Full service is more than just a bloody buzzword

Opposing foosball players wearing blue and white standing divided

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Australian agencies have a habit of slapping on the words “full-service” with little to no understanding of what it really means. And to make matters worse, no one even questions it.

There’s a wrongful and oversimplified perception in the market that full service can be achieved by simply bolting a couple of departments onto your existing offering or sitting creative and media people beside each other before stepping back to watch the magic happen. Let me tell you, it won’t.

Anyone can get some people in the same room but that’s not enough to make your agency full-service.

The divisions of creative and media have been split for so long, people from each discipline often don’t understand how the other works, or indeed what is good work from their point of view.

So they simply don’t know how to help each other. And unless you have one P&L, your people are going to have turf wars from their siloed departments as everyone tries to protect their own revenue and bonuses.

Defining full service

It seems like every week I read about some full-service creative agency this, full-service media agency or full-service digital agency that. It’s bullshit. You can’t be full-service and only practice one discipline.

Those of us actually providing fair dinkum full service define it as genuine collaboration across all functions including insights, data, media, technology and creativity with the end goal generating the best results for our clients.

To really do full-service requires people who have more than an interest in what’s going on in the other parts of the business.

Good advertising people don’t think in silos – they have a 360-degree view of marketing. Whether they’re a creative director, a media director, or a data analyst, they’re still an advertising person.

And the good ones in those positions have a single-minded focus on uncovering and acting on the insights that form the platform to deliver the best result for their clients.

Full-service agencies today have to be different from the original full service back in the day.

The main reason for that is the fragmentation of the media landscape and the way we all consume media now versus the way we used to consume it in the mid-’80s and early ’90s.

Going back to basics

I might be biased but I genuinely believe true full-service agencies offer clients a superior service and the reason for that goes right back to the basics.

Early in my education in this crazy business, I was taught a fundamental principle at the heart of advertising: some creative ideas you only need to see once or twice to get the message, but other ads need a frequency of four or five before you get the point.

Obviously, the campaign plan needs to be different for each case. True advertising people – whether they are from creative or media – instinctively understand that.

But usually when a client rings a stand-alone media agency, nine times out of 10, the media people don’t even ask what the creative looks like.

They probably won’t even see it until they’re watching TV one night or they get retargeted.

So how can any media plan created by a stand-alone media agency be respectful of what the creative person has produced?

In that scenario, what you’re doing is wasting your client’s money one way or the other and that doesn’t even take into account many of the other factors that impact channel selection and execution.

The same applies to a creative person writing ads for a digital campaign without having the consumer journey context or the re-targeting strategy explained to them. It’s just a dumb way to do things.

As Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” That’s what’s at the heart of full-service. In an unbundled scenario, clients might be paying for talent but they’re not guaranteed to get the teamwork.

In short, delivering on the full-service promise might look as simple as hiring an ECD or a high-profile media director but it’s far more difficult than you think. It’s a very long road as you attempt to unravel and re-ravel what the industry has spent 20 years separating. And that’s a big deal.

The truth of the matter is that full service is so much more than a bloody buzzword and it’s high time we started calling out agencies that treat it like one.

Craig Flanders

A passionate advocate for the strength of full integration shaped by 25 years in advertising where he’s held a number of senior management roles, Craig oversees all aspects of our integrated offer.