Work with great agencies who love you, and kill average agencies, argues CMO

The best way for marketers to get the most out of their agencies is to make them love their client so they think about them in the shower, IAG’s chief marketing officer Brent Smart has suggested.

Speaking at a Sydney panel debate on the state of brand marketing in Australia, Smart also argued that “average” agencies deserve to die. Meanwhile, fellow panellist Prof Mark Ritson decried the “wank” of brand purpose.

Last night’s event, organised by communications agency The Contenders and research house The Lab, discussed the relationship between client and agency.

Smart has been CMO of insurance giant IAG since February 2017 after a 20-year agency career spanning Australia, New Zealand and the USA. He moved his creative account to The Monkeys in September last year.

Smart, left, made the comments on a panel moderated by ADMA’s MD Andrea Martens, right

He drew applause as he told the room: “I want to be my agency’s favourite client. And that’s not vanity, that’s a commercial decision – because I know, from my years working in agencies, that if you’re an average client you pay them a fee and you get that number of hours. But if you can inspire an agency, if that agency knows you’re up for doing great work and they love you, then when they’re walking the dog, when they’re in the shower, when they’re on the train, when they’re meant to be on a romantic dinner with their partner, they’re thinking about your brand and your brief. And all those hours, you know how much all those extra hours cost you? Nothing. It’s the smartest thing you can do in terms of an agency relationship.”

Smart also argued that marketers in less glamorous sectors should recognise that agency partnerships are one way to access talent who would not be interest in working for them directly.

He said: “I work for an insurance company. I’m never going to be able to hire the kind of creative talent that The Monkeys can. That creative talent, if briefed the right way and given the right strategy, they can do things I’ll never be able to do and ultimately that’s what I’m paying for. I’m paying for creativity and ideas.

“I have not come across another partner or organisation that can do it like an agency. The consultants sure as hell can’t.”

In June, The Monkeys’ first major piece of work for IAG, for insurance brand NRMA, was named TV ad of the Year at the Mumbrella Awards.

However, Smart acknowledged that many agencies do not deliver enough value to their clients.

“It’s about getting back to the basics – a lot of agencies have forgotten that. As an agency you’re about the work and the ideas and then the agency model isn’t as dead as a lot of people want to make you think it is.

“The problem is a lot of average agencies doing average work that deserve to be dead.”

Fellow panellist Joe Rogers, CEO of The Contenders, interjected: ‘What you’re describing is the holding company model?”

Smart, who spent nearly six years in New York as worldwide managing director, then CEO, of Saatchi & Saatchi, which is owned by holding company Publicis Group, replied: “I worked at Publicis for the six saddest years of my career.”

Ritson: Brand purpose is wank

The same event also heard from marketing professor Mark Ritson, who argued that most Australian brands are investing too little in long term brand growth compared to short term aims.

He said: “The problem is that the vast majority of Australian brands don’t have any brand strategy. Your brand is a tree – you need to water the tree and pick the fruit. But what’s been happening in Australia like everywhere else – and it’s more pronounced here than in most other places – the amount of watering is decreasing dramatically and the amount of fruit picking is increasing exponentially.

“I don’t know that many brands that even pass 50% on long term multi-year brand building investments in Australia.

“Most of them have been convinced to move their money to short term activation. Too much of that fruit picking is going to become sub-optimal.”

And Ritson was also disdainful of the trend towards purpose-driven marketing, where everyday brands attempt to claim to be making a bigger contribution to the world than their product.

“This is the horseshit we call brand purpose. A load of wank from marketers who don’t want to be fucking marketers. Who think their brand is a big thing, rather than a little, little thing. We’ve lost the fucking plot because we’re embarrassed about good old fashioned customer-based benefits.

“Your brand is a little, little thing. Just because you work on it every day, it’s still pointless to most people.

“We have to come back to the point of marketing. If you don’t deliver on the promise, it’s shit positioning, whatever you call it.

“It’s driven by marketers who fundamentally are ashamed to make a profit, ashamed to take pride in making a good product or service.

“I work for money. I’m not ashamed of that. I do other things in my private life, but when I go to work I make fuckloads of money and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with great products and really cool brands.”


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