How Calibr8or calibrates the strengths and capabilities of media 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.

The article this week about the anonymous disquiet in some sectors of the media industry about the launch of the Calibr8or system is amusing to say the least, because it is exactly this sector that the system has primarily been developed to help.

So I want to take you beyond the sensationalist 800 odd words that makes a Mumbrella story (perhaps they believe their readers are incapable of sustaining concentration on a story longer than five or six paragraphs?) and explain what Calibr8or is and what it is designed to do.


First, to directly address some of the fallacies put to us by Mumbrella regarding Calibr8or:

  • You have to pay for inclusion – FALSE. There will be at least 30 Agencies assessed initially. Any Media Agency not included that wishes to be included can register for future inclusion.
  • When using the Calibr8or system in the early stages of the pitch process only those Agencies that subscribe to Calibr8or would be put forward by TrinityP3. FALSE. Every Agency will be assessed based on it’s Calibr8or profile and suitability to the needs of the prospective client.
  • Agencies that subscribe to Calibr8or will be scored more favourably. FALSE. However Agencies that subscribe to Calibr8or will be significantly better informed on how they compare to their competitors and as a function of this will be in a stronger position to improve the quality of their offering across time.

It’s an idea right out of the industry itself

When Stephen Wright returned to TrinityP3 after spending two and a half years as New Business Director at Starcom MediaVest, he was full of stories about the frustrations on being on the other side of the pitch fence. He had participated in consultant-managed pitches, client-managed pitches and procurement-managed pitches. Some the agency was successful in and some not. But there were some essential themes that emerged and some trends that were already developing.

He said one of the biggest challenges for a media agency was to be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors as part of the pitch process. With every Agency professing competitive advantage (in word at least) it was very hard for clients to determine meaningful differentiation and the selection process often defaulted to trading and ‘a race to zero on price’.

After all, if every agency had the tools, the people, the systems, the trading position, the expertise, the skills, then all you are left with is how cheap can you buy and how little you will charge. It becomes the ultimate commoditisation of the category.

Even if you do have a competitive advantage in perhaps your trading desk or your optimisation systems, how easy is it for a competitor to completely negate it by saying all those tools are pretty much the same?

The difference between media agencies and all other agencies in a pitch

We manage all types of pitches. Creative, digital, mobile, event, promotional, experiential, social, PR, and of course media. The difference between all of these and media is there is usually an output of the work all of these agencies do for other clients.

However, the work a media agency does for a client is largely hidden or can only really be demonstrated through the strategic, planning and trading process, which is often dry and difficult to follow.

Meanwhile other agencies have tangible pictures and videos to show and tell that are interesting, entertaining and elicit an emotional response, both positive or potentially negative, from a potential client. (Perhaps this is why creative agencies appear to win so many media awards?)

This is why in media, many advertisers and procurement default to having the agency prepare plans to mythical briefs (or real ones) and require them to cost these, with the agency knowing they will be compared and assessed by the cost per thousand and CPM and total cost and not the quality of the thinking underpinning the strategy.
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Pitch for the Stars: 5 things to look out for in a great media agency

This post is by David Angell, General Manager, Melbourne, and National Head of Media at TrinityP3. In these roles, David brings his media-specific, broader commercial and relationship expertise to bear on a diverse range of projects with one core objective – achieving beneficial results for our clients.

Media agencies. They aren’t half polarising. At one end of the opinion spectrum: skilled, trusted and increasingly strategic practitioners, using sophisticated tools and technology to deliver millions of dollars of their clients’ money, as well as expanding into increasingly diversified areas of service.

At the other end: shonky generalists, traders at heart who pass off other people’s ideas as their own (refer to various aggrieved network salespeople for details) and who ultimately cream far more off the back than they take from the front (so to speak).

Pitch for the Stars

Are things really changing?

There’s no doubt that media agencies of today are almost unrecognisable from as little as five years ago. In fact at UM, Mat Baxter doesn’t even want his media agency to be called a media agency any more, and having read his commentary, I can understand why.

So what’s real, and what’s rhetoric? Well – I don’t think many would disagree that change is a constant. I would also argue, based on fifteen years of media agency experience, that the degree of complexity faced by media agencies as businesses is huge, not least because they need to pick a path between the now, the next and the ideal.

Fitting all moulds, and then some

Trying to drive forward-thinking media strategy is hard when the fact is that right now, the bread and butter of any media agency is the trading of paid media – the majority of which, in dollar terms, sits in television.

A great deal of elasticity in skillset, mindset, envisioning, motivation and resource is required to pull everything off at once and I would argue that most of the bigger media agencies are creaking a bit under the pressure.

Pitch for the stars

So what does all this mean for the poor advertising or marketing client, trying to make the right choice of media agency partner? It means they have to go beyond traditional ways of assessing the worth of a media agency.

You all, I’m sure, know the fundamentals of what you need to assess – buying performance, a good strategic process, the right FTE, enthusiastic people, market knowledge, and competitive pricing are some of them. But these things should really be the must-haves – no agency should even be in the room without them. There is so much more to look for.

Call it a media agency or not, there are some big buttons to press in assessing a great agency from a good one. Here are five of them.

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8 personality types agencies may encounter in a new business pitch

This post is by Kylie Ridler-Dutton, Marketing Management Consultant at TrinityP3. Kylie is a discipline neutral specialist with consulting and implementation experience spanning across retail, alcohol, utilities and telecommunications.

One of the important factors in any pitch decision is how aligned the agency is to the advertiser’s culture. And while there can be some misunderstandings, it is important to make sure you know who you are pitching to, the culture of the business and the people employed there before you go to pitch.

Personality types in a pitch

If you have worked in the industry for long enough you would be well versed with the pitch process. This usually involves a practice run, who will attend the presentation, what format you present in and who is going to speak when.

The one area that you may skip over, which is easy to do as you try to pull together your approach, is who you are presenting to. It becomes a lot about you and your methods.

But remember the audience you are presenting to. The decision makers.

Running pitches is about the advertiser and what appeals to them. It is very hard to answer this question at this early stage as you have probably met only one or two key stakeholders at the initial brief. So the next best thing you can do is ready your audience and the room on the day to ensure you appeal to as many attendees as possible .

You only need one attendee with a negative experience to kill your chances when decisions are being made.

Here are a few tips on spotting some of the personality types that could be in attendance and whom you need to engage.

The Facilitator

Usually the person you have received the brief from or the person who owns the pitch. They already know in their mind what they want to see and tend to get carried away with the sound of their own voice to direct the conversation. This person needs to be politely swayed around to engage in your conversation and at the same time felt they were heard. They are eating into your time and need to be reminded of your agenda.

The Silent Assassin

They are analysing all the time. You may not notice them as they seem not engaged in what you are saying, however be assured they are taking down points on your response and probably taking note of who in your team is adding value or just in attendance. This person will have plenty to say in the stakeholder review.

The Type A Personality

They are ready to challenge you on every point for the sake of a good argument. Their agenda is to see how you think on your feet and how you solve a problem on the spot. It is important for them to know you are forward thinkers who can add value to their thinking. Give them the right energy without coming across as though it is an argument and they will be impressed.

The Loyalist

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The secret of marketing success in 2015: MIUAYGA

This post is by Nathan HodgesTrinityP3‘s General Manager. Nathan applies his knowledge and creativity to the specific challenges of marketing management, with a particular focus on team dynamics and behavioural change.

Clients often ask us if we see the same patterns in marketing organisations, processes and structures time after time, project after project. And for any consultant, the temptation is to say yes, because you assume that answer engenders a certain confidence on the part of the client. Oh good – you imagine they would think – they’ve got experience in working with this kind of challenge in other companies, and so they’ll be able to make short work of this project.

Make it up as you go along (MIUAYGA)

But the truth is that looking for the same patterns only gets you so far. It can certainly help with choosing the most effective techniques to apply during the process. It can also save a lot of time and money along the way. But so often – in fact nearly all of the time – the picture that finally emerges during a project is pretty much unique to the organisational, market or business challenge in question.

In a complex world you need innovation

That’s when you need to start breaking new ground and developing bespoke solutions and approaches if the objectives of the project are to be achieved.

But that’s also when a lot of clients start to get nervous, and start asking for case studies from overseas markets or examples of ‘best practice’ or models we’ve implemented with other clients.

This is because what some see as creativity, innovation or flexibility in the pursuit of an objective will always be seen by others (especially those with procurement in their job title) as simply ‘Making It Up As You Go Along’. (Or MIUAYGA, as I shall call it for the rest of this post, in the hope that it starts sounding like a martial arts discipline.)

The power of “making it up as you go along”

Last year, Oliver Burkeman wrote a short and tremendously entertaining article in the Guardian, titled ‘Everyone is just totally winging it, all the time’. First of all, it was intended as a source of relief to all those who assumed that they were the only ones practising a bit of MIUAYGA. Secondly, it presented a challenge  – try admitting this is what you’re doing now and again, and don’t be scared that you might be seen as less smart or less able as a result.

MIUAYGA is much more than something you hope no-one discovers you doing. In business – and especially in marketing – it’s incredibly important. Indeed, complexity theory and David Snowden’s hugely helpful Cynefin Framework would suggest that the past – or ‘best practice’ – is often a terrible predictor of the future, and that emerging or novel practice is the only sustainable approach to any complex system – a description which would certainly include every market, organisation, brand or roster that we’ve ever worked with at TrinityP3.

The trick is to have enough confidence in your business, your team and yourself to allow for a bit of MIUAYGA. Actually, to encourage it, and to get better at it, and to believe that it is often the difference between success and failure. This is tough to do, however, because in business we’re all a bit suspicious of it.

And there it is. MIUAYGA still somehow implies that you’re not as smart as you should be. Or that you’re not worth your salary. Or that you shouldn’t be in charge of as many people or as much money as you are.

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3 woolly stories for marketers this Lunar New Year

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.

As we approach Luna New Year, and with a family name Woolley 伍利, I was interested in what the Year of the Sheep / Goat / Ram had in-store for me, TrinityP3 and our marketing clients and friends.

In my research I came across an article by Victoria Li, CCTV America, who shared these five Chinese Idioms about Sheep. In reading these stories I found myself reflecting on two things. First, how so many stories (or Idioms) are universal and second, how they illuminate lessons for us today.

Year_Of_The_Sheep_2015As a thought provoker for marketers and their agencies everywhere, I have chosen three of the five stories to share with you here and will provide my take on the lessons for marketers for the coming Year of the Sheep.

Wool Comes From the Sheep’s Back


According to a Chinese fable, a government official in charge of the treasury promised his citizens a financial bonus at the end of the year. Everyone was very excited, except for one wise man who warned them that they whatever the official gave them came from the government treasury. Basically, the money they’re going to get, came from taxes that they paid anyway, so why should the people (sheep) be so happy when the bonus (wool) came from their own backs?

Lesson for marketers: At a time when there are way too many agencies wanting your business and when it seems that they are all offering you lower and lower costs, it is important to remember you get what you pay for and no more. The lower cost comes at a price, with either less experienced people, or the agency pocketing kick-backs from suppliers that they should be giving to you, or stinging you with surprise costs when they know you have little choice to meet your deadline.

It is your marketing budget, so spend it wisely. That is not always cheaply. It is better to focus on what you achieve or at worst what you get than simply what it costs. Because in the end the wool they are offering comes off your back in the first place.

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The secret to transitioning from print to digital media

This post is by Chris Sewell, Business Director at TrinityP3. Chris has a wide ranging knowledge of all areas of the advertising and procurement world and specializes in helping companies understand the environmental impact of their marketing spend.

Now don’t get me wrong here, an organised transfer of marketing spend away from printed materials to an efficiently managed investment in digital channels is the only game in town.

Unfortunately, in reality what happens is that the number of digital suppliers disproportionately increases, costs blow out and visibility of the process becomes blurred at best. You’ll still have a good view of the dwindling print spend but the money going into digital is now lost in the strange of acronyms and gobbledygook.

print digital spend

An example of how to wrestle back control

Firstly, it does depend on where you are on your transition away from print.

Let’s paint a picture using a recent project for a major company that shows how transition from printing to digital can be approached.

This company had a large annual spend with a traditional printer and as the contract was expiring their governance dictated that they had to go out and test the market.

Marketing already had a comprehensive digital strategy in place with their agency but were looking to the future and how new technology could replace traditional commercial print communication.

So their challenge was how to link the mandatory need to review the print contract while at the same time move away from printing in an orderly fashion.

From a procurement standpoint the signal ‘to go to market’ would automatically ring alarm bells with the incumbent. An easy win for them would be to just extract yet another ‘pound of flesh’ from the current supplier. It is after all more cost effective for the printer to retain business that it is to go find a replacement customer.

The alternative is to test the wider market and seek a larger reduction in the print spend. While this does tick the savings box, replacing one printer with a cheaper one will not help uncover opportunities to use more effective digital tools.

Staying with the traditional model of either a printer, print group or print focused manager, will only enable you to watch the print spend reduce year on year but is this quick enough and where is the money now going?

Finding a better mousetrap

Let’s return to the example company. They originally went to the wider traditional print market and could immediately see the financial cost benefits of switching printers. But where was the long term vision? What could these printers do to help the organisation move away from print when the digital alternatives were available?

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10 warning signs your Agency relationship is failing

This post is by Stephan Argent, CEO of Argedia Group and a member of the Marketing FIRST Forum, the global consulting collective co-founded by TrinityP3

Sometimes the decision to undertake an agency review is clear: International alignment. Competitive conflict. Regional mandates. Perhaps even irreconcilable differences.

But what if the reasons aren’t so clear yet there’s something gnawing at the back of your mind that an agency evaluation or review is something you should consider? Those reasons can often point to bigger issues and underscore the fact you’re not maximizing value from a particular agency relationship.

10 Agency relationship warning signs

So whether you’re contemplating a full agency review or thinking about a formal agency evaluation with agency search consultants, here are ten warning signs that your agency relationship isn’t as strong as it needs to be:

1. Team members are leaving and retention is becoming an issue

Whether it’s your team or at the agency, poor retention is an early warning sign that the relationship could use a check-up. If the team members are within your own organization, take extra time with an exit interview and really dig for the underlying causes. If the team members are on the agency side and you really valued their contribution to your business – find them on LinkedIn and ask for their feedback and perspective on the relationship.

2. New ideas aren’t forthcoming

When was the last time your agency came to you with a really innovative idea for your business? I’m not talking about an added service, I’m talking about the excited call or e mail that says, “hey, I’ve been thinking about your business and I’d really like to talk about how this could make a difference to your business…” If you’ve not had one of those calls in a while – why not?

3. It looks pretty but…

The creative is great and perhaps winning awards. But is it working? What do the numbers look like? What does the tracking study point to? And how’s the competition doing relative to your share? Are you maximizing real, measurable value from your current campaigns?

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Achieve internal alignment through agency search & selection – Case study

Client Category – NGO – Agency Search & Selection

Challenging Problem:

Given the structure and nature of the business the biggest problem was a level of service to the business across the various state-based offices and ever increasing costs with no benchmark for comparison. The Client worked on a project by project basis, both nationally and on a state market basis which allowed the agency to cost the project every time with great variation.

Agency search and selection

Creative Solution:

The first solution was to agree on finding an agency of the right size and fit for the Client that offered a full service, therefore streamlining the process so each State office would go through one point of contact for all briefs. The collaborative workshop process allowed all state and national stakeholders to participate and align in this selection process.

The second recommendation was to ensure the brief to the right agencies would clarify their desire to work with a NFP with limited budget.


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5 reasons why advertisers paying for pitches will not work

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.

Recently the new CEO of the Communications Council, Tony Hale, announced in a Mumbrella Google Hangout that he believed advertisers should pay agencies for pitching for their business.

This is a common belief held by many agencies and some advertisers. Currently the decision to pay for pitches sits with the advertiser. Tony believes that paying for pitches will make the process more disciplined. On the surface this looks like common sense, but the fact is that every time the industry tries to make this work it fails.

I have previously written on when and how advertisers should pay for pitches, or at least compensate the agency for some of their costs or pay for the intellectual property at a fair commercial rate. But a blanket policy of having advertisers pay for pitches is flawed and here is why it will fail:

1. How do you value the agencies participation?

When marketers consider payment for pitching the first consideration is, what is the advertiser actually paying for? With agencies reporting up to $100,000 in internal costs for some of the larger speculative creative pitches, is it the responsibility of the advertiser to compensate for this cost? Or are they paying for the out-of-pocket expenses of the agency for their external costs? And if so, does this include any freelance resources they choose to bring in?

The problem is that payment needs to be linked to compensating the agency for their participation. To do this we need to agree what is being compensated to ensure consistency. Getting this agreement is next to impossible as each advertiser and each agency has very different expectations.

2. How much should be paid before it becomes token?

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When agency pitches fail – seriously fail

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.

Pitching for new business, or defending business in a pitch can be highly stressful times for those involved – both agency and advertiser. It is under this pressure that Murphy’s Law of “if something can go wrong it will” thrives. But contrary to popular belief, it is not just the agencies that screw up a pitch.

Many advertisers have managed to screw up their own pitches, just as often as agencies have spoiled their own chance of success. The difference being that when an agency screws up they usually just bomb out. When an advertiser screws up, everyone knows about it and the advertiser is left with embarrassment.

So for more than a decade we have managed many hundreds of pitches, large and small, local and regional. But to use the language of Twitter, here are some of the more memorable #pitchfails

(I have not provided names to protect the guilty, but happy for speculation on trying to identify the parties involved)


Poor proof-reading

There was a flurry of pitching activity a year or so ago in this particular market and agencies were frantically trying to pitch for anything and everything on offer. RFPs were like a river of paperwork flowing into agencies and back out again and this one agency had clearly not employed a proof-reader before sending out their response.

While the agency had the right client on the front cover of their document, throughout the majority of references to the client names was one of their competitors who had gone to tender only a few weeks earlier.

It was certainly entertaining, but clearly a bit disturbing for the advertiser reading their competitor’s name all the way through the document. I think the agency should be given bonus points for reusing and recycling, but clearly it was not in a sustainable manner. #pitchfails

Poor time management

The only thing possibly worse than a lack of proof-reading is poor time management. The advertiser wanted to go to pitch as their incumbent was not proactive and worse, continually missing deadlines. The agency had argued that they were under-resourced and that they deserved one last chance to prove that it was better to be great than on-time, but they would this time deliver both.

On the day for the agency credential meetings, the advertiser had organised five agencies and the incumbent to meet at their office throughout the day, finishing with the incumbent last of all so they could compare the incumbent to “what was out there”. The day progressed well and the various agencies arrived (often early), made their presentations, answered and asked questions, built rapport and then left.

The final presentation time arrived and there was no sign of the incumbent. After 20 minutes the marketing manager phoned the agency to be told they were at an off-site meeting all day and would not be back in until tomorrow.

Needless to say they did not progress to the next stage of the pitch. #pitchfails

Cultural conflicts

One of the important factors in any pitch decision is how aligned the agency is to the advertiser’s culture. And while there can be some difficult misunderstandings, it is important to make sure you know who you are pitching to and the culture of the business and the people employed there before you go to pitch.

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