearning is about what we can bring that adds something to marketing. We as advertising should not create a competition to know more. Marketing will know their business more than us and that is as it should be. But to imply that we can’t do our jobs if we know their business is to suggest that advertising has not moved with the rise of commercial creativity and effectiveness. It is to suggest that long term relationships and business knowledge are incapable of creating new, surprising and fresh ideas. This is simply not true. It is actually more interesting to think of advertising as an industry of applied learning. One that can take everything it knows about a client and connect it to everything they know about people and the world around a brand. We can find solutions that marketing can’t always get to because we live in the world of this applied thought and new perspectives. This is not thinking outside the box, or thinking from “unlearning” it is about understanding the envelope and pushing it as far as possible. It is about aiming for creativity with results and impact. Advertising today is more than just a crazy big ad. What advertising covers today is everything from products and positioning, to programs and platforms. I look at advertising and am still constantly surprised by the breadth of solutions we can come to as a collective force. I am constantly amazed by the creativity of the industry. I am not surprised that this comes from business knowledge and partnership with clients. I am not surprised that this comes from learning. But learning has to be seen as an ongoing process, you can never be done and never say you know everything. That is the beauty of a creative curious advertising mind, it keeps learning, and relearning in a way that is cumulative and powerful. Kate Smither is group strategy director at M&C Saatchi
- Headline writers, cartoonists and journalists all had very different ways of handling the tributes to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in yesterday's papers. Industry body The Newspaper Works has gathered them here. From plays on the 'It's Time' tagline to satirical cartoons, here's how the nation's papers paid tribute to the former Prime Minister yesterday. The West Australian: The Herald Sun: And the Hun's cartoonist Knight: The Australian Financial Review: And the AFR's cartoonist Clement: The Canberra Times: And the CT's cartoonist Pope: The Courier Mail: The Australian: And The Oz's cartoonist Leak: The Mercury: The NT News: The Sydney Morning Herald: And the SMH's cartoonist Moir: The Daily Telegraph: The Age:
In August two of the most decorated and celebrated creatives in Australia, Dave Bowman and Matty Burton, announced they were leaving Whybin\TBWA Sydney, the agency they had helped to turn around, for a startup. The two men tasked with replacing them sat down with Miranda Ward on a visit to Australia last week to talk about their ambitions for the agency, and their views on Australian creativity.
With the departure of acclaimed creative duo Dave Bowman and Matty Burton to Lindsey Evans' The Special Group Sydney Whybin\TBWA boss Paul Bradbury knew he had big boots to fill. His answer was to look abroad, and bring in an established creative duo from one of the most revered agencies in the world as executive creative directors.
Gary McCreadie and Wesley Hawes are returning for their second stint with Whybins, having spent six months there in the latter half of 2009 under then ECD Garry Horder, before departing to spend two years at Host in January 2010, and then heading off to BBH London.
Reminiscing about their short stint at Whybins McCreadie said the agency back then "was completely different", adding "it's really changed and it's developed into something special."
On what has changed Hawes expanded: "There seems to be more of a buzz and positivity around the place. This is probably due to the success the agency has enjoyed and the quality of work produced over the last few years, but I'd also attribute it to the type of people working there now. There's so much talent and confidence across the building, from all departments, that you just get the sense that anything is possible right now.
"We had a vision for the agency then but it was hard for us to apply it because we were a middle weight team. When Matty and Dave came in they took a lot of the ideas and did everything right, we would have done the same thing if we were in the same position," he added.
The pair, who most recently have been working at BBH as the global creative directors on Unilever’s Axe/Lynx brand, credit their time in Australia as the reason they were able to get ahead of their UK peers due to a need locally to be more self-sufficient.
"The interesting thing we found when we went back to BBH after working at TBWA and Host is that we kind of got ahead of our peers. We were forced to be more self sufficient, more proactive," said Hawes.
Chiming in, McCreadie said: "We found we had an advantage. It’s almost going back to art school at one point, you had to fashion your arguments a lot more clearly. When you’re in London you tend to rely on the resources around you and you didn’t have that all the time here, you had to make it yourself, do it all yourself."
"It’s that Australian ‘have a go’ mentality which comes out in the work and the spirit of the creatives here," added Hawes.
McCreadie joked "we're probably behind again now".
The duo's work for Axe/Lynx included a part in the Cannes Lions winning 'Apollo' campaign, which saw the brand team up with Buzz Aldrin to send 22 people into space, as well as the 'Monday/Wednesday' campaign and the 'Soulmates' campaign.
On the 'Apollo' campaign, Hawes said the campaign "lived or died" on actually being able to send people into space.
"We spent six months talking to Richard Branson and all the other companies about how far the technology was in being able to send people up," he said.
The pair also worked on The Guardian's 'We own the weekend' campaign.
The past year has been something of a roller coaster for Whybins in Sydney, picking up the prestigious David Jones account from M&C Saatchi last year, before parting ways with NRMA, which went the other way, a client the agency picked up multiple awards for.
Looking to the future and their new roles at Whybins, Hawes is focused on growing both the creative department and the agency's client roster, but is cool about awards.
"I’d like to think we’d grown the agency’s roster of clients. A massive achievement would be winning awards but we’re not necessarily an award-chasing team, we just like to do work that’s loved by people and if awards come then that’s great," Hawes said.
"A bigger department, it would be great to grow the agency in size. That would be a sign of an achievement," he added.
On the state of the agency's creative department, Hawes and McCreadie were full of praise for Burton and Bowman.
"They’ve left the agency in a really good place," said Hawes. "We had a plan coming into this week on just trying to work out on the areas we can improve, whether they’ve nailed down certain ways of work, but everything seems pretty tight."
McCreadie added: "Our job is to progress that and find the places we can make it even better and also keep the progression of growth in the creative department."
Indeed it was Bowman and Burton's reputation that helped seal the deal for McCreadie and Hawes to take on the joint-ECD role.
"What attracted us to Whybin\TBWA specifically is we knew Paul (Bradbury - CEO), we’d almost crossed over four or five times with Matty and Dave so we’d heard so much about them and their reputation and we’ve admired their work from afar and the impact they’ve had on the agency. Compared to when we were here it’s a different place," said Hawes.
"I don’t think we would have come back for another agency, the opportunity came at the right time. It really helped us knowing Paul and the reputation of Matty and Dave.
"The momentum was really kicking in for the last three years and its an exciting opportunity for us to maintain that," he added.
McCreadie added: "It’s an opportunity to work with really good people and learn how to be an ECD and be part of a management team with people you trust and like, which is quite hard."
"We want to be at the table making the key decisions," summed up Hawes on the decision to take on the role.
However, the pair remained coy when asked which of the agency's clients - which include David Jones, ANZ Bank and Tourism New Zealand - with McCreadie saying "there’s loads of opportunity in all the clients".
Hawes added: "It’s really insightful talking to them about the type of work they’re wanting to be doing and the type of work they’ve done, a lot of our philosophies they’ve really taken hold of. We really want to do work that affects culture and gets into mainstream and feels less like advertising.
"And also do a job for them," added McCreadie.
"Despite being playful people we do take this really seriously and we’re very responsible in that sense. We want them to like it. There’s nothing worse than a client who doesn’t like what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve created it for. You want to solve a problem, you want to fix something."
The pair also have a good regard for the state of creativity in Australia, with McCreadie saying "it feels a lot more solid and a lot less sporadic".
"I think it's really strong," Hawes added. "We watch from afar, then we go to Cannes and all the award ceremonies and there seems to be a good bulk of Australian work coming through and there’s always one stand out piece that seems to clear up every year."
On the challenges creatives are faced with locally Hawes named budgets as the main contender.
"The budget thing is a challenge, but I kind of like being forced to think around doing a big TV campaign each time," he said.
"Maybe there isn’t the money to do the grander things but most of the time it leads to a more interesting idea and some London agencies might be guilty of going TV first, and nowadays there’s a stronger case for starting with the business problem and creating a solution that’s media neutral and can work through a range of channels."
McCreadie added: "I obviously haven’t worked here for a while but it feels like there’s a lot more money knocking around Europe.
"Creativity wise, we’ve always said this, some of the most creative people we’ve ever met were from when we’ve worked in Australia. In terms of thinking, it’s not very different."
McCreadie said in London a major challenge is finding the right talent, however was cautious about suggesting it was a problem locally.
"At the moment there’s a challenge, I don’t know if it exists here, of getting the talent and keeping the talent," he said.
"A lot of places where we’ve come from have had to promote prematurely and bump up salaries prematurely to keep talent because they were getting offers from other places because people want cutting edge and best new talent all the time. There’s a lot of young teams who seem to be CDs."
However, Hawes is confident he and McCreadie will be able to find the right talent in the market, suggesting Australia has an "abundance" of the talent they'll be looking for.
"We know the marketplace so our knowledge is pretty extensive on who’s doing the good work and the sort of creative we want to hire. Australia has an abundance of the type of teams we’re looking for: multi-skilled, can approach briefs in a media neutral way and can do the big platform ideas and then execute them as well. We have a good idea of what we’re after, we just have to go and find it now," he said.
On what BBH has taught them Hawes said their time with the agency has encouraged them to look beyond the work rival local agencies are producing and to have a more global perspective on the industry.
"There’s a big worldly view from the creative at BBH, there’s less of teams seeing what the agency are doing next door, they’re more concerned with what’s going on from a global perspective," he said.
"That’s something we’d like to instil in our creative department here, to take more of a global view and not feel so insular. It’s good to know what’s going on in Australia but it’s not necessarily the be-all and end-all. It’s important to know what’s going on around the world and what trends are happening around the world and not being Australia specific."
Having been described by CEO Paul Bradbury at the time of their appointment as "one of the most exciting creative leadership teams in the world right now", McCreadie and Hawes put their successful partnership down to an ability to be free with one another and being able to play off their strengths and weaknesses.
The duo teamed up in 2003 and have since worked across a number of agencies including Host Sydney, CHI & Partners, VCCP in London and BBH London.
During their two years with Host, McCreadie and Hawes worked on the Vodafone account, working on a campaign for the telco's Ashes sponsorship, and for The Fantasy Cheater's League, work which Hawes said was one of the pair's favourite ideas from their time in Australia.
Vodafone Australia's 'Ashes Sponsorship' November 2010 - Host Sydney
The Fantasy Cheaters League 2010 - Host Sydney"Freedom to say and do whatever you want," said McCreadie when asked what makes a successful creative partnership. "So being able to say to Wesley 'that’s a rubbish idea' or 'I love that idea'. Being able to have genuine emotional battles without taking it personally, being a mate allows you to do that sort of stuff." Hawes added: "We have certain weaknesses and strengths, so we play off those. But not just the usual. Gary’s an art director so he’s more visual and I’m a writer so words are my forte, but even in presenting I’m better at the initial stuff and landing points and Gary’s better at riffing. "In every aspect of our work we compliment each other and try and have fun and that’s quite important. "We have a more relaxed attitude about work, we never put pressure on ourselves and when we get over here we want to relay that to our teams." "No matter what situation we’ve been in we’ve been able to have a laugh while we’re doing it and relax and not put too much pressure on ourselves. Hopefully we’ll be able to instil that in the creative department," he added. The pair move into the joint-ECD role in early December. Miranda Ward
- On a day when media outlets have been rolling out pre-prepared obituaries for Gough Whitlam The Australian's interactive effort is head and shoulders above the competition. The news of the death of Gough Whitlam at the age of 98 has had all of the mainstream media running extensive coverage of the life of the former Prime Minister. But standing out above the pack was The Australian's interactive special. While it has been common practice for media outlets to have obituaries prepared for prominent figures, it is unusual to have something so intricately detailed, which will have taken many hours to craft, ready to roll out. If you haven't looked at it, the obituary by veteran political correspondent Mike Steketee is well worth a read. It looks at the Labor leader's long career and how his policies impacted Australia. However, it is the deeply immersive experience the reader is treated to as they scroll down the lengthy piece, with changing feature images, pull-out quotes popping up, an array of picture galleries and an interactive timeline stepping you through the life of Whitlam, which sets it apart from the efforts of rivals. Whilst many may lament the loss of the art of immersive long-form storytelling in hard copy newspapers, this shows what can be done when talented journalists, photographers and designers get their heads together to take the reader on a journey. And it's not hidden away behind the paywall. More please. Credit Where it’s Due is all about generating positivity about our fantastic industry. While we welcome positive and constructive comments, anonymous or otherwise, this feature a snark-free zone so please bear that in mind when commenting.
- Making the switch from the solitary profession of journalism to the team sport of PR was tougher than imagined, writes Ben Oliver. Whether deleting emails with zeal or bitching to colleagues in the newsroom, pouring scorn on the erratic, misguided or plain bizarre PR pitches was always a fun sport. But having now worked in agency for two years after nearly a decade in journalism, I can say without hesitation that not only do I now fully appreciate the pressures of agency – it’s a hell of lot harder than what I used to do. Please don’t misunderstand; journalism has it’s own extreme pressures, exacerbated in recent years by fewer journalists producing more copy – since 2012, News Ltd, Fairfax and Channel Ten have cut around 3000 staff, mostly in editorial roles – and additional expectations around social media. Burnout in journalism is, unfortunately, all too common. While equally stressful, journalism and agency do differ, however, in one important aspect -the diversity of skills sets required to do your job well. When I first made the switch, I was told that few journos succeed in the world of agency PR. Whether ex-journalists make good PR professionals has been debated at great length, and in my view, the switch is harder than most journalists – myself included – appreciate. In my view, good journalism is supported by three core competencies: researching, interviewing and writing. To use a sporting metaphor, Journalism is like tennis; a lonely profession requiring a few, finely honed skills. To continue the sporting metaphor, I see agency as a little more like the decathlon, where multiple, unrelated skills must work well in tandem. While the foundations of good agency PR – story ideas, pitching and writing – came to me relatively easily, it was in management and business development where I faced a steep learning curve. Firstly to management, where the twin demands of clients and staff require very different touches. It’s a cliché, but managing client expectations is bloody hard work, requiring a touch somewhere between needlessly cynical and unjustly optimistic. Nailing that sweet spot is the nirvana of good client management. Meanwhile, managing staff is a whole other ball game. Confession time; to every manager about who I’ve ever complained, hand on heart, I’m sorry for being such a dick. Managing. Is. Hard. While news editors have a role coaching and mentoring junior staff, journalism is generally a solitary profession. The newsroom is not a unified country but a chain of islands; how many journalists would share their story ideas or contacts with their colleagues? While not ideal, journalists can do their job sans inter-company communication. In agency, communication blackout is a death sentence. I’ve lost count of the number of times a media contact or a story idea offered by a colleague has saved my ass when a client was pushing for top tier coverage. Brainstorming ideas, and sharing skills and experience is the only way an agency can thrive. In journalism, new business development was something left to senior management not involved in editorial, but it’s a skill set you better develop quickly at agency. NBD quickly separates the strategic thinkers from the herd; prospective clients simply won’t accept a slide deck of media outlets you’ll call on their behalf. In the age of earned, owned and paid media, creating a fully integrated strategic plan involving such elements as media pitching, blogging and paid social media augmentation is crucial. To any journalists reading this, please don’t consider the above a slander on your profession. My respect for journalism has only increased as friends in the industry cop more work for less pay. But if you’re considering a move to agency, be prepared; the work is fun, challenging – and unlike anything you’ve done before. Ben Oliver is senior account manager at Buchan
- Amid debate around elements of the client agency relationship, Ebiquity’s Eric Faulkner asks if both clients and agencies have both unwittingly conspired to destroy each other.
Earlier this week Mumbrella's Nic Christensen, writing as a 'hypothetical' CMO, wrote what many in the industry had long been thinking on the topic of agency pitches.
"For anyone wondering about the race to the bottom, in this market, I reckon you hit it about three years ago. Not that anyone seemed to notice," his 'hypothetical CMO' wrote.
It's rather like the climate argument -- if you're going to wait until we're all under water, well, its a bit too late then, isn't it.
Well, we have already passed that point. Our hypothetical CMO may have added that although their creative quality may be at an all time low, at least the media is cheap.
In fact this year's media buy is 20 per cent cheaper than last year's and that was 20 per cent cheaper than the year before.
So next year's will be free. And the agency has dropped their fee to nothing already, so they'll be paying us to handle the business next year.
Not that there's much to handle, as the advertising has been so bad and all the ads have appeared at midnight, that no one knows our brands and certainly doesn't buy our products any more. Which is just as well because the retailers take 110 per cent of what we earn anyway. I wonder what the surf's like today?
Ok, so I am guilty as charged. It is my fault. 26 years ago I started an independent media consultancy that helped marketers lift their level of media competence and confidence. This was so that they could work more constructively and effectively with their advertising and media agencies. And then, five years later, one of our clients asked us to develop a way of independently evaluating their buying agencies. We did.
It wasn’t that sophisticated back then, but we did ensure that quality was always reviewed at the same time as cost. Soon, many jumped onto the bandwagon.
And I am not just referring to the consultancies that make up the numbers on the back of cigarette packets. I am thinking too about the client procurement people who may not have been thinking enough about the business ramifications of their media cost-reduction demands.
Media procurement has moved from a local function, to become regional and global. That’s real power. But is that power balanced with an equally lofty level of brand and business responsibility?
A managing director told me over coffee a while ago: I am responsible to my global boss for the success of this business, but I no longer have full control of our advertising spend – a key driver of our brand strength. That is increasingly controlled by procurement, based outside this country.
So, the CFO is delighted to see the million dollar “savings” that have been achieved (by procurement) and promptly docks the money from the marketing budget and plops it straight to the bottom line.
The marketing director is at first bemused, then confused and finally frustrated as they realise that their marketing effort has moved from Grand Prix race car efficiency and effectiveness to that of a family saloon. The good ones fight. But this is a tough fight to win.
But as Christensen has said in his thought-provoking articles about What your Media agency and What your client are not telling you that it is not just the clients and me who are guilty. The agencies have conspired to create The End too.
I was chatting to a senior media friend recently. He’s worked in agencies in three countries. Really smart guy. We were talking about transparency of agency media deals.
He said: “Look, what’s the problem here? As long as the client is getting you guys to do the benchmarking, then they know they’re providing competitive value and that the agency is focused on their business.
“Who cares if the agency is making a bit of extra money on the side from media owner kick-backs? After all, when I walk into Coles or Woolies, and I pick up a box of Kleenex or Sorbent, I don’t ask the store manager how much they paid Kimberly-Clark or SCA to buy it in the first place. I don’t ask them what their trading terms were. I just buy the one I want."
Now that is a fairly convincing argument. And if media agencies want to position themselves in that way, fair enough. But that’s not the way marketers see it … yet at least.
Marketers look at media agencies and creative agencies as their trusted suppliers.
They share highly sensitive and confidential information; they seek advice, guidance, support, help and ideas from their agency. They are looking for a relationship based on trust, collaboration, insight and creativity. Maybe they are mistaken.
As fast as advertiser procurement teams screw lower fees and cheaper buying costs from agencies, the agencies find smarter ways to work around those restrictions and replace the lost income from other sources -- usually ending up in a financially stronger position than where they were in the first place. That’s no longer news. Everyone knows that.
But what happened to the old fashioned concept of integrity? If your agency is acting like a broker, then say you are a broker. And if you are a procurement manager, don’t be naïve (or worse, pretend to be naïve) about how your supposed savings will be charged back to you … in poorer quality, creative accounting or less experienced resource.
I can almost hear the words “We don’t do value bank deals. We don’t have AVRs and AVBs. We don’t invoice clients for bonus spots. Maybe some of those things are done at group level -- but not by us in this agency”. You can see the three little monkeys … with their hands covering their mouths, eyes and ears, saying hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
Come on guys, let’s not follow that Jack Johnson song Cookie Jar where a never-ending trail of people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions … and no-one is willing to stand up and be counted. Let’s start being straight with each other.
Let’s stand up for our opinions … not just in darkened pubs, noisy restaurants and in anonymous blog comments … but in front of each others’ faces.
Eric Faulkner is CEO of Ebiquity’s Australian, NZ & SE Asian business.
- Next Wednesday October 22, Mumbrella’s sister title The Source is running a breakfast event in Sydney focused on how to work with procurement departments. More details are available via this link.
Community television is facing the axe — again.The stations have been earmarked for eradication from our screens after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested removing the stations’ broadcast spectrum licenses, to be put to use elsewhere. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Free-to-air television has always been a challenge of practical limitations. The rarity of broadcast spectrum — the radio waves over which TV is transmitted — as well as the cost of doing business, means broadcasters have always faced a choice of what they air, how they air it and when. It’s not the first time community television has faced extinction; similar threats were made with the digital TV switchover in 2009. But there’s no reason community television has to leave our big screens forever — in fact, technology can ensure it remains there. The launch this month of Freeview Plus, the HbbTV platform, has for the first time merged broadcast TV’s reach with the internet’s theoretically endless limits. Broadcasters are already planning to use the new technology to extend their reach at sporting competitions and other live events with multiple streams, ensuring viewers will never miss a live European Handball match that’s scheduled at the same time as a swimming final at the 2016 Olympics. They can just flick between multiple channels to get to the event they want.
Unencumbered by the limitations of spectrum, broadcasters can focus on providing all the content their viewers want, including community television.With Freeview Plus, community TV stations could partner with a major broadcaster — say, the ABC or SBS — to have their content featured on a Freeview Plus TV or set top box. There would be little cost impost on broadcasters; simply a piece of configuration telling HbbTV-compatible devices where to find those new channels. Turnbull has made the point that community television is little-watched, but that’s exactly the biggest opportunity for Freeview Plus — catering to niche audiences without taking away from the mainstream. Those broadcasters that truly grasp the opportunities of HbbTV are already doing exactly that, treating Freeview Plus as a core part of their portfolio, and using it to provide content viewers otherwise might have missed in the byegone age of broadcast. Freeview Plus gives broadcasters the edge they need to ensure that niche audiences don’t flee to web browsers for niche content, and forget about the TV screen. But broadcasters can and should also use Freeview Plus to provide opportunities for those truly niche audiences that risk being ignored as we move away from linear television. Community television can be saved; we just need to think outside the box. Mark Blair is Vice President of Australia and New Zealand at Brightcove.
- Procurement is always a hot button issue in agency land. Navigare’s Jeff Estok argues that clients and agencies need to understand the different types of procurement and to nail down the detail of their expectations.
We all know there are three sides to every story. Your side; their side; and the truth, which often sits somewhere in between.
Yesterday Mumbrella’s Nic Christensen gave a confronting summary of “slash and burn” type of procurement but there are arguably other types of procurement as well.
So let’s talk about some of the truths about procurement.
Truth #1: Not all Procurement deserves the criticism that we have been reading.
If you believe half of what we read, Procurement is singlehandedly responsible for the downfall of advertising. Which presumes that all Procurement operate the same. Wrong!
Some time ago, we pronounced the arrival of Procurement 2.0. Where Procurement 1.0 was about slashing costs, Procurement 2.0 is about establishing fair value.
The 2.0 professional understands what they are procuring; focuses (and rewards) on business outcomes instead of FTE’s; works collaboratively with both Marketing and Agencies; and stays involved long after the contracts are finalised to ensure Agency compliance and prevent, or fund, scope creep.
And unlike many Asian markets, Australia is blessed with its share of Procurement 2.0 professionals. So maybe it’s time to stop bashing Procurement, and focus on some key underlying behaviours instead.
Truth #2: For the most part, Agencies deserve the deal that they get.
Let’s face it. With the exception of multinational aligned business, every agency has the opportunity to say ‘no’. And therein lies the problem.
Few agencies do say no to procurement 1.0 demands. And even when dealing with a 2.0 situation, many agencies are ill-equipped. Some of the larger, and more evolved agency groups have added procurement to their management structure, as it is an area that benefits from this expertise.
Smaller Agencies might be wise to retain similar services as well, instead of going it alone.
Truth #3: Many agreements are not fully understood by marketing, nor policed by procurement.
We see far too many examples of scope disputes between agencies and marketing, particularly after a new business win.
In the post-win euphoria, and the desire to hit the ground running, contractual governance often takes a back seat. While details such as scope tracking and review protocols shouldn’t command priority over the transition work, neither should they be subjugated to the unimportant pile.
They should be addressed concurrently, with full visibility and approval by Marketing, so that Marketing understands what the scope of engagement actually is.
Truth#4: There are two distinct views about what an full time employee constitutes, and both parties believe their view is right.
This is probably one of the most contentious issues we deal with.
A Client ‘buys’ 100 per cent of, say, a strategy planner. The agency ‘sells’ that full time employee based on an agreed set of annual head hours (commonly calculated at 1650 hours).
The client view is typically that they are paying for that person, so all of his or her hours should be theirs, regardless of how many hours that person works. Which has merit.
The agency, however, feels they have the right, should they exercise it, to sell any additional hours that that person works (above the contracted 1,650 hours) to another client.
And with many agency staff working in excess of 1,800 per annum, that is a big opportunity lost if they do not.
The agency logic is that if a client caps the agency’s profit potential by applying a below market multiplier (say 1.8), then the only way to achieve profitability is to charge out that person in excess of 1,650 hours. Which also has merit.
This is one to definitely nail down in every contract.
Jeff Estok is managing partner of consultancy Navigare
- Next Wednesday October 22, Mumbrella’s sister title The Source is running a breakfast event in Sydney focused on how to work with procurement departments. More details are available via this link.
- Take the hypothetical chief marketing officer of an even more hypothetical major brand. What does he or she really think of the agencies and people they work with? What are their challenges and frustrations? And what don’t those agencies know? Based on in-depth, off-the-record conversations with a string of senior marketers, Nic Christensen puts himself in the client's shoes.
I'm going to begin with a confession: there's a lot that I don't tell my agencies. Indeed, there's a lot we can't tell them, but if I was to sum up the problem in most agency/client relationships it's that we don't actually trust each other.
And if there’s one thing that irritates me, more than any other as a marketing boss, it's when our agencies come in and tell us how they want to be “partners” in our business.
I’m the newly installed CMO of a major FMCG company and let’s get one thing clear from the outset. Our agencies will never be partners in my business. Never. No matter how good they are. No matter how outstanding their work, their people or agency.
A “partnership” means we share the pain. But an agency, by nature of being just that - an agent - (be it media, creative, digital, PR or random (content marketing/ experiential/social/data/fad of the month agency) doesn’t share the pain.
It doesn’t suffer when the CEO is angry at me and my department because an ad in't working, it doesn’t have to worry about how we are going to cut into the marketing budget when the production costs on a TV ad are a third over budget, nor do they have to worry about sales and the rest of company looking at them when the market slows and suddenly everyone in the C-Suite suddenly becomes an expert on what sort of marketing will magically solve the problem.
No, in most cases, they get paid regardless of my business results. So if you really want to know the one thing most marketers aren’t telling you it’s that we don’t, and frankly can’t, trust you.
How does that play out? Well, I will hide secrets from you at times. I won’t tell you when we’re acquiring another company. There are plenty of internal things that I can’t tell you (like when I'm at war with the chief financial officer) and while I may ask your advice, I won’t always give you the whole picture.
“Partners” share the loss risk but for agencies that risk isn’t there and under the current, arguably flawed, remuneration model it leads to a less than ideal situation. With the result that there are a number of agencies minimising their risk by diverting resources, and in effect deliberately under servicing clients.
For most agencies their only risk is to lose some billings - and maybe a couple of staff.
In the current business environment, where the agencies are in a race to the bottom on billings, most have made themselves mere suppliers. Many agencies have now moved into a space where they just provide a commodity, and are therefore totally replaceable.
Most agencies don’t know how to move beyond this.
Welcome to the world of the chief marketer where the games are many and varied and where all is not quite as it seems.
The challenges of the modern marketer
It’s not easy being a top level marketer in the current business environment. There’s quite a bit to deal with.
Right now, I’m in my mid 30s, and six months into the role of CMO of FMCG brand ZXY.
I don’t have much time and am always racing against the clock. The average CMO is lucky to last three to five years and if they haven’t achieved what they need to in three years, they can forget about being there in five.
How did I get here? I spent five years working in account management for a couple of different agencies before trading in the ridiculously long hours a decade ago (and taking the payrise) to work client side as a senior brand manager. For the last decade I've been working my way up.
The benefit of having worked agency side is that I know things, like how a “value bank” works, and the myriad other tricks media agencies use to squeeze dollars out of their clients (for more on that you can ask my friend at Agency ZYX). In the end, I’ve played the game from both sides.
So let me start by explaining something that my agencies, and even my staff of mostly 20-something brand managers, sometimes don’t get: much of my role increasingly doesn’t revolve around marketing.
Sure you get into this world thinking marketing is about well… marketing, and that's certainly one of the most interesting parts of business. But today’s CMO spends much of his or her time reporting up the line to sales, to the chief financial officer, to the CEO, or to the parent company half a world away trying to question me on how I run my department.
That’s a lot of reporting and that’s before we get to the internal politics that comes with work at the top level of a major company, the need for me to spend time with the sales side of things to understand why X or Y isn’t selling and tangling with the chief information officer about who ordered and controls the new internal data analytics system.
And that’s before the expected stuff like did we just screw up packaging on X new product, or do we have a retail/distribution problem with one of our main retailers?
My day often gets consumed with retail issues, distribution challenges, sales meetings, human resources and of course the usual CEO/CFO/CIO meetings, and that’s before we even get to the challenge of keeping my own marketing staff in their seats long enough to ensure that my department turnover doesn’t suddenly get too high and then I’m back with HR having to explain if there’s a problem in the marketing team.
I have a problem: as CMO I’m tied up in meetings all day and I rarely actually spend any time focused on marketing.
But you’ll note that nowhere in there did I mention the agencies - be they media, creative, PR, digital or what have you. Sometimes I wonder whether the media agency, or more likely the creative agency, thinks I spend my day waiting expectantly on the amazing idea, strategy or creative they are putting together. I don’t - I expect good work but it’s also what I pay you for.
I’d be surprised if I spent more than five per cent of my time worrying about what the agencies are doing. Why only five per cent? Because the agencies are part of a broader mix and I have a staff of brand managers who are paid to deal with them (note to agencies: you circumvent the team at your own peril).
Sure my time ratio changes if there is an agency review and a pitch, but mostly the only time I hear about them is if something has gone wrong and a deadline has been missed or we are suddenly over budget.
And you can be sure I’ll make sure I hear about that. Not only that, but I’ll be the one screaming about it.
Internal politics and the war with procurement
Why am I freaking out about a cost overrun on my beautiful new ad campaign? Because I have a CFO who is out to get me, or at the very least my department and my budget.
For most businesses, marketing is a top-three expense. In my case it’s the number one and that puts my budget and how I use it firmly in the sights of the finance department. The CFO, who fancies herself as the next CEO, is looking to get control of how I spend my money via a key tool: procurement.
Agencies are always whining about how procurement is driving down margins and how they’re a nightmare to deal with and how they’re ruining their lives.
Welcome to the club.
The thing is there are ways to handle procurement. In the end they are a reality of modern business and they play a role but equally I’m also not going to let somebody who buys telephones or tea bags one day to suddenly tell me what I need to spend on television or radio the next.
In recent times there has been a lot of talk about how increasingly the marketing world is in a race to the bottom as procurement takes over and tightens the marketing budget. However, to my mind this ignores the complicity of the agencies who always seem to be able to squeeze out a bigger discount or rate cut, or our role as marketers who just accept the cheaper price, while failing to recognise that if we pay less then that often means we get less.
Like many chief marketers during their first year in the job, I reviewed and pitched some of my agencies and we changed one or two and got a small reduction in fees in the process, but that was my peace offering to finance. What I didn’t do is let them run the process and made it clear from outset that if it impacts any of the sales numbers, even a little, then it's on them. That will hopefully keep them out of my hair.
In years gone by I’ve seen it the other way, where a CMO lets procurement in and they want to just rip the guts out, cut costs and go with the cheapest agency. This perspective ignores a reality that marketing isn’t just a cost; it's about the creation of value and that’s hard to put a price on.
Often when a marketer allows procurement in, it is forced on them by the CFO and a recognition that if they don’t keep them and finance happy then their job is at risk.
But the problem is once you let them in they monitor the contract to ensure the agencies are keeping their promises, in a lot of cases it stops us from building a relationship with the agency because procurement won’t even let you talk to them without them being in the room.
This combined with the fact that I know that procurement is itself a profit centre and has to justify its own cost through savings - not just wishy washy savings, but hard savings - is why I will always engage with them, but I never let them run my process and feel for the marketers who do.
How did “bean counters” come to have such power? Well the irony is that’s the fault of marketers who have always struggled to explain the value they and their departments create.
In the modern era, the company works from financial statements and as CMO I have to be able to read those and speak the language of numbers.
My job as CMO is to create value, while the CFO's job is to record and account for that value but if I’m to survive in this role I have to help her do that.
Often this means I must give the CEO and CFO what they want in terms of numbers or metrics, but invariably those numbers make less sense to my marketing team who will also want to talk about softer metrics such as brand health and consumer attitudes.
The agencies and the marketing department
If there is one thing that agencies don’t understand it’s that I’m not here to solve your problems. Rather you’re on the roster to solve mine, and my department’s.
Some of the agencies on our roster get this, but most simply don’t. Agency ZYX, for example, doesn’t play well with the other agencies, misses deadlines and is always concerned about his own business. Agency YZX, on the other hand, is concerned about my business and realises that if she worries about my business then her business will take care of itself. Who would you give the briefs to?
But that’s far from the only mistake the agencies make. In case you haven’t noticed most CMOs don’t have a long life span in the role. In the end, I will be replaced and my staff, while they turn over too, will notice if you run roughshod over them.
This is what happened when I took this job. The last CMO just let the agency have a direct line to him, which meant that they ignored the brand managers. I arrive and of course ask my team what they think of the agency and surprise, surprise, they hate them! Six months later there are no prizes for guessing which agency is no longer on the roster...
What else do the CMO and his department hate you ask? Well let’s start with the ‘Big A-ha!’.
I often worry too many creative, and media agency, people have watched one too many episodes of the TV show Mad Men and suddenly think they are the 2014 equivalent of Don Draper.
Australian agencies don’t need more Drapers - they need more Pete Campbells, the character who worked in account management and spent most of his time managing the expectations of clients.
Too often agencies forget to take the client with them on the journey and instead become obsessed with the destination. Don’t get me wrong, results matter and so the destination is important, and I recognise that as a client we often fail in clearly explaining what it is we want (it's because often we don’t know), but that only makes the ‘Big A-ha!’ even riskier.
So what is the ‘Big A-ha’? Well it’s that moment that I swear some executive creative directors, in their cool T-shirts, live for… Where they sit the client down, present them with the storyboards and show the grand idea, which hopefully will win them a raft of awards next year.
The problem is, nine times out of ten it will engender a ‘what the fuck’ moment, even if idea is good. In most cases we would rather a collaborative approach, where you draw on our knowledge and expertise with tissue sessions (and yes I know agencies hate tissue sessions) and regular catch ups rather than a big reveal. Tissue sessions, for those who don't know, are named after the pre-computer process involving tracing paper.
Tissue sessions say a week and half into a schedules allows the agency to present three broad directions and to check if the brand manager (note: I’m not in the room for this, as I have already explained I have other places to be) is uncomfortable with any of these ideas.
Agencies never look at it from the perspective of the 25-year-old senior brand manager. My team know what I like and when they are in those sessions they aren't thinking “do I like this?”. No they are thinking “will my boss the CMO like this?" and “will their boss the CEO like this?” Feedback during the process is important because it gives the agency the chance to refine the direction and make sure you don’t wonder wildly off brief.
When you do the ‘Big A-ha!’ my staff are left thinking: “I’m too scared to tell my boss I like this campaign because if I tell him I like it and he doesn’t like it he is going to think I’m an idiot.” Meanwhile I’m left wondering why no one from the agency (again, this is where having some account managers who actually know how to manage expectations might help) told me about the “new direction”, let alone any of my staff who were either in dark or now clearly pretending to be... in an act of outright self preservation.
It’s usually at this point that it’s left to me to tell everyone in the room that they’ve wasted three weeks out of five on something we’re not going to buy and now we only have two weeks to get something on air. Essentially you’ve burned three weeks for nothing.
Now I know, creative agencies don't want to give clients too many opportunities to kill an idea but too often when agencies fail to take the client on the journey, they find out too late that the destination is completely wrong.
The result is often that the client feels disrespected.
Eventually some relationships break down and that brings us to the subject of pitching.
You would like to think that pitching is something that we only do as a last resort, right? The relationship breaks down and things get so bad that as CMO I’m forced to pitch the account.
Not true. Many clients pitch for a variety of reasons, they might need to please HQ over in the US or Europe, or there may be internal politics driving the pitch.
But as a general rule, as the incumbent on a pitch, you've got a 20-25 per cent chance of winning. Max.
Sure we'll bring you along on the pitch process, often right till the end but for most of us that's driven more by the fear that you might drop the ball on the current work. Frankly it's easier to slit your throat at the end when we have a new agency ready to go than it is to have the conversation upfront.
Why is pitching happening more and more? I'd argue that it is because calling a pitch is what the agencies have trained us as their clients to do.
Don’t believe me? Take a look many of the big CMO appointments and you’ll find a large number of them pitched their account, usually within six to 12 months after taking over the gig.
As a newly installed marketing boss, one of the first things you do upon taking on the role of chief marketer is to review the agencies and then call a pitch.
That’s certainly what I did. Sure the agencies were doing okay work and things might have be going smoothly but performance was not the issue here.
But why not pitch? In my first six months, I needed to show my bosses a win.
It was an easy way to get a reduction in agency rates, as the agencies all dropped their pants, and it also reminded everyone I’m now in charge.
(Meanwhile for anyone wondering about the race to the bottom, in this market, I reckon you hit it about three years ago. Not that anyone seemed to notice.)
As a client I often struggle to figure out how you make ends meet. If you look at media agencies, their margins are often as low as two or three per cent of spend yet somehow you pay for your shiny offices, your staff salaries and then presumably still ship money to your parent company, usually overseas.
It's this uncertainty about how you make your money that helps fuel much of this distrust between clients and agencies. We are now long since past the era of 17.5 per cent retainers for media agency and full service agencies are largely a thing of the past.
Today agencies are increasingly moving towards beings specialists but oddly they are doing this across a gamut of additional services. So much so, I can't help but wonder are they simply a way to make up the profit on the unsustainable margin they are being paid on the main account?
It's this upselling add-ons, which sees my agency constantly trying to load me up with mobile, video, data, content marketing, social, experiential, you-name-it-we've got products that frankly I never understand - nor can I explain their value to the sales department, CFO, CEO, or heaven forbid, the board.
The remuneration model, trust and moving up the value chain
Because I don't understand all these areas I'm often left saying no, even when I know that in the modern marketing landscape I need to innovate.
But the big issue here is the degradation of trust. Look back even ten years and there was implicit trust between the agency and their client - especially the media agency entrusted with millions of dollars.
However, today much of that trust is gone. Instead of having the experienced people who were promised to me in the pitch, it's often the juniors who are in the room with my (often equally junior staff) the result is that we often have 25 year old media agency people advising a 25 year old brand manager, and there's maybe $5 million or even $10 million of my money at stake.
Is it any wonder that screw-ups happen? Airtime doesn't get booked at a crucial time of year for our brands or budgets go over, or any of the other cock ups, mess ups and fuck ups that arrive on my desk on a monthly, if not weekly, basis and require me to pick up the phone to the agency in a desperate attempt to find an adult.
Why does this happen? Part of the problem is we don't pay our agencies enough.
The problem is also driven by the sometimes insane remuneration scheme we as clients impose on our agencies. Often these deals offer the 80 per cent payment with the additional 20 per cent paid when they reach their Key Performance Indicators.
Now let me ask you would work for 80 per cent of your salary with your boss dangling the other 20 per cent over you? No, you'd do what most agencies do, which resource the account at 80 per cent of staff - it's an act of self preservation.
Again it's not rocket science, if you want an incentive based scheme then it should be a reward for good work not a balancing of the books for what is owed. The other one that amuses me is when clients offer a five per cent additional bonus but might demand the agency put 20 per cent at risk. Ask yourself where's the incentive? It's not in hitting the KPI, it's ensuring that we don't lose the 20 per cent, and that typically means understaffing.
As a CMO I pay my agency the rate we agree and I expect to be serviced to the level we agreed. There are then bonuses on top if they exceed the KPIs.
All of this comes back to trust and the recognition that while agencies can never be "partners" but they can be trusted advisors.
This is the role they used to hold but it begins with the agency understanding the business and the needs of the client. It also requires the client be fair to the agency, to pay them for the work, to ensure that procurement is not controlling the relationship and that they are being clear in how they communicate their needs.
That's where a real difference can be made.
Note: The practices discussed in this article are hypothetical. This piece represents our attempt to continue a discussion around transparency and some of the more dubious potential practices in the client and agency landscape. It follows last year's article on What your media agency might not be telling you.
- Next Wednesday October 22, Mumbrella's sister title The Source is running a breakfast event in Sydney focused on how to work with procurement departments. More details are available via this link.
- And The Source will be running masterclasses on how to run great agencies, and work with CMOs, at SAGE - Secrets of Agency Excellence - in Sydney on November 25 and Melbourne on December 2.
- The nature of communications planning has changed dramatically in recent years, Naked Communications cofounder, Will Collin argues that agencies need to focus on reciprocity rather than engagement if they are to win the fight to capture consumer attention.
Communications planning, or connections planning, or whatever you call it, is a discipline in crisis. I say that as someone closely involved in its development, with no small amount of my professional life spent promoting its cause to clients and industry alike.
So it gives me no pleasure to condemn it.
On the other hand, the good news is that the very forces that wrought such change on the industry and so caused the crisis in communications planning have at the same time created the opportunity for the discipline to assume a more important role than ever, and move to the very heart of campaign strategy.
More of that later. First I would like to explain why comms planning is in a state of crisis.
Let’s begin by revisiting why this discipline emerged in the first place. Until the 1990s, the accepted paradigm for deciding how to deploy communications budgets was the discipline we now think of as traditional media planning. The task was one of maximising the number of impacts delivered for a given budget: the classic ‘more bang for your buck’ challenge.
In this paradigm the process of communications was one of brand transmitting and consumer receiving; the currency was reach and frequency.
But by 2000 the rising tide of media fragmentation could no longer be ignored. The range of options within existing media had expanded (e.g. multi-channel TV), while entire new channels had appeared (most notably of course the internet).
Not to mention the many non-media touchpoints that exist between brands and consumers which were routinely ignored in the traditional media planning process.
The problem for traditional media planning was twofold. Firstly, media fragmentation meant that consumers’ attention could no longer be taken for granted, which undermined the reach and frequency model. Secondly, the traditional planning process struggled to consider (and plan) non-paid touchpoints like live brand experiences or customer service, meaning that media plans represented only part of the brand’s ‘voice’.
Cometh the hour, cometh comms planning. A new discipline founded on the central premise that ‘everything communicates’. Instead of building campaign plans by calculating the most cost effective combination of media to maximise the number of impacts on the consumer’s eyeballs, this new approach took as its starting point the consumer’s journey towards purchase and beyond.
It planned layered combinations of communications channels to help move people from one step of the journey to the next, allowing each channel to play to its strengths rather than treating them all as mere sources of reach and impacts. And it recognised the potential value of all touchpoints, not just paid media.
Ultimately, the promise of communications planning was that it would deliver ‘engagement’ with the brand’s communications, not just exposure; meaningful encounters rather than just passive opportunities to see.
Starting life as little more than a fringe heresy, comms planning rapidly gained acceptance until within the space of a decade it was the accepted orthodoxy across the industry. Which is more or less where it is today.
But during that same decade while communications planning was establishing itself as best practice, the wider world was hit with the full force of the digital revolution. In particular, the mass adoption of services that create networks by connecting people.
We’ve moved from a world where we had to accept what we were told, and make the best of the limited knowledge and information we had, to one in which we can now find out for ourselves, share our knowledge and opinions, and collaborate to bring about change. Let’s call this the connected era.
One immediate consequence of the mass proliferation of instantaneous connections between previously disparate individuals is an acceleration in the rate of propagation of information, ideas and popular culture. Memes, virals, internet crazes, yes – but also eyewitness news reporting, self-organising political protests and grassroots charity fundraising. The world is a frothier place, for good and ill.
With increased speed comes increased unpredictability. In the words of Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab:
“Before the internet, life was simple. Things were Euclidian, Newtonian: somewhat predictable. People actually tried to predict the future – even the economists. Then the internet happened and the world became extremely complex, extremely low cost, extremely fast; and those Newtonian laws that we so dearly cherished turned out to be just local ordinances.”This unpredictability stems from volatility in the process of how ideas can emerge, build an audience and go on to reach mainstream acceptance. Previously this process was slow, steady and largely under the control of well-resourced institutions or brands with the power to access large audiences. But in the connected era, established scale is no longer a prerequisite for taking an idea into the mainstream. A massively connected network trumps a massiveadspend any day of the week. What is influential and commands public attention might emerge from leftfield without warning, potentially dwarfing a brand’s efforts despite its months of careful planning and preparation. This unpredictability is the first of the two reasons why I believe the communications planning discipline is in crisis. Unpredictability is toxic for comms planning. It disturbs the carefully stage-managed unveiling of a brand’s story through successive layers of complementary encounters with the campaign. It messes up the simplicity of a sequential customer journey. And fundamentally it displaces the brand from its central, controlling position of orchestrating how its story is told. In such an unpredictable world, what in all honesty is the value of all those beautiful campaign architectures, when the clarity and controllability they promise is an illusion? The second reason why comms planning is in crisis is that its pursuit of ‘engagement’ has pushed the industry towards creating communications that demand too much of the audience while offering too little value in return. The value exchange in today’s campaigns is getting out of balance. Marketing communications has always involved an exchange of value between the brand and the audience. Simplistically it often went like this: ‘Here are 30 seconds of entertainment; please give a moment of your attention to our brand message’. The result was an equitable trade that satisfied both parties. But in the connected era, when technology allows people to be so much more than passive viewers of communication, brands routinely ask for rather more than just attention. In their quest for engagement they want people to participate and get involved. So they ask for Likes, followers, votes, shares; even co-creation and user generation. A couple of the more notorious instances of this excessive demand for participation are the 2013 Andrex ‘scrunch or fold?’ campaign which asked people to vote on their preferred toilet routine, and the 2009 Kingsmill campaign which invited consumers to share their confessions about sliced bread. Comms planning’s drive for greater engagement has translated into placing increasing demands on the audience – just as people’s benign acquiescence towards marketing is being undermined by the total transparency and default cynicism of the connected era. In summary, communications planning is in a double bind: operating within an intrinsically unpredictable environment, and driven by its pursuit of engagement to unbalance the value exchange inherent within the communication process. What is the way out of this crisis? What is the future for communications planning? I believe the answer will emerge from a deeper understanding of the nature of this value exchange. Early 20th various Melanesian communities, e.g. in Papua New Guinea. One such ritual, known as the ‘kula ring’, involves community members travelling up to hundreds of miles by canoe to exchange valuable objects such as necklaces – not as a commercial trade based on monetary value, but solely for the symbolic value of bestowing precious gifts. Social bonds and hierarchies within and between communities were created and maintained by this sequence of exchanges. Such tales of derring-do in canoes seem very remote from 21st communications. But the point is that the obscure ritual of the kula ring is a rare tangible manifestation of a universal ingredient of human relationship-building: reciprocity. Reciprocity can be defined as ‘one good turn deserves another’. It is an ever-present norm governing human social behaviour. In their study of how this principle can be applied to contemporary online social relationships, social scientists Pelaprat and Brown describe the underlying mechanism: “To have [a positive action] directed at you produces and enacts an obligation of a specific kind: the obligation to respond to a person who is offering a gesture of respect and admiration in order to have it given in return.” Viewed through the lens of reciprocity, traditional advertising sought to elicit admiration for the brand by offering people the gift of a nugget of entertaining content. But if brands now want more from people, they first need to give more. That is why I believe that reciprocity – not engagement – should be the goal of communications planning in future. It all boils down to this. Marketing campaigns place demands on people. So when planning communications, we must ask ourselves how the brand can offer value to the audience in each and every encounter with the campaign. Value that is equal to whatever we hope to receive in return. In fact since this is brand marketing rather than real life (and so subject to greater scepticism) we should aim to over-deliver: “Give more than you take”, as planner Martin Weigel puts it. It’s interesting that in recent years a number of new communication approaches have emerged, such as experiential marketing, branded content, branded utility and gamification. Each came along, claimed to overturn the marketing world as we knew it, then – once the initial hype had subsided – turned out not to be the promised panacea but just one more lever in our toolkit. I suggest that we can view these new approaches as evidence of how the industry has been making repeated attempts to achieve reciprocity, but without recognising this was the problem that needed solving. These new techniques aren’t misconceived, they’re just incomplete solutions to a bigger problem. The industry has not been ignorant to the changes taking place in the communications landscape, but it has to an extent been reaching around in the dark for ‘the new model’ to fit the new world. In fact the old model remains as valid as ever: successful campaigns deliver value equal to or greater than the demands they place on their audience. It’s just the demands have increased and therefore so must the value delivered. So the future of communications planning will not be to find which combination of media delivers the most impacts from a given budget, nor to architect layers of channels to engage the audience and so ease them through each stage of a decision journey. It will be to identify those communications activities that create enough value for the consumer to inspire the behaviours we seek. The sources of that value could be many and various: the persuasive entertainment of good old-fashioned advertising, of course; or one of many other techniques such as creating social currency, providing utility, offering opportunities to rally around a cause, or to connect with people who matter. By planning for reciprocity, not engagement, we will safeguard our strategies as far as is possible against the unpredictability of today’s frothy media environment. Given that your campaign will inevitably be caught in a blizzard of distractions, providing real value is a more defensible position than relying on people having nothing better to look at. In conclusion, I’m advocating a clean break from the time when comms planning was often seen as synonymous with channel planning. This new communications planning will sit at the heart of campaign strategy since the challenge of delivering value to the audience cuts right across both the conception of the creative idea and the design of the communications plan. If we can re-orient ourselves towards creating value for people, rather than preying on their time, then ours is an industry with a positive future. Will Collin is a cofounder of the global operation of Naked Communications
- Former Sunrise executive producer Adam Boland spoke to Miranda Ward about how his new memoir Brekky Central is mostly about his own failings, and why he can never return to commercial TV. Adam Boland admitted he was caught "on the hop" when his memoir, which details both his time at Seven and Ten, was rushed into bookstores today following court action from Seven, but claimed "if anyone gets heavily criticised in the book, it's me". Last Friday Network Seven started court action to get hold of the book prior to publication, with a view to an injunction if the former TV exec credited with turning around Sunrise had broken his confidentiality agreement with them. Speaking to Mumbrella, Boland said: "It caught me on the hop as well, I didn't know it was coming out today until about an hour before the press release went out." Titled Brekky Central, the memoir will detail Boland’s time in breakfast television, especially as the executive producer of the Sunrise show, and it is understood Seven is concerned Boland, who was a key player in the turnaround of the breakfast program, could be in breach of a confidentiality agreement with the network over elements of the book. "I understand where the publisher was coming from, clearly we had some nervousness on behalf of Channel Seven, they felt it was necessary to launch some court proceedings against me personally," said Boland. "I think from Seven's perspective they wanted to see what was in the book before it was published and from the publisher's perspective, they've never released a book before it was released to anyone else so why would they do it now? "There was a sense of integrity from Melbour University Press that it would set a dangerous precedent and as a result they were loathe to hand it over. That was really a publisher decision, I don't control the manuscript once it's written, it was up to them. "I can kind of understand where they were both coming from, but in the end I think the publisher decided to just rush it out to undermine any future court action." Despite the early release, the book wasn't originally due out until November 1 and will now be available in bookstores by Friday. Boland said he was "glad" it was out. "Once people at Channel Seven read it, it will ease some of their concerns," he said. "It's an honest account of things that went on but I never wrote the book with the intention of settling scores. I have immense respect for people who still work there and in fact my closest friends work at Seven. There was no reason for me to open fire at Seven, if anything I needed to build some bridges. "The book is really a very personal look at not just my time at Seven but also my time at Ten and growing up and how all of those things were. How my personal life crossed over into my professional life, the impact of producing a breakfast show can have on your own life and the impact it had on my own mental life. "I talk about everything, from my personal relationships, my sexuality, my relationship with staff and my bosses. I can't think of too many no-go areas. I have a tendency to over-share, so I thought why should I stop now? "Perhaps if anything we will learn a little bit too much about me. But that's ok, it was important to tell the whole story to put things in context." Boland admitted he was "disappointed" with Seven's court action but said it was "understandable". "They have a very valuable product and they want to protect that. I think they will be a lot more relaxed when they read the book and understand in many ways this book is about celebrating television and not in any way undermining what they do very well." [caption id="attachment_184284" align="alignright" width="234"] Studio 10[/caption] Boland announced his departure from Seven, where he had been since 2000, starting as a line producer, in February 2013 and was shortly after announced to be joining Ten as the director of morning television, creating the short lived Wake Up breakfast show and morning show Studio 10. He quit Channel Ten in January this year, citing ill health. On whether Ten had similar nerves or fears to Seven, Boland said: "Certainly not to the extent of Channel Seven, I know there are nerves at Channel Ten but they haven't gone to the lengths of Seven." The former morning television guru said the chapters of his book are divided into significant moments, many of which viewers of the programs he was behind would be familiar with. "Be they how we covered Beaconsfield, the Justin Bieber show, or how we launched Wake Up and so on. There's nothing in the book that people at Seven will say 'oh God, why has he said that', it'll be more a case of 'oh yeah that's his perspective of why that happened, ok'," he said. "If anyone gets heavily criticised in the book, it's me. One of the beauty's of being able to write a book is you can sit down reflect, take time out and look back at things you have done right and things you have done not so right. "I worked out that I'd done more things not so right than I'd done right and that in itself was quite a cathartic experience for me. Once they see that and see the honesty within the book and accept that there's no agenda in the book particularly towards them, I think they'll be a lot more relaxed." Boland doesn't expect everyone to agree with his take on events, and is upfront that it's his memory and not a definitive account of what happened during his time at either Seven or Ten. "Everyone has a perspective on things that happened, this is clearly my own version of history," he said. "There will be many people who won't agree with certain things that I talk about in the book and that's ok. This is not a definitive account of things that went on, this is simply how I saw these things. Clearly I'm able to be more honest now then when I had either a Channel Seven or Ten business card, I'm speaking personally now not professionally." "I also talk about how I burnt relationships, particularly at Channel Seven, and perhaps this goes to explain why they're particularly nervous about the book," he added. "There were a lot of people there who were long term friends who were hurt when I went to Channel Ten to set up shows that rival ones I helped build at Seven. Not just that, interviews I gave at that time to outlets such as Mumbrella and there were things in those interviews that hurt many people at Channel Seven and I regret many of the things I said across that time. I look back at some of those things and try to examine why I said them. "The book certainly draws a line on my media career, I certainly will never return to commercial television. "I don't use this book to try to justify certain things I did or to try to get back into people's good books. It's more about being honest about things that have happened and people will reach their own conclusions, some people will agree, some will disagree. More than that, it was important to me to do because I was able to step back and say that's how it unfolded because when you live it you don't really know it and it's only when you take time out, it was only when I left television I had time." But the memoir isn't about shifting the blame onto others, Boland says. "Again, I'm responsible for my own decisions and I was always in positions where I could make decisions and I had a lot of trust was placed in me by management both at Seven and Ten. Really, the only person who can take the blame for things that went right or wrong across that period is me," he said. "It's a chance for me to give myself a report card to some extent and you'll see as you read the book I'm fairly honest and frank about some of those things and I don't set out to defend myself against waves of criticism, if anything I try to understand why those criticisms were made." Boland isn't afraid of critiquing his own performance at either Seven or Ten, largely blaming himself for mistakes made at Ten's Wake Up which was axed in May, but believes there is space for a third breakfast program. "It just needs to work out what it is," he said. "One of the problems we had when we launched Wake Up is, and I take the blame for this, I don't think we knew exactly what we were doing in terms of what we were. We weren't entirely sure if we were a traditional breakfast show in the sense of a Sunrise and the Today Show or were we an FM radio show. And that sense of lack of definition came across on air. "It's a very competitive time slot you've still got Sunrise and Today going hammer and tong. It is possible but for it to happen the network must give the show time and clearly a breakfast show will only work if the rest of the network is kicking goals. I do think another breakfast show would work, it simply needs to have a point of difference from the other two and it needs to be given a chance to breath. "Particularly with the demographics of television ageing, it's where do you go? What is that ground? I think ten years ago it would have been simpler to launch a breakfast show aimed at a younger audience, in the vein of Big Breakfast out of the UK.It's more difficult now, and getting that position right is never a simple process. Competition is always good and I think it would be nice to see someone enter that space, and I'm sure it will be Ten, but not anytime soon." Boland expects the book to highlight the process of television more than aspects of either channel. "People will see the process of television and how intense it is and how the rivalry is intense and how sometimes we actually forget what's important," he said. "That's one of my biggest lessons in that, there was a great personal toll. I surrendered many of my friendships and I know I off-sided many members of my family because of a single-minded devotion to my shows and when you step out of television, which I have, I look back and think why, was it worth it? And the answer is no, clearly not. "It's a somewhat small world, the media industry, and you get very much caught up in it and it's very exciting at the time but when you step out of it you realise there's so much more to life and I think it's sad I took so long to discover that. I hope people who read this book, particularly those who work in the media, can perhaps see if there are any parallels with their own lives." Mental health is a topic close to Boland's heart as he suffers from bipolar disorder, and he is currently a regular speaker on the topic as well as studying Asian politics. "I've been discussing mental health as part of Mental Health week this week and it got me thinking about whether people in the media spend enough time considering their own mental health. We operate at such speed that we sometimes don't take time out to just say 'are we ok?' "I know many people, particularly in television, who have succumbed to mental illness I think because they weren't able to balance personal and professional. It can swallow up your life. I try to detail that and clearly I use myself as the example," he said. "I hope people, particularly in the media, walk away and say there are some valuable lessons in there about things that are more important than what we do each day. That said, I also try to make the case that television should be used for a lot more than making money. "The book will show the pressures placed on producers and sometimes we don't make decisions for the right reasons, be they commercial interests or whatever. They're the everyday balances that we face, we try to keep up with be they social media changes or whatever and we do lose perspective or I did, I lost perspective on many things. "Being able to sit down and write a book has been a very useful experience for me. It wasn't what I was going to do, I had no intention of writing a book, I said no when the publisher first asked. I'm glad I said yes in the end, it's been very cathartic." Miranda Ward
- While most brands aim to make their customer touchpoints as easy as possible Alison Tilling argues making people work for it will make them value it more.
Most brands and agencies aim to create seamless experiences for people. We design them to be easy, coherent and united across channels. Most of the time, that's great. It means a world where things just work, quickly and well.
But for brands it is dangerous, because ultimately it could also lead to a world of bland sameness.
Of course no-one wants unnecessary pain, but there can be gold hidden in a brand's rough edges that will help it stand out - and for all the right reasons.
Be (a little bit) more human How often recently have you seen LinkedIn or Facebook quotes about perfectionism being the enemy, being brave enough to fail, and so on? We seem to be warming up to messing up in our personal endeavours. That means less focus on ironing out all our own rough edges, and more focus on the things that make us uniquely us. It’s time to try doing the same with the brands we work on, to make experiences with them more memorable, and ultimately more ownable.
The beauty of imperfection This brings me to Wabi-sabi. No, I’d never heard of it either until a couple of months ago, and reading more on it made me think about the possibilities for brands. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that expounds the beauty of imperfection, the rough edges, the seams of things (though there’s a lot more to it than that!).
Leonard Koren, a western proponent of Wabi-sabi, describes it as:
Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilise them.”(See Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, 1994). Sterilisation is a danger to brands as technology moves us closer to the fastest and simplest transactions we can get; sometimes, the poetry lies elsewhere. Take Ikea – it’s the friction that makes it. While we might whinge about the complicated instructions for putting the bookcase together, we humans value making things ourselves and the pain that goes along with that (see “The Ikea Effect” Journal of Consumer Psychology, July 2012). IKEA also has a great way of helping shoppers turn frictions into celebrations, like the rewarding hot dog available for $1 at the end of the long arduous process of queuing. Square’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, is a known proponent of Wabi-sabi. Looking at the Square card reader, its poetry is not only in the great experience of using it, but in its starkly white, slightly bulky contrast to the iPad’s thin black and silver lines. Its beautiful, standout seams make it a human, not a sterile way to pay. In our work with Aldi, we've noticed that the unique checkout experience can be a powerful brand symbol. The reason for the fast, self-packing checkout is built into the business model, and knowing how to deal with it is a sign of an Aldi aficionado - a real smarter shopper. It gives an ownable tension, a moment of stickiness for the brand that others can't copy. Ownable tensions aren’t an excuse for laziness. Recognising and designing for friction doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remove real barriers or moments of difficulty. A brand experience that’s much harder than it needs to be, but that doesn’t add value, won’t get anyone anywhere. Brands should be aiming for experiences that are memorable and difficult for other brands to replicate. This is where a pinch of Wabi-sabi, humanity and making the most of the rough edges can help. Alison Tilling is a planner at BMF
Phone: +61 3363 5300
Level 1, 324 Wickham Street
Brisbane, Queensland, 4006 Australia
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