How marketers can encourage greater creative value from their agencies

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

We undertake extensive agency remuneration benchmarking and one of the outputs of this process is determining the efficiency of the client / agency relationship. When we identify particularly inefficient relationships we will then investigate further to determine the causes.

Typically the main issues causing inefficiencies include:

  1. Poor briefing processes
  2. Misalignment of expectations
  3. Miscommunication
  4. Under-remuneration
  5. Flawed approval processes
  6. Different interpretations of creativity
  7. Challenging relationships
  8. Cultural clashes

But instead of providing our recommendations on how to address these issues and encourage greater efficiency, effectiveness and creative value, I would go to the source. I would go to the CEOs of the agencies that are regularly recognised for creative excellence, not just in Australia and New Zealand, but those recognised regionally across Asia Pacific and on the global stage.

CEO_Article_ImageThe agency CEOs I spoke with include, (from left to right starting at the top):

Let’s look at what these agency CEOs have to say on the issue of encouraging greater creative value. In no particular order, here they are.

Poor briefing processes

Briefing is a long standing problem because of the concept of Garbage In, Garbage Out. That is why many agencies provide training for marketers on how to brief them. Does yours?

“Brief writing – it amazes me how the art of brief writing has been lost and I would encourage clients to train their teams to know how to brief agencies well and be single-minded. We love holding brief writing sessions for clients and they get a huge amount out of it.  A few hours a day invested is well worth it”. – Nick Garrett, CEO, Colenso NZ

One solution that takes this idea a step further is to actually write the brief together.

“Co-authored briefs; they result in better ideas that are more likely to be bought as everyone has buy-in”. – Andy Pontin CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

Many believe that context is important and that the broader the context the better able the agency is to solve the problem and provide the solution.

Thorough briefing – on the business problem and not just the advertising deliverables”. - Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

“Brief on genuine business problems vs advertising requests”. – Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

“Describe the business objective – not just the marketing objective”. – Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

“Brief customer engagement rather than (media) channel plans”. – Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

“Share as much information and insight as possible”. – Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

And that the best briefs are where you are able to go beyond your comfort zone.

“Share the truth no one else has either noticed or the guts to share”. – Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

That ultimately if your agency is not providing the strategic or creative solution you need, it will be because they did not understand the problem.

“Be as explicit as possible around problems or issues”. – Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

The best solutions come from defining and understanding the best problems.

“Don’t confuse the problem with objectives – one you solve, the other you achieve”. - Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

Misalignment of expectations

Often we expect alignment of expectations to simply happen. But one of the most obvious areas where misalignment occurs is in the creative product.

“Share and discuss examples of work you like and don’t like – it helps set expectations”. – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

It will not just happen automatically and therefore the process should be planned and managed.

“Sit down with your agencies to regularly talk about great creative work and thinking wherever its from. Sometimes when you get the window to look at work from other countries, companies and categories it makes it less personal and you realise you are both inspired and excited by the same things”. – Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

But beyond creativity, it is important to define and agree expectations in performance and success.

“Agree up front what success looks like and how it will be measured”. – Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

Alignment of expectations increases the level of collaboration and effort.

“A clearly articulated shared ambition around the work; what does success look like?”. - Andy Pontin CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

Miscommunication

Often marketers will feel they must handle the agency with kid-gloves.

“Don’t sugar coat feedback”. – Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

But not if this gets in the way of clarity and honesty.

“Cultivate a culture of honesty – be frank with your agency team and ask them to do the same with you”. – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

Under remuneration

Agency remuneration is about paying for what you want.

“Pay them well. The better paid agency can attract the best people”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

“Invest to grow”. – Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

“Build the ideal agency team together. Don’t make assumptions about what they can and can’t do”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

And, where possible, use remuneration as an incentive.

“Reward them for performance. Ensure they are focused on what you are focused on”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

But beyond remuneration there is a priceless reward that costs so little.

“Always say thank you for the hard yards the junior people put it. That  discretionary effort is priceless”. – Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

Flawed approval processes

When it comes to feedback they recommend it is best to be cruel to be kind.

“A quick no is a lot better than a slow maybe. By this I mean if you know an idea isn’t right then let your agency know immediately, good agencies know there are always better ideas out there but dragging something on for months is soul destroying and financially inefficient”. – Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

But when providing feedback make sure you are solving the problem and not just changing the solution.

“Provide strategic, not creative, feedback – resist the urge to make creative changes, providing strategic guidance around areas requiring further development instead”. – Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

“Judge the idea not the execution. Simple in words but very few are able to genuinely do this, its a real skill”. – Nick Garrett, CEO, Colenso NZ

“Think ideas not executions”. – Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

Because ultimately the idea is strategically on brief or it is not.

“Great ideas aren’t on brief, then leave it behind – great creatives write from the brief not to it”. - Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

But your role is not to kill ideas, it is to see the value in the ideas.

Don’t be the devils advocate. Work out how things can happen not what might go wrong”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

And that means understanding your brand but, more importantly, your customers.

“An ability to put themselves in the shoes of the audience, rather than apply their own perspective. I’ve never seen a brief where the target audience is ‘mid-level marketing and product managers’, but this is the audience that reviews (and kills) most of the work”. – Andy Pontin CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

“Show you understand what makes people tick – empathy is a wonderfully strong emotion”. – Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

The best way to get alignment around the strategy, and therefore the execution, is collaboration.

“Make key stakeholders in the business available at key briefing, brainstorming, review stages and executional stages, if required – including the media agency and any other key marketing partners”. – Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

Different interpretations of creativity

At the core of the relationship between the marketer and their agency is the creative process and product.

“Stay focussed on the big idea – don’t be distracted by the details”. - Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

“Embrace creativity. Show an interest. Not just in advertising creativity but broader creativity”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

The creative process is fraught with risk, and huge rewards if you get it right.

“We would love clients to expect to be a little nervous in a healthy way about the best work – it’s natural and a good thing. The power of ‘I don’t know’ is amazing and by that I mean just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. So while we may not know how to make / do / execute something at the moment of presenting we will and you have to trust us”. – Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

“Don’t restrain the agency, you can always pull them back but it is harder to push them out there”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

“Be curious. Be bold. Accept risk”. – Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

One of the most difficult aspects of creativity is the lack of rules.

Playing by the rules tends to be highly ineffective and inefficient”. – Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

But at its best it is a co-creation process with both marketer and agency making a contribution.

Get involved in the creative process, not just the creative solution – be available to review and discuss creative work in progress as it evolves”. – Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

But the creation of the idea is not the end of the process.

“Believe in ideas and execution. An idea is the starting point. Once you see a good idea, try to take it from good to great”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

Challenging relationships

The relationship with the agency should extend beyond account management and beyond marketing.

Allow agencies to get access to all facets of your business and people. Only talking to and spending time with marketers won’t make the work better and it doesn’t give us them credibility when helping you sell thinking to stakeholders”.

“The same is true for access to CEO’s and the executive teams…great agencies need to know what is keeping them awake”. – Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

Remember that the agency are experts too, so take advantage of this.

“A transparent relationship where agency accepts that client has superior expertise in some areas (product knowledge, commercial expectations etc.) and client accepts that agency has superior expertise in other areas (consumer insight, creative execution)”. – Andy Pontin CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

“Listen. Take advantage of the experts around you who are experts at what they do”. - Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

But if the relationship becomes challenging then look for the tension points.

“Release a cultural tension that no one else has realised”. – Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

At the core of a productive relationship is one based on trust and mutual respect.

“Treat agencies as partners not suppliers”. – Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

“Trust the agency”. – Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

Cultural clashes

For a creative industry it is clear that a positive approach delivers positive results.

Show enthusiasm to do great work – this is highly motivating for the agency team”. – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

“Freedom from fear – no one does their best work under a cloud of panic or anxiety”. – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

“Try. It’s ok if you try and fail with brave ideas, but it’s not ok if you fail to try”. – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

But the last word about creativity and relationship management is best summed up here.

“In a world of constant change and re-evaluation, it’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about being more interesting”. – Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

These agency CEOs have a very clear and consistent view on how their clients work with them to encourage creativity. Clearly there is an opportunity to simply talk with your agency.

What do you think?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is called a Pitch Doctor, Negotiator, Problem Solver, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Strategic Marketing Management Consultants and a founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum. He is also an Ex-scientist, Ex-Creative Director and a father of three. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com
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2 Responses to How marketers can encourage greater creative value from their agencies

  1. alan snedeker says:

    The comment I liked the best “Allow agencies to get access to all facets of your business…"
    Not sure if that was from Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ…or not. Why my fav? Because I put two campaigns on the air by clients that allowed me to talk to their scientists. Something not normally done. On the other hand too few agencies even think about those other folks involved in product. When Stanley wanted to consolidate brochures, and asked all its agencies for suggestions…I was the only person, among all the agencies to call Stanley Sales Managers and get their views. We got the account because of that.

    The comment I liked the least: “Share and discuss examples of work you like and don’t like – it helps set expectations”. – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia. Why the dislike? Advertising is the agency's business….and it should make it clear to any client what its philosophy is up front. That's your expertise. After a career on Madison Avenue I worked freelance for 15 years for one of the best marketing consulting firms in the USA manned by ex corporate execs who thought they could osomose creativity…who thought they knew what advertising had to do…and they were wrong in just about everything they did when it came to advertising. Advertising wasn't what they did and thought about 24/7.Not when they were marketing execs. Not as consultants.

    Be the expert and prove your expertise and teach if you have to. I also find it interesting that no one mentioned sales. In other words what advertising has produced sales..if anyone knows. Being creative should have one goal….sales. And not every ad that sells is going to wow people. I introduced a toy to America with a talking head table top commercial. The toy sold out in stores in 3 weeks… and the commercial helped generate a thirty million dollar licensing fee paid by Hasbro to Takara, the toy's manufacturer. Hasbro the renamed the toy "Transformers."..and re-introduced the line with frenetic animation…. typical toy advertising. My ad wasn't creative as it was smart and within budget. Our business is about sales…not creativity.

  2. Dave Reyburn says:

    The wisdom in this piece is often cited, but unfortunately more frequently forgotten. As such, the principles bear repeating. Often. Thanks for the timely– and timeless– article.

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