Managing Marketing: The major challenges facing Marketers and their Brands

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Bill Merrick, Managing Director of TrinityP3 UK has had an extensive career as both a marketing director and in regional and global roles on the agency side. Here he chats with Darren on the challenges facing marketers with growing expectations from boards and shareholders, greater accountability, increased demands on their time and resources and reduced average tenure in the role.

BillMerrick

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’m joined by Bill Merrick who is the Managing Director of TrinityP3 U.K. and we’re here in London because TrinityP3 U.K. is up and running, so, welcome, Bill.

Bill:

Thank you, Darren; it’s great to be here.

Darren:

And welcome to the TrinityP3 group of companies or “The Gang” as we like to call them.

Bill:

Well I must admit I love being a gang member so I’m enjoying it very much so far.

Darren:

Well you know it’s when we start inking in tattoos with our textas and markers that you know you’re really part of the gang.

Bill:

Do I have to scrub the ones I’ve already got?

A diverse career

Darren:

Look, Bill, one of the great things is that you have the perfect experience for what we do because you’ve got that incredible balance of being both previously a marketer and managing some big global accounts from an agency side, so if you don’t mind I wouldn’t mind exploring some of those things.

Bill:

Sure, that’s great. I mean it does go back a bit further than just the marketing and the backwards and forwards between agency and marketing director because I started my life in retailing as a graduate trainee with Woolworths in Australia and ended up being the new store-opening manager for Target in NSW.

Darren:

Wow, so you’ve even been at the coal face, as they call it.

Bill:

I have, and then I went on to the Mars Corporation where I was the Sales Training Director and then State Manager doing major negotiations with Woolworths, Coles and Safeway. After that I ran Taubmans, the paint company in the southern states for a year before I moved into agency.

Darren:

Wow, so this means you can also appreciate the chasms that often form within organisations between for instance marketing and sales?

Bill:

Well I can. I mean it was interesting my first job was with an American agency called Scali McCabe Sloves in Melbourne, and in fact they were looking for somebody to be a board director who wasn’t what they called “an empty suit” because they realised that more and more of their problems came from marketing directors who didn’t know what the answer was.

Darren:

Right.

Bill:

So with my experience on both supply chain, selling, marketing, retail it was the great start to the revolution in marketing communications, which is “do everything” not just the one thing.

University backgrounds vs coming up through the business

Darren:

Do you think that’s part of the issue today because certainly since the recession in the late 80’s marketers seem to have come more and more from university courses than they have through the business, especially in the large global companies?

Bill:

I think that’s a very good point. I mean it’s a big issue, and it’s an increasingly big issue trying to find people who are, not educated in that, but experienced in those things, who have actually seen how supply chains work, how manufacturing works, how procurement works, understanding the complexities between those.

A lot of them come straight from university, go into product management roles and then go into brand management roles then marketing director roles without seeing the commercial side of the operation so they have no real understanding of where it fits from a commercial point of view or within the business.

We talk about the difference between marketing objectives and business objectives, there’s a chasm in understanding there.

Darren:

Marketing should be positioned as part of the commercial drivers of a business so it must be incredibly difficult to see your role in an overall business if you only have a marketing perspective to bring to that wouldn’t it?

Bill:

I’m not sure how you can do it. I really feel sorry for my colleagues over the years who have actually done it that way and end up lost. If you look at the tenure of an average marketing director at the global level it is 18months and then most of them actually move onto another role but it’s diminished constantly.

They tend to go down once they’ve hit their peak and they don’t seem to be able to find their way back and you’re looking at that more and more. In the States you don’t take a marketing director’s job if you’re sensible anymore. You actually move off into private enterprise or go into consulting because it’s just too dangerous an occupation.

Marketing Director: a dangerous role

Darren:

Yeah, so this idea of a long-term marketing career, if I’m hearing you the right way, is the peak is you hit global marketing director or even marketing director in a single market and then it’s where to from here? Because the transition from business is only possible if you have the commercial understanding of how the whole business works.

Bill:

Right. If we look back to the 60’s and 70’s or even before that the 50’s and 60’s, the CEO’s of organisations came from manufacturing or were experts in manufacturing or finance.

Then it moved into the era of the marketing director becoming the CEO. That didn’t last very long. It lasted about 15 years. Then after that it became the finance people who move in or the operations or even in some instances the IT directors.

I think what’s happened is the marketing department became the advertising department and has had trouble going back to being a proper marketing department understanding their role commercially in organisations.

If I look at the single biggest mistake that I think lots of marketing directors get drawn into it is that the agencies they’re dealing with are so time consuming and can take up a lot of time if you allow it.

They spend their time there and not with their board members, with their finance people, the supply chain, with the manufacturing people, with the product design people. It’s the wrong focus in terms of how they should spend their day.

Darren:

So when you were operating at that level as marketing director, was that a regional or global role?

Bill:

It was a regional role in Asia-Pacific.

Darren:

So what would you say was your percentage of time actually thinking about advertising and agencies compared to those other areas that you’re talking about? You know boards, stakeholders, customers?

Bill:

Well to make sure I didn’t get drawn into all that, in fact it was something I’d been obsessed about for years, I hired the best person I knew in Australia to be my advertising manager and let her deal with the entire thing. And she did.

She did brilliantly so it meant that I could focus upon building relationships particularly since the company I was with was Compaq computers, all of our business was done through dealers, distributors, through a supply chain, that way.

You spend a lot of time with them building those relationships and it’s extraordinary what it can do to your margins, profitability and success, which is what we did.

So I would spend about 50% of my time with my other board members, about 40% with customers, and about 10% dealing with issues mainly on the public relations and investor relations side rather than advertising. Advertising was about 1% of my time.

Darren:

Yet agencies are wondering often why they can’t get any traction with the senior marketers or even the C-suite of an organisation when you’re saying at a regional marketing director level 1% of your time was concerned about it. I bet it was mainly solving problems rather than actually driving solutions.

Bill:

Normally when I had to see the managing director of an agency it was because there was an issue with their performance or somebody was getting offended by what they’d done. I think it’s sad that the best CEO’s I know of agencies, and I know lots of them, are the ones who want to talk to the board and the head of the marketing agency, sorry, the client, to actually resolve the business issues is to talk about the problems that the business faces.

I think the broader that a marketing director can actually talk, be spoken to by his agencies about what the business issues are, and how do they align the KPI’s to the business issues and not just the marketing issues, the more successful they are and the longer the relationship.

That fact is I think affirmed if you look at some of the longer term relationships in the world. They have been with agencies for 80 to 90 years. And these days the fashion is about two years and you’re dead.

Darren:

Yeah. Two to three years and people are inclined to… well you know you pointed out that marketing directors change, I think you said every 18 months. I’ve read 22 months but we’re talking less than two years. And one of the anomalies, not an anomaly, an alignment is that every time there’s a new marketing director there can be a new pitch for a new agency.

Bill:

Well that’s right, particularly with newer marketing directors or ones who get promoted it’s the way to get a profile quite quickly in the industry they love. So that I can get an invitation to Cannes, I can be wined and dined at great expense, and the problem is that then leads to an addiction with the distraction, which means that you’re never going to last long.

If you’re not out there where your customers are, if you’re not out there helping your board members solving the business problems then solving the agency’s problems for them is not going to keep you in your tenure for very long.

Darren:

Yeah, it’s true, and you see that where a marketer is very brand and advertising focused they’re usually more marginalised from the core business. Where a marketer is more customer focused and commercially focused they’re usually more integrated into the business.

Bill:

I think that’s true and I think it’s interesting if you look at the world’s biggest branded companies, particularly the Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, Mars organisations, although Mars hasn’t indentured because it’s a private company, they tend to be the people who come up with a commercial acumen that I think is seriously missing in lots of other branded organisations.

They tend to look at a lot of it as, our best friend should be the agency, the activation people, the populations people, they want a Facebook page. They basically just want to be loved by everybody. They haven’t understood the role is to be dispassionate about everything, treat them all equally and choose the ones that you need, not the ones that you want.

Darren:

Or the ones you don’t choose are the ones you like; choose the ones that actually deliver an outcome or a result.

Avoid distractions, seek business results

Bill:

They have to do something for the business. If they’re not doing something for the business, then all you’re doing is playing with something fashionable to make new friends.

Whether you like it or not that’s what you’re doing. And the problem is a lot of people don’t get that independent advice, which is one of the things I love about TrinityP3 and the opportunity from when I left Ogilvie to actually go out and do something where I can actually rescue people from making those sorts of silly decisions.

And by the way, it’s not meant to be in an insulting way it’s simply to point out that there are alternatives. These are all choices. You can choose to do it well or you can choose to do it badly but make sure you know which is which.

Darren:

Hmmm, and that’s the point, it’s actually about helping people make more informed decisions, and one of the things I wanted to explore with you is marketing has become more and more complex, not because of the strategic approach to marketing but because of the number of opportunities in implementation.

The complexity in marketing strategy is largely the same as it’s always been. The process of marketing strategy is about understanding the customer and the market and the competitive set, and looking for the commercial opportunities for advantage for the business. The basic idea is the same.

Where it becomes incredibly complex and where I notice a lot of marketers start to suffer from the choice paradox is that when it comes to implementation, and you must have seen that in the last 10 years to 15 years how there are so many additional ways of executing something that it almost becomes the distraction from what was the strategy in the first place.

Bill:

It’s absolutely true. That’s it, they are all distractions. I’m one of the people I think who believe that marketing hasn’t changed significantly at all. You mentioned it’s who do you want to talk to, what do you want to say, and what are you trying to sell them? What do you want them to think as a result?

Now, the problem is it’s the layers of the cake and the dressing on what’s essential underneath. The underneath hasn’t changed at all. It’s still sort of a Christmas cake. It’s just a question of how you ice it. And then the problem with the distraction is how overly decorated to want it to be?

So I think a lot of people these days are actually under pressure to make choices because the noise is extraordinary.

The problem is you have ill-informed people all around you in your organisation, and your advisors trying to tell you that you need to do things simply because everyone else is doing them.

I think the biggest discipline anybody shoul do, both in the marketing and all the ancillary industry that goes along with it, is go back to the basics and look at the fundamental questions of what do we need to do with this business and how does marketing help, and what can marketing do with the rest of the organisation and their suppliers to basically bring them all together and make them all work in harmony towards the business’ objectives, not the ego of anyone of the individual members?

Darren:

Yeah, I think, as you say, there’s been a fundamental shift hasn’t there, in the relationships with what used to be called agency partners?

But I think increasingly the realisation that they’re all suppliers and vendors, because most of the advice that you’re getting, whether it’s an agency, whether it’s a technology company, whether it’s a data analytics firm or whatever is that they’re giving you advice to sell you something, to actually get you to use their particular methodology or their particular approach because, in their words, it’s the right one for you.

Bill:

It’s a bit like religion. It’s only our religion that will lead you to the light and the unfortunate thing is there are so many paths there and normally they lead to darkness because there isn’t one path.

I think the problem with the industry is also the fact that it’s become, over the last 20 years, it’s become commoditised. It’s come down to how much is an hourly rate, how much is a person worth if you buy slices of them so it’s treated like accountancy and law? By the way the IT guys I think have specialised in not being commoditised too much.

But there really is the whole thing on cost pressure. Can we get it cheaper? We may as well shift because nothing is different anywhere else. It comes down to the common sense of the people you’re talking to and realising where they fit and how they can help what they do and you do fit with something else if it’s needed.

The idea is it’s a bit like being a great editor; it’s what you take away that makes a great book not what you add to it. It’s the same with television and film; the greatest films, the greatest plays are always those heavily edited and very precise.

Reductive strategies

Darren:

That is actually the definition that I subscribe to for strategy and it was very popular in the 80’s, and your going to smile when I tell you the name. But it is Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, and it says at the very start of the book, “strategy is the battles you don’t fight, the leaders you don’t follow, the armies you don’t engage.” What he’s saying is great strategy is actually a reductive process.

It’s deciding what you don’t do that is much more important than what you do because in actual fact you can do anything and in the world that we live in today when there’s more things you can do than ever before, great strategy is working out what are the few things that you should do with the resources at hand that actually make you successful and achieve your objective.

Bill:

I think that’s true. In fact, I was talking to my wife about it the other day, the days when we all had pocket money as children. There were those who went away to the sweet shop and spent their whole shilling on sweets.

I remember my father’s advice was, “spend three pence on a matchbox toy, six pence on a Corgi car and the other three on sweets. You’ll stay thinner, you’ll be fitter and you’ll have more toys.” That seems to be sensible.

If you look at the choices, if you take a marketing director these days who has a certain amount of money, the fewer things he spends it on well will make him significantly more successful and double his tenure from the 18 or 22 months that he actually has to survive.

Darren:

But let’s be honest. When you were in a regional and global role on the agency side isn’t there a pressure on you in an agency to actually sell your client more services so that you actually become more entangled in their marketing business, and also capture more of their budget?

Bill:

Yes, I think that’s true but it was done in a very different way. Twenty to thirty years ago the agency was looking at ways that they could actually plug in more, and remember it was on a commission and service fee so the way that you were selling services then was better and you realised where you could and couldn’t compete.

It was also selling basically what you had in-house so in those days it was the creative services, the strategic planning and media. And the world was a simpler place; you could bundle it under one roof. Then that all disintegrated.

So the problem is that a choice for a marketing director is that he’s driven to go to different places, and then technology has come along and also added to the choices of where money can be spent. I think part of the job of the marketing director is to go back to the board and say, “which area should the budget fit in, how much of it is mine and what should I do with it that’ll contribute to the business?”

So the discussion even back in those days, I was talking to our technology director and we were an IT company famous for services and selling it to other people. We were very careful about the way that we used technology internally and who should pay for it and what the outcome was going to be. Because the technology director has the same responsibility in a way as the marketing director on what to do with his money.

The other point which occurred to me on the way through is that part of the marketing director’s responsibility in most organisations is to go looking for the money that can contribute to the success of the company.

I think that’s forgotten a lot in the sense of they have internal stakeholders that they need to get the money from to do their job, which is why you spend a lot of time or should spend a lot of time with those people understanding their businesses.

Because it could well be they’ve put aside 2 or 3 million to do a particular task but if you’re very good at marketing you can actually just send them to lunch with somebody and then take the money to do something else. They’ll agree if they meet their objectives; they’re pragmatic people.

So, it’s a question of how flexible one is as a marketing director and how well skilled one is in all of the arts of selling direct marketing, however you call direct using technology or not it’s the skill of the mix.

Budget is budget

Darren:

Because one of the things that is a constant complaint of many marketers is that they don’t have enough budget, and it seems to me to be the wrong complaint. Because the fact is the budget is the budget.

There is a certain amount of resource that you either learn to work with the budget and make it perform to its optimum or you become very good at selling to the C-suite, the CFO and the board as to why they need to spend more but this is what accountability in marketing is all about.

In fact we’ve seen, with this move towards zero-based budgeting, that actually the C-suite is driving down onto marketers the requirement to be accountable for the results of their budget. I mean this is good practice anyway, isn’t it?

Bill:

By the way what you’ve just said it’s a bit like saying I wish Beethoven had written this differently; I could play it well then and we could make it sound good. The issue about zero-based budgeting, and I’ve been a great believer in it since my Mars’ days, is if you come up with a business opportunity or you know what the business opportunity is and can quantify it then it’s a question of how much money do you need to be able to contribute that to the company?

I think this whole thing about the historical budgeting process is it means you’re going to be making the same mistakes with slightly more or slightly less money on a longer term basis but you’re never going to be looking at the wow this is fantastic, what do I need to do with it?

It also means that you do tend to look at what can I take away rather than add so I can get lots of something and do that well rather than splitting across many things and doing all of them badly.

Darren:

When we’re doing the work around looking at someone’s roster and they have this expansive roster one of the things that I always think about is, “what are all the things they’re trying to do?”

To me it’s like the sprinkler on the oval that is spraying the water as far and as wide as possible. You know it’s almost like the budget ends up going tsst tsst tsst tsst tsst tsst, tsshhht tsshhht, tsst tsst, you know?

Is that as effective as just getting a fire hose and just spraying it at one point? This idea of sprinkling a little bit of water as far as possible is that really as good as working out what is the group of people that you need to influence and putting all your resources in that?

Bill:

I think it goes even further than that. It works on the basis that great farmers work out what crops they need to grow and what they need to do it with. So the thing with sprinkling something everywhere in the hope that something might actually take off is if you want to grow a tree you have to make sure that you’ve planted the right tree and you watered just that.

I think that’s what people forget is what are you trying to do? It all comes down to what are you trying to do?

I think so many people are just confused, they choose the medium before they’ve even chosen what the message is or the audience that they’re talking to. It’s the sort of let’s do this rather than I wonder what are we trying to do, what does the board want to do, how much money can we eke out of the organisation to invest in the things that we’ve got a proven thing on?

I must admit I’ve been lucky enough in the last 10 to 15 years to work with two or three companies that took the approach of “the entire world economy is changing completely: where are the opportunities, where do we need to divert our resources and how much do we all think we can put behind these things to use influence properly?” Because it comes down to how much does influence cost? Where do you need to sprinkle that to get your crops growing?

That’s where the choices come in of what are we trying to do and how are we going to get there? What can we afford to do and what can’t we afford to do? Because sometimes just having a lunch with somebody, just sending them a direct mail, or just sending somebody an email can have as much influence as pissing away 15 million on rubbish.

Measuring performance, how do you do it?

Darren:

Yeah, and that’s one of the things is measuring performance. People have said it’s always a challenge but increasingly it’s become much easier to measure performance in almost any area isn’t it? Because there is so much more data available. Now the issue is making sure you’re measuring the right thing, rather than the wrong thing, that actually leads to performance.

What approaches have you used in both your marketing roles and also your agency roles? What’s your approach to measuring the performance?

Bill:

Well it’s obviously changed tremendously over the last 20, 25 years because I think the truth is in what you just said. It’s much easier to measure everything these days but some things don’t make any contribution to the business no matter how you measure them.

So, it’s being clear about, first of all, what your objectives are, working out how you measure the things that you want to achieve in the best way possible and ignoring everything else.

So if a client says, “I need to increase the number of successful RFP’s that I convert.” I’ve worked with some very big infrastructure companies. Their whole thing comes down to “we need to be on that 6 billion dollar deal, what do we need to do to go after that? How do we convert it?” So the measurement is how did you get that deal? Did you get that or not? And how many of those did you close?

So I feel sorry for the people who say, “well, we got this many hits, we got this many from intangible likes” because I can put my thumb up all day and nothing happens. It’s a question of are you measuring something that actually contributes to the business’ success and can you actually measure what that success is?

If you have actually started out with an objective driven by your measurement of success that you weren’t in fact going for in the first place you’ve wasted everybody’s money.

Darren:

Do you think there are some marketers though that are concerned that with that criteria of measurement they could end up finding out that a lot of what they’re doing is actually making very small contribution if any to the business success?

Is that what’s stopping them moving to performance-based models because there is a big resistance to using financial performance in any shape or form? You know they’ll default to brand health and not link brand health to long-term financial performance. And they’ll diminish sales and revenue as well that’s short-term and tactical and not marketing.

Bill:

I simply think they’re terrified of the conversations they need to have internally to sell financially performance-based modelling. Because it’s easy to convince most boards and C-suite that you’re actually making a difference but in fact what’s happened is the marketing department has almost become like the Cinderella of the company.

It’s will they get invited to the ball or not? They don’t go to the important meetings; they’re just on the side, you give them money every day, or every year and they go away and make pretty pictures for you.

I think that the C-suites need to start understanding where the performance measurement comes in, particularly from a financial point of view, and all of them need to collaborate much much more closely on how you set those objectives in the first place.

I think that’s where we have a responsibility to come in to say, “hang on a minute, if you just got together and set these objectives, which are to do with the performance of the organisation, and what are you going to do short-term to contribute to the mid-term performance that will contribute to the long-term performance?”

If you don’t work out those three things then you’re obviously going to keep on changing your supposed strategy the whole time and you’ll never be sure about where you’re going to end up.

Attribution: who made the sale?

Darren: 

One of the things that constantly confuses me is that when you have financial performance, sales let’s say, and you’ve got a sales department and a marketing department. Every sale that’s delivered the sales people take ownership of and say, “marketing made no contribution”. And the marketers say, “well it’s all because of us that you’re able to make those sales”.

It seems that none of them can actually get their head around the idea of apportioning or attributing contribution to sales, which is as fallacious as last-click attribution that says all of my website traffic came from Google. When in actual fact the reason people even searched for me was that they saw the TV ad or they saw the outdoor billboard or they saw my store front or heard about it from a neighbour.

All of these things actually lead to the person putting into Google a search term that led to a click so I’ve got to invest in Google as all of my web traffic comes from Google.

Why do people think that they live in a simple world where one transaction is actually the whole reason that it exists in isolation and they can’t deal with attribution?

Bill:

Having worked in lots of organisations, particularly in the early part of my career where who was actually contributing the most and it really was the argument between sales and marketing.

You could actually say, if it’s realistic and you get them in a room together by the way and demonstrate the way that the numbers work and what comes from where and why that translates, is that they were very bad at actually linking the two together.

That’s all gone now. You can actually link all of those things. You can come up with proven methodology and measurements to show that they’re done.

Part of the problem is it reduces their individual power to claim that they’re making the biggest contribution to it.

Darren:

But as a whole the company is successful so who cares? Like I’m sure the shareholders not sitting there going, “oh wow I got a big dividend, I wonder was it sales or was it marketing?”

Bill:

Funnily enough the only CEO I’ve ever met who actually believed that strongly was of a very big infrastructure company where we did something quite intelligent in the United States at one stage just after the recession of 2008 and people were having the argument about who’d done it.

He said, “no, no you’re making a mistake, everybody did it”, and what we did was we increased their revenue by 6 billion dollars in 12 months. So it didn’t matter who’d done it. By the way we used very small amounts of resources to do it.

Darren:

But I see the same thing when we have the conversation around performance for agencies. First of all, the agency goes, “well we only want to get paid a performance bonus if we can completely control and contribute to the sale,” which is never going to happen, right? Secondly, the marketers go, “well we don’t want to pay them a bonus because they’re not the ones that actually closed the sale”.

If this is the case, this is my point of view by the way, Bill, if that’s the case if you really believe they made no contribution then don’t use them. If you think sales is the only thing that drives sales get rid of your marketing department. No CEO will ever do it but do it.

If you think the agency makes no contribution don’t use an agency. If you cannot get your head around the idea of attribution and apportioning responsibility to a goal, then you are living in a fantasy world where things happen in simple cause and effect.

All human activity is in a world of complexity where it’s almost impossible to be able to know exactly what happened but everyone if they’re making contributions that lead to positive outcomes that’s the best you can do.

Bill:

Well it is the best you can do. I’m sorry but all of that is true from any point of view. When I was back in my days as a marketing director ignoring the side of the agencies. I mean I spent enough time with them to know that they were making their contribution to what our overall master plan was.

As long as we were heading on track to hitting our company’s objectives or turnover and margin and we were building relationships that we knew would stand us in good stead for the future and contributing to the company’s share price (and we had measurements in place for all those things) I couldn’t care less what any of the individuals were doing as long as there was an attributable contribution to the whole.

That’s all that matters in the end. You know people think an agency, particularly an advertising agency, can make a significant difference to their entire company’s results -everybody’s deluded. Because there are so many other things that have to happen to put the agency in that position of contribution.

Darren:

Look while you were saying that I had this vision of someone going, “you know what my right hand is stronger than my left. It makes more contributions; I’m going to cut my left hand off.” Because you know it really doesn’t contribute much at all. It’s the holistic approach that’s much more important.

Bill:

All of the people I know who have been very successful in both the marketing world and the agency world don’t put it down to one specific discipline, one specific factor. I hate to use the old analogy of the conductor, it’s knowing which bits you emphasise at which times of a particular score and the most beautiful music in the world is built by incredible nuance and subtlety in everything.

Coming back to Sun Tzu, his whole book is about the subtlety of thought to achieve a particular strategy. You know it’s which fights do you want to get into? How do you want to engage? Do you want it to be on a bloody level or do you want it to be just a negotiation?

Darren:

Well, he said, “the best victory is one where no blood is spilled.”

Bill:

That’s right.

Bill’s 3 tips for marketing directors and 3 tips for agencies

Darren:

You win by playing the competitor against themselves.

Look we’re running out of time but with your experience as both a marketer and on the agency side, and take a few minutes, I want you to give three pointers or a piece of advice you would give a marketing director or CMO and three pieces of advice you’d give someone running accounts on the agency side in today’s world?

So, what should marketing directors be thinking about, the top three things?

And what should agencies be doing to position themselves or be valuable to their clients?

Let’s start with the marketers.

Bill:

With the marketing director the first thing I did in any marketing role was to go in and talk to the heads of divisions and the CEO, the finance director and then the key customers to get a fundamental understanding of what the business was about.

Who were the customers, why were they customers, what did our good customers think, what did our bad customers think?

I don’t mean the people who were the ultimate end consumer of something but I mean the internal customers and the dealers, distributors, supply chain, and for some businesses these days they are significantly more important than doing the advertising to the end consumer. That’s like the public window, so I think there’s that.

Darren:

That’s one.

Bill:

The second thing is to understand the supply chain and understand how that works from product development, manufacturing all the way through because you can look at opportunities there which can make a significant difference before you even start to talk to an agency.

I think the third thing is to start with who do they need to talk to to do all this and work out what portion of what money or how much money you need to talk to each one of those groups. Why those groups are important if you put them all together into a homogenous lump to say well they’re all the people we need to talk to. We know what we need to say.

Darren:

And that could be internal, external, whoever? All stakeholders?

Bill:

Yes, we used to do it through workshops. We would facilitate workshops with all of those key people and we wouldn’t start a workshop unless the key person was in the room because there’s nothing worse than doing all those things and then going back again and finding out that they can change their mind.

So there has to be a disciplined approach to it and sometimes it needs coercion. And I think that’s one of the things you do as a marketing director if you’re good at it, you build coercive things to make sure the results are, which is why some of the best marketing directors I’ve ever known, who’ve been in their jobs a long time are seen as almost bullying or coercive but my God do they get results.

Darren:

They get results. Now, on the agency side. So someone that’s managing global pieces of business.

What are the three things they can do to most prove the value that they provide to the overall marketing strategy?

Bill:

The key thing, which is hard to believe, is simply take the person who is the marketing director into a meeting with his CEO with you in the room so that he doesn’t say anything.

You can say all the things that he wants to say and needs to say, and the only thing you’ll get from the CEO is, “hmmm, that’s interesting” or “wow, we should look at that”. In all my time with great marketing directors or marketing communications leaders or heads of communications is if you say, “we can help you solve that. Introduce me to the board member responsible”. Because what you’re doing is you’re softening their role in it.

You’re making them look good. You can say things that they can’t because their careers are at stake; yours isn’t. I’ve never been in a position where I’ve ever felt threatened by going in and doing that.

Darren:

You’re providing advice.

Bill:

Providing advice, and the whole thing is to listen very carefully to those people in those meetings and then figure out very quickly what you can do that will make a difference to their business results.

You know some of the most interesting things I’ve done where people had no money to do anything but we would say there’s an opportunity if you went into that country with that economy at this time you’ll get this result.

They’ll say, “well how much will that cost?” And you’d have a rough idea and say you can do it for this but we’ll need to bring in some other agencies to do that and open the thing with an offer of collaboration with other people that are in their organisations then get them all into a room together.

Butt their heads together and say this is what you can all make out of this.

Darren:

So that’s more a consulting role isn’t it?

Bill:

Much more.

Darren:

Rather than just selling agency services you’re actually providing solutions.

Bill:

All of my colleagues at the global level in the last two agencies to be honest didn’t give a damn about what they sold downstream. It was can we solve the problem at that level?

Because it’s not only where the fame and glory is but it’s also where the real sense of satisfaction of “I solved a real problem”.  Then if they’re good enough and in most organisations when you break through at that level, you will learn to cascade things according to the needs of their organisation.

There is no one answer. But the whole thing is you become a very good consultant and all the people you are then working with are other good consultants who get it.

Darren:

Well clearly you’ve spent 15 or 20 years getting very good at being a consultant so look we’ve run out of time, Bill but welcome to “The Gang”.

Bill:

Thank you, it’s lovely to be here. Can I have my tattoo now?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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