Jon Steel: ‘If the answer is always Twitter it must have been a pretty stupid question’

Jon Steel speaking at yesterday's Mumbrella Perth event

Jon Steel speaking at yesterday’s Mumbrella Perth event

One of the most respected planners in the world Jon Steel has urged agencies to “hit the reset button” and start investing in real world face-to-face research, or risk further losing relevance to their clients’ business objectives.

Steel, the group planning director for the world’s biggest advertising holding group WPP, said of the current tendency to rely on social media and new technologies and “soft” measures of success such as likes and followers to show results “someone’s got to say it – the emperor is not wearing any clothes”.

Acknowledging to the audience at Mumbrella Perth he probably sounded “old fashioned, irrelevant, a 20th Century ad guy from the era of television and long lunches talking about the way things used to be”, he added: “I don’t think it’s either old fashioned or irrelevant to expect effects like increases in usage frequency, sales volume, share, margin, profit.

“If somebody believes that excited bloggers represents return on investment then I think the apocalypse is well and truly upon us, and if the answer’s always Twitter it must have been a really stupid question.”

He added: “I’m not saying just go back to the old ways and don’t embrace the new, I’m saying embrace the new, but do so while remembering some of these fundamentals.”

The short-term average tenure of marketers was one of the factors he cited for the lack of time given to agencies now to invest in research, saying they wanted “immediate results”.

“I think it’s time to hit the reset button,” he added. “For me if agencies are going to be successful in meeting their clients’ needs and if clients are to meet their obligations to shareholders they’ve got to go back to basics and invest in meaningful research that allows them to identify the real issues, the real barriers and the real opportunities and the real identities of the people they are trying to engage.”

He pointed to a new project by George Patterson Y&R, which he is vice-president of, where their planners are being sent out to conduct face to face interviews with people as a way of “taking the temperature” of the nation as one attempt to stop the slide into “Google planning”.

Steel also questioned how the ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign for Tourism Queensland by Cummins Nitro had won effectiveness awards, saying he had never seen any tangible results it had increased tourism to the state.

In a later session Cummins & Partners strategy director Adam Ferrier defended the campaign saying it was sometimes hard to measure the effect of a single campaign where the base metrics they are working with were already high.

In his keynote address Steel urged agencies: “Never ever forget you are talking to people. They are not demographics or numbers, they are people just like us.

“Call me old fashioned but I stick to my belief that if our industry is going to deliver on its promises to clients, and if our clients are going to deliver in turn on their promises to shareholders it is time to reapply some of these well worn principles and some good plain common sense to the wonderful technologies of today.

“You never know, the combination might just work.”

Alex Hayes 


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