This is the first in a series of three articles written by TrinityP3 directors. Each is written for one of the audiences in our name TrinityP3. In this case, being ‘Agencies and Marketing Suppliers’. The other two are ‘Marketers and Advertisers’ and ‘Procurement and Sourcing’. The P3 stands for helping people achieve commercial purpose through the creative process. In this series, we explain how we apply the process and purpose to deliver value to the people in our trinity.
Over the twenty years of TrinityP3’s history, we have worked closely with agencies of every kind in many markets around the world. Sometimes this has been through our work with the client organisations that employ them but also as direct clients of our own business.
During this time we have developed distinctive methods and proprietary tools to add significant value to agency businesses.
There are two excellent reasons why we are well placed to help our agency clients. Firstly, many of TrinityP3’s consultants have lengthy agency experience in their CVs, often in the most senior roles and with both independents and network companies. So, we have a strong understanding of agencies as businesses from every angle, not only from the viewpoint of what their clients really want from them but also as agency insiders ourselves.
Secondly, and better still, our consultancy team includes the man who is probably the world’s leading authority on agency businesses. Michael Farmer, who heads up TrinityP3 in the USA, literally wrote the book on the history of advertising agencies, the challenges that they face, the pressures they are under and the strategies they need to adopt to navigate their way to a long-term future. Madison Avenue Manslaughter was written in 2017 based on 25 years of unrivalled experience advising agencies and advertisers and is the acknowledged best-seller textbook for anyone wishing to understand the strategic problems facing the advertising industry and how to deal with them.
Here is a distillation of four of the many ways we consistently add value to agency businesses, calling on our unique experience and industry knowledge. We like quotations, and you’ll find a film theme running through the ones we’ve used here. Why not? We can all learn a lot from the wisdom of the great Hollywood scriptwriters over the years.
Helping the move to true client collaboration – and better client performance
“What is it you want Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down”.
Jimmy Stewart sums up much of the traditional approach to client service provided by agencies in this great line from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. It’s all about over-servicing and over-promising. And one result is that agencies and clients attach great importance to measuring and regularly reporting relationships, sometimes even to the extent of linking an element of remuneration to it.
The trouble with this approach is that it is based on emotions and opinions, not data. And it does nothing to drive the working relationship to a true spirit of partnership and collaboration since it only reinforces the view of the agency as the supplicant, the supplier in the relationship.
Having a scientific background, but also understanding the conditions and the nuance of the creative world, it is core to TrinityP3 to take a quantitative approach in everything we do. From day one, we have been collecting and analysing data around all aspects of the management of marketing, media and advertising. So, while others were busy creating score-cards to quantify relationships, we developed methodologies to measure and quantify collaboration.
TrinityP3’s unique Evalu8ing tool has been developed by us to measure specifically how well teams work together (both within and across companies). We can find the stress points and help to put measures in place to improve collaboration. An Evalu8ing report will improve performance from both agency and client teams, improve productivity and add true value to the relationship. Working with hard data rather than just opinion (although we gather that too) means that we can also help to build and sustain commercial relationships. Who needs to lasso the moon when the working relationship is a true collaboration, with deeper roots and improved productivity?
Reduce complexity to deliver better performance
“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s gonna be a bumpy night”.
(Thank you Bette Davis and All About Eve.) This is the guaranteed road ahead for a commercial relationship based on guesswork about workloads, wrong assumptions and the hope that things will work out as they go along. We’ve seen it again and again. The answer is to understand why this happens and ensure that contracts are based on reality.
So, why do these problems arise so frequently? As Michael Farmer brilliantly illustrates in his book, the universal trend in the advertising industry over the last 25+ years has been the ever-increasing scopes of work undertaken by agencies, mostly driven by the proliferation of media channels and the demands of the digital world. The result had been massive pressure on the scopes of work taken on by the agencies, with the financial impact of the ever-longer list of work being absorbed mainly out of the agency bottom line.
Coupled with this trend is the ever-present ‘mission creep’ that all scopes of work suffer from as soon as they are signed. Sometimes, there’s a further complication – in many cases we find there is no detailed scope of work agreed in the first place. How many agencies have taken on a new client relationship at a hopelessly reduced fee on the basis that “We’ll make up the difference as we go along”? And this assumption is almost always wrong.
The net result of the combined effect of these trends is complexity. It applies to the way agencies work, the way work is briefed in, the way it is signed off and the way it is executed in the market. If there is a scope of work in place, it becomes over-inflated and difficult (or even impossible) to implement. And it’s often out of date even before it’s signed.
TrinityP3 has used its vast experience of working with scopes of work and our quantitative approach to everything we do to tackle this issue. While other consultants think benchmarking is just salaries and hourly rates, we have modeled the resources required to undertake thousands of creative tasks and millions of media combinations. The result is that we can reboot client relationships based on accurate scopes of work, based on decades of global industry experience. The analysis we produce is the key to reducing complexity in the relationship, ensuring that the agency spends its time and resources doing the things that it is good at, that the client really needs from it. And that remuneration is fair all round
“Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it.
Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it”
Wrote the computer pioneer Alan Perlis. Maybe he should have written Hollywood scripts, too.
Move to an output-based operating model
“You can’t put a price tag on creativity”.
Movie mogul Walt Disney is behind this quote, and it has been the traditional cry from agency heads when it is suggested that remuneration should be linked to the output, i.e. what actually comes out of the agency doors.
Walt had a point. But it’s the wrong point. We need to understand the actual role of creativity in the commercial world. So, here is the big point – creativity is not the output in itself, it is a skill required to produce the true outputs of the business. Clearly a very important one for creative agencies.
Some would argue that agency remuneration should be based on outcomes – the positive effects that their work has in the marketplace, measured by increased sales or whatever objective was set in the brief. However, this is a very complex area to measure (so many factors influence commercial performance day to day), so at TrinityP3 we have pioneered the route of attaching agreed values to outputs.
The analysis work on scopes of work described in the previous section gives TrinityP3 benchmark values for every conceivable creative, planning, production and media task undertaken by agencies. We know the industry figures for the hours needed to complete them, and we can analyse how your business is performing against the standards.
At the end of the process, your contract will in effect move to an output-based model. Regular output and workload forecasting will keep relationships on an even keel and procurement teams happy. A fair price for a clearly defined and understood task improves profitability and takes the stress out of agency management issues. Output-based operating models can help to solve that issue of putting a price tag on creativity, by giving it a context each time it is used.
Even Mr Disney would be happy with that result.
Create a strong go-to-market story
“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
Back to Disney one more time for our film reference point. And to be fair, there is a beauty pageant element to every pitch. It usually takes place at the credentials presentation.
TrinityP3 consultants have seen hundreds (possibly thousands) of agencies presenting their stories during agency reviews, across the globe. As a result, we have second-to-none experience of what marketers are looking for from their agencies.
Agencies are great story-tellers for their clients. But they often fall flat when it comes to telling their own stories. We can help to make your agency story a strong one; not just in how it’s told but also in what you have to offer. We’ll keep you focused on what matters to your audience, help you to avoid the traps many agencies fall into, and get you thinking about the specific objective for each meeting. No need to rely on magic any more.
The TrinityP3 modus operandi
We’ve talked about what we do for our agency clients. To wrap up, here are some of the key values that underpin the way we work with all our clients.
Total independence: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” Maybe this is overstating things a little, but it illustrates an important principle for us. Unlike a lot of consultants, we have no agenda to sell a pre-prepared technical solution to our clients’ problems. We like to maintain our objectivity and freedom to recommend the most effective solution, not the one that makes us the most money.
We have built and developed methodology, tools, applications and more, based on our insights and experience of solving our clients’ challenges for more than 20 years. But we are not recommending these as the solution. They are simply the tools that help us get to the solution faster and implement it in a more robust and effective way. That is what independence means to us.
Developing options: Our approach is to clearly and accurately define the challenges or issues, then design a number of models or solutions to address the agreed challenge.
While some may want a consultant to come and tell them what to do, our approach is to offer options as solutions and then collectively review and assess the best direction. Just as no two problems are alike, no two organisations and their circumstances are the same. This approach allows us to provide a number of considered and valid solutions. Then collectively we arrive at the solution that best fits the circumstances, the right one for the organisation.
Transfer of knowledge: Finally, let’s talk about success. For us, success is a sustainable solution. Not just solving the immediate challenge but creating something longer-term. Part of the success here is transferring the relevant knowledge and skills to the team to manage the outcome going forward. Designing and implementing processes to allow the team to make changes and modifications as required.
Of course, it is not completely transactional. Over the past two decades, we have clients often return every 2 – 3 years for a tune-up or a new challenge. The ultimate measure of success is our happy clients. You can find our happy agencies here.
Finally, and to use a great line from a personal favourite film:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while,
you could miss it.”
(Thank you, Ferris Bueller). Why not start a conversation with us? Some of our most effective work has begun with an informal chat that helped a client to take a good look around.
At TrinityP3 we help marketers and agencies become great through the work they do together. What major business challenge could we help you solve?