Thursday, March 1, 2018

Trend spotting in the Adbiz, 2018: It's not on top, it's inside.

Every year I am asked to write something for BizCommunity on a trend I foresee, you know, in my crystal ball.

Image courtesy of Jannoon028 at

Most years it's a variation on a theme. More data, more insight, customised communication, the power of mobile...This year - it's something completely new.
Here's my 10 cents worth.

If I close my eyes and picture the world of marketing in 2018, two words come to mind.

They are Watershed Moment: “a critical turning point; a moment in time where everything changes; a point in time when nothing after will ever be the same.”[1]
But doesn’t everyone say that every year?

Yes, there are changes, and things have changed, so what would make 2018 a watershed moment, a critical turning point? Is it not simply a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same?

No. Because the truth is that almost everything has changed in the world of marketing communication.

The only thing that hasn't (enough) is how agencies and marketers work together.

And that’s where I believe the watershed is happening.

We all know that marketers are chasing increasingly tough numbers, and they are searching for innovation, efficiencies and integration to help deliver their goals. 
Unlocking the full benefits of technology is challenging (and full of opportunities) for marketing teams. Same for data. But a major blockage to increasing efficiencies and integration is how they work with agencies and how agencies work.

Marketers have always needed agencies to create the link between the business and the people who need to put their hands in their pockets. They needed agencies to unlock insights to create ideas to change behaviour. They needed agencies to decide where to place the messaging, to buy the space, and to implement the sometimes hundreds of elements across numerous channels. 

They still need a central concept (a big idea) which can be simply communicated based on insights and barriers and whatever will drive consumer behaviour. But more and more of the pieces of the puzzle could be done, and might make more sense to be done, in-house.

To quote industry commentator and guru, James Cannon-Boyce, in his article on curing your adsanity“There is the famous old adage about the CEO who said that they knew half their money was being wasted in marketing — they just didn’t know which half. That was from over a century ago — these days, the answer is that it’s not half that’s being wasted — it’s close to all of it. More and more, I feel that I am in the same meeting — it’s a bit like Groundhog Day if the Bill Murray character was a frazzled over-whelmed marketing executive and not a weatherman.”

Marketers already have their own insights departments (although sometimes generating  more information than insight). They have their own relationships with specialized production houses, or in-house production capabilities. They already have or are building their own social media and community management teams due to its always-on, strategic and tonality requirements.

There’s a growing sense that whoever owns the data has the power. 
As the CMO of said recently, "We have way more data than the agency has. I’d make a very strong case that anything that generates data, you need to own as a business. You cannot have anyone else be the expert."[3]

This seems especially true for brands born on the internet, as they have no “advertising legacy” and have direct relationships with their customers.

Take a look at the credits for the creative team listed by Adweek, in this latest campaign by Spotify

They look different because they are all in house. [4]

Yes, but that’s there, in the USA. How will this affect brands in SA, with historical relationships with agencies? Simply, there has to be change, on both sides.

The structure within corporates isn’t yet optimal either. They, as well as their agencies, will need to restructure to unlock the siloes, open the flows of insight and information, to reduce wastage and duplication (and cost).

The challenge to agencies is that as the outside bits are being eaten away, what happens to their business model? As John Mandel from Mediacom says, "They are still set up for fighting the last war. They haven’t really set themselves up for the future war. Instead they are trying to eek out gains from a model than needs to change, while always trying to upsell clients on services."[5]

I’m not proclaiming the death of agencies yet as there are a few stumbling blocks in the in-house agency vision. Marketers have not yet figured out how to properly integrate all the sources of insight - obviously digital (big, or rich data)  but also from places like the sales/customer channel. The creative piece remains essential and ever more vital. Unless you hire in this talent, it’s going to have to remain outside. Hiring issues, like BEE and to creative culture remain a concern. 

Here’s where a new agency model like Oliver can play its part. They build agencies inside companies. One of their White Papers quotes research that the shows the number of brands bringing digital in-house increasing at a staggering rate, and that by 2020, “54% of brands think they’ll bring previously outsourced functions back in-house to match the need for more agile marketing efforts”.[6]

Will agencies still play a role in the idea development – using insights to create powerful brand stories and platforms? I think they should. There is now an even more pressing need for cut through creative. But agencies have to be reimagined and reinvented if they intend to survive. And the reimagining of the business model is the most important aspect.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Agencies Must Fight For The Right To Be Creative

Ten years ago, I made the decision to open a new business after watching three bad (TV) ads in a row and having a EUREKA moment:
I needed to rid the world of bad advertising.
But how?

I thought of the great campaigns I'd been involved with in my 20 years experience ("great" meaning very creative and astonishingly successful for the brand and business) and tried to isolate what made them possible.

Brave work? Tick
Brave client? Tick
Strong Relationship? Tick

Okay, good.

But what MADE those things possible?

Brave work needs to be sold. Brave work can only be sold by a team that has taken into account the possible risks the brand and business faces, and has mitigated those risks based on the strong possibility of success. This takes skill and wisdom and strategic ability. Equally, a brave marketer needs to have astute evaluation and feedback skills and the ability to hear their instinct over their fear. A strong relationship is based on trust, based on a true belief that the other person knows what they are doing. Look up the word "trust" and you get words like:
  • to rely on
  • to depend on
  • to believe
  • to expect confidently
  • to rely on the integrity, strength, ability of...
This trust goes both ways. The agency has to trust the marketer as much as the other way round. You trust each other.

It's not a blind, stupid, trust. It's a trust based on cumulative experience and knowledge and track records and understanding business.

So the concept of Adtherapy was born: to help marketers and agencies work better together to get the best possible work, because it works better.

I'm not going to rehash the argument of why this is so, (if you want more, you can read my previous post here.)

Just quickly, here's a repeat of some of the cogent points:

The Case for Creativity reported on a research study commissioned by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising) and Thinkbox in the UK and conducted by acclaimed researcher Peter Field in 2010, entitled "The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness". Some key findings were:
  • Only about 0,001% of advertising wins a creative award, yet among highly effective campaigns (in this case winners of an IPA Effectiveness award), 18% are awarded. This means that there's on "over-index of 128,500" of how likely creative campaigns are to be effective.
  • In an analysis of "Excess Share of Voice" (ESOV, which correlates a brand's share of advertising with its share of market, Field found that the "Return On Investment (ROI) for a highly creative campaign is on average 11 times higher". ie... "you need to spend 11 times more on media for an uncreative production" to achieve the same result.
  • And, here's the kicker: Creatively awarded campaigns are more certain to achieve a higher rate of effectiveness by a "degree of confidence of 99.9%" as opposed to to non-awarded campaigns'  degree of confidence of 87%.
"What this implies is that less creative campaigns are not only less efficient, but also less predictable than creatively-awarded ones - something of a departure from the perceived notion that a more creative approach is a less certain one"
James Hurman, Author of the Case for Creativity

In short, creative advertising is much less risky than boring advertising.

But "things have changed in the last decade".

Digital is all pervasive. The word Advertising is a no-no. Content is King. No, Distribution is King. No, CONTEXT is King. There is constant debate about what is King, or Queen or the most important thing in communication today. They're all interesting points and all add to the ongoing evolution in this industry. But to me there is a simple point that's missing.

Luckily, today, two articles addressed this point, albeit in different ways.

Creative is King.

"COO Sheryl Sandberg and her team have been relentlessly experimenting with how to make ads more compelling despite the limitations of small screens. "Creativity’s never been so important," Sandberg says. "When TV ads [first appeared], people thought the creative was important. Then when you moved into online, what really mattered was the targeting. What we’re [now] seeing on the Facebook platform is that it’s both."

Or this one:
"Why have modern marketers shunned what will make them stand apart and define the new century by becoming cold, calculated, and analytical to the point where creativity has been ostracized? 
In this creative age (in which) we are crossing the chasm and entering, creativity is the main differentiator."

In the article quoted above, by Geoffrey Colon, he imagines the characteristics of people he would hire for his own agency, that would define the "new century marketer". They will probably not surprise you. They are:
  1. Intellectually curious
  2. Always listening
  3. Empathetic, inclusive and ethical
  4. Learns, unlearns, relearns
And these wonderful attributes will help solve the problem he raises of marketers becoming more analytical but less interesting. As he says, "machines can do analytics better than any of us will be able to do. But empathy? That’s more difficult for machine learning to mimic."

But wait. 

Agencies HAVE these types of people don't they?

So why are they not allowed to do what they're good at; creating empathetic work that differentiates the brand and connects to consumers' deepest motivations?

That's sadly an easy one to answer. Marketers often under perform in this critical area, that of unlocking the creativity of their agency partners for their own business success. Why?

  • They are disconnected from their consumers.
  • They lack insight.
  • They are prescriptive.
  • They issue terrible briefs due to all of the above.
  • They are not brave. In fact, they are terrified by the stresses of shareholder delivery, Quarter-itis, and internal politics.
  • They lack of evaluation and feedback skills.
  • And so they lack confidence.

The effect of all this on agencies?

Complete demoralisation. Many of the best people I know in the industry feel bowed down, crushed, by their lack of "professional freedom". By which I mean, crushed by clients forcing them to do work they don't believe in, based on their considerable skills, experience and expertise.

The upshot? Good talent will leave the industry. And the industry, and its clients, will be the poorer for it. Or the good agencies will end those oppressive client relationships. Those marketers will get the advertising they deserve. And the true giants, true leaders, will continue to nurture creativity, to innovate and break barriers. And soar.

That's why agencies need to fight for the right to be creative. And when I say fight, I don't actually mean fight! I mean persuade, convince, inspire. Great agencies have to produce great creativity to keep their souls from self destructing. It's their lifeblood. But it's a win-win because it turns out that great creativity is also a key driver of brand success. 

Of course, they shouldn't have to fight. But the fight is real and fight they must.


Adtherapy works with Marketers and Agencies to help them work better together so that they create better work. Contact Gillian Rightford on, +(27)(0)832659099 or visit our website if you want to know more.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Better Client-Agency relationships lead to better Commercial Creativity. And that's a good thing.

Some time back I wrote a blog based on a report called "A is for Alliances", published by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising), in the UK. (Images below are from the report. Download it here)

In it, they provide real justification for the age old saying that Clients get the agencies they deserve.

Aprais, a renowned Business Relationship Management Consultancy, reckons that there is as much as a 37% differential in the quality of creative output between poor and good client-agency relationships.

Unless you've been under a rock you know already that better creative is a better business building tool - more effective, more efficient, better ROI. (If you're still unconvinced, please read The Case for Creativity. Again, if need be).

So adding the Apprais research and The Case for Creativity findings together, we get a simple equation:

Good relationship = good work = better results.

Scientifically proven, even!

My mantra when I started Adtherapy ten years ago was similar:

Better skills = better relationships = better results.

How I got to this piece of intuitive brilliance? By working back from the great campaigns I'd been involved with, and realising there was always a strong client-agency partnership behind them. And when I unpacked what was at the root of those partnerships, it was obvious. Skills. Other things too - chemistry, culture compatibility, bravery, fun. But skills meant that each party respected each other and had confidence in each other. That  'trust' thing.

One of my clients told me that she would jump off a mountain, that our Executive Creative Director was like her parachute; that was the extent to which she trusted him (and us). The work we did for her got her death threats and nearly got her fired, but catapulted their business into the stratosphere, so she knew what 'brave' meant.

What drives successful Client-Agency partnerships?

The IPA has come up with 4 basic drivers of good partnerships. They are:
  1. Transparent and effective approval processes
  2. Mutually agreed and maintained timing plans
  3. Honest and open briefings with clear business objectives, budget, timing and brand guidelines
  4. Respectful and collaborative behaviours built on shared goals and rewards.

So simple. And yet, and yet, and yet...

  • Many briefs are terrible. Lacking in information, too long, no clear thinking, prescriptive, pedantic, clumsy, no insight.
  • Many times the business objectives and the brand objectives are muddled and are not clear.
  • Consumer understanding is limited and basic or super surface-level.
  • These horrible briefs are often emailed; not even presented in person.
  • Agency sometimes questions the briefs, but this creates a disharmony - "why are they being so argumentative"?
  • Deadlines bear no resemblance to reality - they are imposed from the outside in, because of an internal deadline.
  • Then the work that comes back is used as a guide to what the client team doesn't want, doesn't like.
  • There are few evaluation skills, few skills that help in giving constructive feedback. B.t.w. - "it makes me want to vomit" is not a good one.
  • Approvals become about second guessing the bigger boss, and then the next bigger boss, because many of the corporate marketing teams operate in a culture of fear and 'what would s/he like'?
  • And would you believe it, because of all of this to-ing and fro-ing, deadlines are missed.
  • And the agency is "useless".

Many of these marketers and agencies willingly submit to relationship audits, every month, twice a year, whatever, to 'measure the relationship'. Issues are raised, concerns are flagged. Until the next audit, when the same issues are raised and concerns are flagged.

What to do? *wrings her hands*

Back to Adtherapy maths formula.

Better skills = better relationships = better results.

What to do? Put the skills in place to make it work. Then, get some Partnership Principles in place. And move forward happily - or don't. You may both be wrong for each other. Acknowledge it and move on instead of perpetuating an unsuccessful relationship.

What are Partnership Principles?

The work done in the IPA exercise highlighted the concept of a Relationship Contract. Agencies and clients have lengthy legal contracts (which are often not signed because they spend so much time bouncing between lawyers) and detailed fee agreements but no real contract on how to work together. An example from Avis and DDB from the 1960's shows us how it's done.

From A is For Alliances, IPA

To get you started, you could consider the advice given by Gotz Ulmer, Executive Creative Director at Germany's best agency, Jung von Matt. He said they have three simple rules for working with clients. They ask:

1. Are we making money?
2. Are we doing great work?
3. Are we having fun?

If they can't answer 'Yes' to at least 2, then it's not the right agency-client partnership for them. 

Then make sure you ad your client have the right skills.

What are these magical skills, I hear you cry? Interestingly, I believe the same set of skills is required by both parties at the coalface - namely the agency account manager/strategist team, and the brand/marketing manager. They are the fulcrum of the relationship and need to manage up, manage resources, manage conflict and manage the risk.

Some of the skills are 'hard', some are 'soft'. This is not a complete list, but here are some:

  • Hard: Brand strategy, positioning, segmentation, consumer behaviour, real insights, writing exceptional briefs, evaluating creative, integrated media options (including digital), budget management.
  • Soft: Giving constructive feedback, being inspiring, managing conflict in a positive way, selling up the organisation, effective communication, body language, building teams, presenting well.

Honestly, if you are managing clients , or are managing an agency relationship without being super skilled in these areas, you are wasting other people's time and money. 

The whole point of having an agency is that they are able to bring to the business a degree of commercial creativity that will drive your business forward. A little like the man with the ladder in this picture:

Work together well, and both your businesses will thrive. Work together badly, and both your businesses will suffer. Or at least not do as well as they could. And you will get the advertising, and the agency, you deserve.

Adtherapy is premised on helping agencies and marketers work better together to develop better quality creative output, because it is better for business. We have numerous training options from Creative Fitness for marketers to Account Leadership for agencies, to a fully fledged suite of modules for up-skilling marketing teams in our new Business Marketing Academy. And we consult too!  
Browse our offerings on or email me on or talk to me on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook. Or just stop me in the street.

(Ladder man image courtesy of by JessaPhorn)