Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dear CEO, we need to talk about "integration"

As you know, there is much pressure to cut costs, everywhere, all the time. One of the areas consistently in the spotlight is the communications budget. Just how much are you paying your ad agency, digital agency, media agency, PR agency, media buying agency, social media agency, internal comms agency, shopper marketing agency, direct marketing agency...? And come to think of it - DO YOU NEED all those agencies? That's a lot of duplication right there. That's also a lot of meetings, confusion, lack of integration for your harried and harassed marketing team to deal with. Right?


So integration makes sense. Somehow you'll find a way (or ask your Lead Agency) to build a core team of big thinkers and surround them with excellent implementation specialists and get the agencies to build a simple yet complex workflow process that gives you the best talent you need, across disciplines, in one team. Not only will you cut down on duplication, you'll save money, you'll cut down on the time creative takes to get out, and everyone will be happy. Right?


Because what's actually eating up your agency fee and killing your creative product stone dead (along with a few of the creative talents working on your business) is your own processes.

Integration is the only way forward in order for marketers to make sense of every increasing channels and agency specializations.

But there is no point getting your agencies to integrate if your own business isn't.

Here are some thoughts to ponder (and with each one, please imagine the sound of money going down the drain):
  • Your junior marketing team is most likely briefing the agency on work that has not yet been agreed between your various silos.
  • The integrated agency team will start work, and sometimes do considerable work, and present to your junior team many many times before the presentation moves up to a more senior layer, at which point someone (possibly from one of those silos) will say: "why are we doing this?"
  • That might  require a debrief or a re-brief and so the cycle will continue. This time there is possibly a more aligned brief. This is good, although time and energy and money have been wasted.
  • After the agency has got through this stage, the work will be presented to the CMO, or the CFO, or the CEO, at which point someone might say: "I don't like it", or "why are we doing this?" And thus the agencies go back to the beginning.
  • Or the C-Suite are dabblers. Or everyone in the team is a dabbler. And they dabble with a bit of this, and move that to the right, and upweight this and can’t-we-also-mention that. An agency I was with recently was on revert 56 for a print ad. How different was it from revert 55, or 54, or even revert 21? Had it been materially improved? Would the consumer notice or care? What was the cost of that dabbling?
And worse than the fact that your team has literally flushed gajillions down the drain through this process, that's not the only cost.

The cost is the “creative tap closing". 

At a certain point creative teams, generally optimistic and determined to help you, will simply say the worst words imaginable if you're paying. 

"Just. Give. Them. What. They. Want". 

Those are expensive words. Because you are paying for talent and then forcing them to give you mediocrity. Which they will, eventually, just to get your job out the system.

This does not make them happy and it should not make you happy either. You may ask why agencies don't try and change your system to make it work better. Truth is they try, but often end up being bullied by the junior marketing teams to curry favour with their bosses. Once in a process workshop,  a brand manager admitted to briefing an agency to develop a promotion off a creative big idea that had been bombed. What? Yes, that poor promo agency worked for a month on work that could not possibly ever be approved. Why? Because the brand manager had a meeting scheduled with his boss in a month and needed something to present.  Do I need to play you the sound effect again?

What to do? *wrings hands*
  • Get your stakeholders to agree briefs and communication needs from a business point of view, before the agencies are briefed;
  • Give fewer but better briefs;
  • Give senior input early in the process;
  • Approve the big ideas early, before the agency has developed the full campaign;
  • And - and I love this - institute a Wastage Report. Anyone in your Marketing Team that goes over a maximum of 4 reverts has to sign off the responsibility for it. They have to answer whether it was really really necessary to move the logo to the left and change the type to blue? These reports must be evaluated at the end of each quarter/6-months/year. It's dead easy to see who's costing the company money, time and good work. If someone is repeatedly going over 4 reverts, then they are either not briefing well, or the approval process is flawed, or they are a frustrated creative director. All costly habits.
The result of these simple changes?

Gajillions saved. Happy shareholders. Happy creatives. Good work. Happy consumers. Jingling tills.

Now we're talking.