Agencies can never know a business as well as client says Jeff Goodby



Agencies should aim to ‘unknow’ their prior knowledge of a client in order to take a fresh approach to the work and senior marketers need to take more of a role in encouraging a fresh approach to ideas, acclaimed adman Jeff Goodby has said.

Speaking at an Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) conference in Sydney yesterday, the co-chairman and partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners also took a swing at what he deemed “dithering” lengthy pitch processes, urging marketers to put tighter timelines on their processes.

On the issue of agencies taking a new approach to their clients he said:”My obsession with unknowing is a reaction to seeing too many presentations where planners and creative directors and so on told the client they were going to take ‘deep dives’ into their business and learn so much about them and use the drill down and unpack kind of language we’ve all caught ourselves using.

“First of all, there’s no way an agency is going to know more about your business then you do. They’ll say they’ll know as much as you do but they’re not going to. They have other things to work on, they have sneaker and beer and stuff that are more fun than your account.”

He continued: “What if an agency did the opposite and aggressively not just learnt nothing about you but actually unlearnt all the pitiful stuff about you that people know that could be wrong or right, who knows. And strangely this is the state that your agency is the most useful to you.

“Once you unlearn everything you can re-learn it in new, fresh ways. You’ll reinvent things, you’ll see things anew, you’ll find things people didn’t see before.”

For Goodby the process of “unknowing” allows agencies to produce more interesting work and reposition the client in a new way.

He provided the example of one of his agency’s founding clients, Amazing Software which the agency transformed into Electronic Arts (EA) as they highlighted the artistic abilities of computers and games.

On how to drive this approach Goodby said it is the duty of everyone involved to back up and look at problems in a new way.

“I like the idea that we should all feel the responsibility to back up and look at these problems in a new way and unlearning the things we think about all the time. If you find yourself going over the same ground, go to another place,” he said.

“Drive a different way to work every day, do something different, shake with your other hand, break out of your routine.”

However, the responsibility of encouraging this approach does come down to the chief marketer, Goodby said.

“The person who’s responsibility is this, it’s everyone’s in the company, but many times it is the chief marketer.

“Fewer and fewer CMOs are willing to take this task on in a fast way because you have to be brave to do it. In fact they find ingenious ways to deflect the responsibilities of this task onto the organisation, the people around them, the agency.”

Issues of long pitches when a new CMO is appointed and a new campaign being implemented was a sore point for Goodby.

“All too often at the end of this kind of process you see a CMO scurrying away saying something like ‘we’re picking an agency, not a campaign’. You have to have more than an agency at this end of thing. It’s not healthy, it’s not productive, it’s dithering,” said Goodby.

He suggested putting tighter deadlines on the process, suggesting giving a pitch consultant a list of potential agencies with a month deadline on an appointment and another month for the agency to deliver the campaign.

“It will happen and it will be good,” he said. “Drawn out searches replace hunches and humanity.”

Miranda Ward


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