How can media and creative work together when neither side understands the other?
It’s a sad fact that marketers have become used to the disconnect between media and creative.
All too often, they see strategic plans misaligned and it’s now the norm.
It takes a strong, experienced marketer to manage these independent suppliers and in many cases, they haven’t been given the tools – or the training – to do it successfully.
It’s about so much more than getting agencies to play nicely together, which, despite all positive assurances, when earnings are at stake, we know they don’t.
The divide has been holding the industry back from solving our clients’ important business challenges for far too long. We need a better model.
When I first started in this business, agencies were in the middle of all the big conversations with their clients. Back then, the best agencies not only had a deep understanding of the client’s business, they also had a collective understanding of the customer. It was a true team approach that arrived at deep and powerful insights applied right through the entire marketing mix.
It was successful because we had the media people working hand in glove alongside strategists and creatives, all under one agency banner. This standard was unbundled through the 80s and 90s, and by the early 2000s, media existed as a completely separate service.
That coincided with the time when the rate of change in the marketing landscape began speeding up. The ‘new beaut’ internet turned up and digital technology started its all-conquering march to change the game forever. While that change was accelerating, we had a structure that meant a bunch of people weren’t talking to each other about how best to engage an ever-fragmenting audience that was finding new ways to consume entertainment and news. There were two separate conversations going on around how to tap into the new communications opportunities exploding all around us. Media fragmentation was in full swing and the bifurcated agency model wasn’t equipped to deal with it.
On the face of it, many may think media fragmentation is a media issue – but media organisations alone don’t have the solution because it’s not just a connection problem, it’s also an engagement problem. The way to engage with an old-fashioned medium such as a 30-second television commercial is not the same as a 15-second pre-roll, social or experiential piece of communication. While the good media people can unlock the connection opportunities, most have no idea how that then changes the creative challenge. And vice-versa. You need a two-way dialogue, often in real time.
The power of one P&L
Five years ago, we went from being a creative shop to a full-service agency and so we know from experience that getting people together in the same room is only the first step. There’s still a huge piece of the puzzle missing; it doesn’t really work until you have only one P&L to satisfy.
For marketers working with unbundled agencies, larger traditional full-service agencies and big agencies of just about any discipline, every department is working to their own financial goals which inevitably leads to turf wars. The digital guys might have made their budget for the quarter but some other part of the agency is dragging behind and so recommendations going back to clients are often biased based on whose budget needs topping up. This means marketers are having to interrogate the recommendations they are receiving with a more cynical view – are they trying to make up for a deficit in one of their agency’s silos, or is this truly the best way forward for the particular circumstance?
We’ve seen agencies adopt the ‘village’ model – think Clemenger’s Kitchen Table for Campbell’s Arnott’s or Greenhouse, M&C Saatchi’s Woolworths offering – where they pull together teams to work on larger clients with what they call “unique needs”. It’s a half a step forward but it falls over under the heading of non-biased recommendations because they’re still having to service separate P&Ls and fragmented budgets.
But there is a shift underway. Just last week, Clemenger Group launched LogicalMagic, a dedicated team built to meet Myer’s digital needs which, in a first for Clemenger, brings people from separate agencies under one P&L.
Last month Ogilvy announced it was going to try and put the toothpaste back in the tube and reorganise its agencies around a single bottom line. So there’s a recognition from one of the biggest agency groups in the world that that’s the best way to go.
Can they do it? Nothing’s impossible but it’s not just a matter of telling the finance department that they don’t want siloed budgets anymore. Success requires people to be able to work with more of a 360-degree view of what’s required, not just what’s required of them. They’ll have to rewire a lot of attitudes and entrenched habits.
The new full-service job description
This new full-service agency model requires people who won’t say, “That’s not my job”. They’re hard to find in big agencies. People have a mindset that they’ve been employed to do one thing and that’s all they do, albeit they are masters of that task.
Deep understanding of the requirements and implications for other roles as much as excelling in your own, is a skillset that got lost in the agency unbundling era more than a generation ago. Most people today have only worked for one agency discipline all their career. They might have met people from other agencies in meetings and group briefings, but they have no empathy for or understanding of how others go about their job or get the best results. The argument, then, is how do you collaborate properly if you’ve got no idea what the fuck the other person really does? And true and effective collaboration is key to delivering the benefits clients need from a properly integrated offer.
It’s not just a matter of bolting the media department on. It’s about getting media, digital, and data people working so closely together you can’t tell who does what. Add to that an open-minded, fast learning creative team and that’s where you get the best results. Still, it’s not just the relationships between those people, it’s also where data and tech fit.
We all talk about ‘test and learn’. The way to run the best test and learn model is to have all these people – media, digital, data and creative – doing the testing and the learning together.
Right now, our clients are being kept awake at night by fragmenting audiences. They’ve got a massive data overload because they’re getting more information about their customers and how they’re behaving than they can handle. They’re not sure how to pick out potent consumer-centric insights to drive their strategy forward. To do that, a different way of thinking is required. Different processes need to be put in place to capture and action these insights in a way customers will respond to.
I want to dispel the myth of the village model, the idea that, “We’ll just put them all in the same room and it’ll be the same thing.” It won’t.
I don’t pretend that we have all the answers. We all learn new things every day, and with the rate of change technology is bringing to the market, if anybody says they do, they’re bullshitting you.
Right now, we can see a clear way forward. This is the first time we have joined the talk fest on this topic, but we’ve already put our money where our mouth is.
Craig Flanders is the CEO of full-service agency Spinach