How to choose the "right" advertising agency

By Mike Fromowitz

These days, choosing an ad agency in the traditional manner is like looking for a spouse in a bar. An ad agency that makes the best presentation, or one that presents with all the bells and whistles, may not necessarily be the best long-term partner. What attracts you in the first place may not be the values that last. While the work may look good to the eye, it may fail strategically. Besides, what you see may not be what you get.

That being said, choosing an advertising agency is not something you can do with your eyes closed. Before zeroing in on the right one, here are a few parameters you should include in your evaluation.

Realise that not all agencies are very good at what they do: First, accept the fact that most agencies do not excel in all disciplines—even though they would have you believe they do. Most are staffed by ‘generalists’, and in large numbers. What you really need is an agency that will bring experts, specialists and entrepreneurs to your table—people capable of uniting strategic insight with endless imagination, to create ideas that drive more sales and to convince the competitors’ customers into becoming your customers.

Know that agencies view your needs through their own capabilities and fixed resources: No matter your set of complexities and challenges, their answer is always an ad, either an Internet video, a print ad, or a TV ad—the one thing that brings the ad agency the greatest profit. Fact is, you may not need an ad. The best ad agencies don’t push to sell you ads. You may not need any. You may need changes to your website, your packaging, or you may need event marketing or a social-networking idea. The ad world is changing. Business-as-usual advertising is becoming less and less effective. To compete, you may need to do some things differently than you have in the past.

Be certain that the agency knows marketing is more than advertising: The agency must demonstrate that it knows there are many other marketing weapons and that it is capable of using all the appropriate ones in your potential marketing arsenal. Don’t settle for less.

Know that media buying agencies are really ‘agents of the media’: The more media they get you to buy, the more they profit. What you need to make sure of is that they’re using the right resources for your specific needs. The object of your marketing efforts is not to buy more media, but to create ideas that sell more products. Your ad agency (and media buying agency, if they are separate), should follow a simple philosophy: Don’t outspend the competition. Outsmart them.

Be realistic: Do they have experience in your field? More important, are they really committed to doing great work for you? Be sure they have the desire and the ability to give you both the service and the work you need and do so profitably.

Be sure you are sincerely desired: If the focus of your business is in ‘high-tech’, there should be people in the agency who understand ‘high-tech’. To be honest, most agency people are, for the most part, quite reluctant to work on ‘high-tech’. In fact, most consumer-oriented ad agencies treat ‘high-tech’ as a disfavored stepchild. Be positive that the people you will work with have a knowledge of your business, an interest in your business, and a knowledge of the competitive situation. If they’ve done their homework by the time they present to you, they’ll have these things. If not, you’re not interested.

Know what it will be like working day-to-day: Many agencies employ new business teams whose sole purpose is to get into and win competitive "pitches". They have no interest—and no involvement—in the day-to-day running of your business. Once your business is in the door, they just move on to the next courtship leaving you in the hands of ‘junior’ members of the agency. So always ask who will be working on your account.

Ask about leadership: Ascertain that your business will be considered special and deserving of the agency’s key people and top talent. Be sure that you meet and talk to the people who will be serving on the front line and will actually be doing the strategic planning and creative. Look for committed and expert leadership. Beware of layers of hierarchy. Ask to see what the agency has created for other clients. Ask about the results. Is the chemistry right between you? Don’t underestimate the immense power of good chemistry.

Focus on your needs: Be sure that your agency is focused and understands your company’s objectives and considers them reasonable. This understanding will be reflected in the marketing and advertising strategy that the agency creates for you. If it’s missing, look elsewhere.

Judge their work: Let their work speak for itself. Every advertising agency will talk about how creative it is, but does their work for other clients live up to the hype? Many agencies slag off the winning of awards—mostly because they’ve failed to win some themselves. Fact is, most ad agencies that are often successful have a creative spark, have high standards and expectations, and are award-winning. Most important however, is that you listen to how they talk about the way in which their work has helped build their clients’ businesses.

Do you like them? How do you feel about the people you’ve met with? Will they bring something new to the table? Are they entrepreneurial? Or are they the usual ad agency ‘generalists’? Could you trust them? Will you look forward to talking with them every day?

What’s their attitude? Do they have attitude? Check to see that the people who will be working on your business have the right credentials, experience, and attitude. See if they are good listeners. Make sure that they understand the critical relationship between profitability and creativity. Agency client relationships are precisely that: a relationship.

Don’t ask for premarital creative pitches: If the ad agency can solve your problems after just a few hours contemplation, it’s probably just luck. Or it’s not really a solution, just seductively flashy stuff. To understand a marketing problem requires in-depth understanding of the marketplace. From that comes a strategic positioning statement. Rather than asking for a "pitch" with creative work, ask the agency to propose a strategic positioning paper and judge them on that. Creating the right big idea comes from sound strategic thinking and targeted communications. Advertising that looks good but fails to sell is a waste of your dollars.

Be careful of smoke and mirrors: Big ‘creative’ presentations of clever, colourful ads presented by excellent salespeople are no guarantee the ads will work and sell your product. If your company hasn’t been doing the kind of advertising you would like to see, or if your advertising isn’t as good as it could be, don’t expect a simple change of ad agency to solve it. It takes teamwork to create bad advertising: if the problem is the work, and your organization changed the work, it really shares responsibility with the people who created it.

Mike Fromowitz is President and Chief Brand Officer of Mantra Partners, a full-service advertising and branding agency. The company works for clients in Asia, South America, USA and Canada. You can read more by Mike in his Campaign Asia-Pacific blog.

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Are you working with the wrong ad agency?

By Mike Fromowitz

If you’re an advertiser and you are growing frustrated with your ad agency’s creativity not hitting the mark, it could very well be their lack of strategic ability. If that is the case, there’s something seriously wrong. After all, the basic skill of an ad agency is to produce strategically effective advertising, so it touches the hearts and minds of an audience and evokes a reaction. If you continue to question your agency’s ability to create effective advertising, it could mean they have no idea about your business or what it’s going to take to attract customers to it.

Both the account team and the creatives should have performed due diligence to know your service and your products cold. They should know your customers like they do their own parents. They should know your product’s positioning in relation to your competitors—without repeated explanation from you, which burns up your time and budget. If that’s not the case, and you feel their efforts are more of a barrier than they are a bridge to reaching your customers, then you’re with the wrong ad agency.

The best ad agencies are those that see the sales potential in their ideas right from the start. From much of the advertising I see today, I have no doubt that many ad agencies are actually producing ads for the client, rather than their audience. This is a problem. It often means an agency is doing "suck-up" ads that appeal to the client’s vanity in order to make the client like the ad agency.

How many clients tell their ad agency what to do? For example, a client likes football and demands that the agency create a campaign around football. And what if football has no relevance to the product? These type of ads eventually backfire because they fail in the marketplace, and guess who takes the blame? The agency. You don’t think the client’s going to take the blame, do you?

What do you do when your ads don’t work? When was the last time your agency held itself accountable? On what do they base their recommendations for media and creative? Is your agency a partner or a vendor? Do you continue to have faith in your agency and see them as entrepreneurial and down-right strategically smart? If you don’t know the answers, you're with the wrong ad agency.

All too often, agencies fail to listen before they leap. Egos get in the way. I’ve seen agencies win new business pitches because they were good listeners. If your present agency doesn’t have good listeners, you're with the wrong ad agency.

If you are an advertiser, it doesn’t matter how enthusiastic you are about your product or service; if you’re advertising with a message that appeals to you but not to your customer, then you’re wasting your money. The message needs to be relevant to the buyer, not the seller. You may be too close to your product; know it inside out; you want the public to know it and love it too. However, most advertisers are not emotionally capable of making the distinction between what they want to say and what the consumer wants to hear. That’s why we employ ad agencies.

But if you’ve chosen your present agency for the wrong reasons, you won’t take their opinions any more seriously than you would your golf-pro or someone you met for the first time in a pub. If you can’t trust their opinion, you're with the wrong agency.

There are two kinds of advertising. The dull, boring, expected kind you see everywhere—and many agencies are good at this—and the exciting, innovative kind we see all too rarely. Of course, you need to spend far more money on the first to make it work. If you believe your product or service is much better than the advertising you're getting, you're with the wrong ad agency.

Consumers are turning off, tuning out. And many, would prefer not to see any ads at all. When this happens, some ad agencies tend to produce advertising that pleases everyone. Advertising that tries to please everyone is often void of a strong strategy and is doomed for failure. If your ad agency is producing advertising that pleases everyone, including you (the client), you're with the wrong ad agency.

Strategy is the heartbeat of communications. Strategy is discipline. It may come as a shock to many, but discipline is key to creative freedom. As creative guru Neil French once noted, "Strategy is not bureaucracy, it is essential. And it is proof that we all understand the question, before we provide the answer". A well written strategy proves to a client that his agency doesn’t just rush into pretty pictures; that they think about his business before they think of their own. So, if your ad agency is producing ads that look beautiful but are short on smart strategic thinking, you're with the wrong ad agency.

Mike Fromowitz is President and Chief Brand Officer of Mantra Partners, a full-service advertising and branding agency. The company works for clients in Asia, South America, USA and Canada. You can read more by Mike in his Campaign Asia-Pacific blog.

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Maybe the problem is you

By Mike Fromowitz

You think you work well with your agency? Quite possibly, you don’t. Companies go to ad agencies with the hopes that they will get results. And if you enter into a relationship believing you are the boss of them just because you are paying them, you will have a one-way relationship with a group of people that will only say "yes" to your every demand—robots, rather than true business partners.

To make sure you’re doing all you can to make your relationship with your ad agency the best it can be, read on.

Know what you want: A lot of companies go to ad agencies knowing what they don’t want. This is not a strategy and will not get you the desired results you’re after. Without a strategy you’re relying on the ad agency to guess what works best for your business. You’re also going to waste plenty of time shooting down any ideas the agency will give you.

Don’t assume you know everything about the market and the consumer: If you know all the answers, why are you going to an ad agency? You should know what you want out of advertising, but don’t expect the agency to follow every guideline you put forth. Remember, you’re going to professionals—a company that specializes in advertising. Use their expertise.

If you have never done market research, then chances are you don’t know your customers very well. Most likely you don’t know their motivations for buying your product or service. The bottom line is: if your ad agency needs to do market research, let them! You’ll get far better results.

Don’t bounce ideas off your wife or your mother or that pretty tart next door: Make your own decisions. When it comes to advertising, everyone has a different opinion. You know your company best. Your marketing manager knows your marketing best (hopefully). The people who know the problem best (your ad agency) should be making the decisions with you.

Realize that a solid strategy behind your advertising stands a greater chance of success: Some companies look at ads and think, "That looks pretty. That’s the ad for me!" No, it’s not. If it is the ad for you, most likely it’s wrong—it should be for your targeted customers. So if you’re ad agency is talking strategy, lucky you. You’ve most likely found a good one. So listen up!

Have one decision maker: An advertising idea appeals to different people in different ways. If you have more than one decision maker, surely disagreements will occur and the ad agency will get confused and discouraged working with you. Review your internal processes to determine who can say ‘yes’ and who can say ‘no’, and reduce the number of people in the decision chain accordingly. Try to make your ad agency relationship collaborative and keep the number of team members small.

Don’t cut advertising when there’s an economic slowdown: Remember, advertising is not an expense, it’s an investment. Having a short-term outlook of ROI is not good. Sales may be down because your advertising is wrong. If you cut your ad spending it will cost you twice as much to get back in the game.

Have your ad agency work with you, not for you: Make them feel part of your team. The more you work with your ad agency, the better the ads will be.

Remember, value is more important than price: Having a short-term view of your ROI can be damaging to your business. If you’re looking for the cheapest ad agency, then you’re looking for worthless advertising. You may not need to go for the most expensive, but certainly don’t go for the least expensive.

If you can’t find a good agency, find someone who can: There are consultants who can help, but the best way to begin the process is to figure out where you want to go in the future. Think about what that future will be like, and what it will take to get there. You may not know exactly what the future holds for your company, but rest assured it will be different.

Mike Fromowitz is President and Chief Brand Officer of Mantra Partners, a full-service advertising and branding agency. The company works for clients in Asia, South America, USA and Canada. You can read more by Mike in his Campaign Asia-Pacific blog.

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Why would clients say 'no' to 37 per cent better agency performance?

By Jeremy Caplin on Feb 28, 2012
filed under Advertising, Asia-Pacific

According to Jeremy Caplin, chief executive officer of Aprais, hard data backs up not only the performance gain clients can get out of agencies, but also the key steps for getting it. So why aren't more marketers taking up the challenge?

Jeremy Caplin

Looking at data covering approximately 8,000 client-agency relationships over the past 11 years, Aprais has shown that the scores the two sides give to each other correlate to 99.9999 per cent of statistical confidence. Or put another way, as David Ogilvy was suggesting 50 years ago when he quipped that "Clients get the advertising they deserve", good performing clients get good agency output—and bad performing ones don’t.

So, what are the characteristics of a good client?

Good agency performance arises when a client performs well in four areas: approval, briefing, timing and behaviour. This means that if a client has a good approval process and sticks to it, briefs well, behaves well in the sense of being open and responsive to agency needs and information requests, and agrees on and sticks to appropriate timings for work, then this client will be seen as 'high quality' in the eyes of its agency.

And what is the size of the prize?

Good performing clients judge agency output to be 37 per cent better than it is for agencies with poorly performing clients. That's a 37 per cent increase in marcomm ROI, just from clients being open to finding out their own capabilities in four key areas and taking steps to address any shortcomings.

What’s the alternative?

A client without the humility to reflect on its own capabilities and limitations or ‘blind spots’ will be more likely to kick off a time-consuming agency pitch. But on what basis does that client expect to achieve more success with the new agency, when none of the basic problems in its own performance has been fixed?

Surely it is better to try to openly assess where things are and then work together to improve them as much as possible to the ultimate benefit of both parties—a massive ROI improvement for the client and greater motivation and chance of retention for the agency—than to begin the merry-go-round of agency churn?

So, what is needed?

  • Clients should commit to the fact that a client-agency relationship is a partnership, as opposed to a master-servant interaction.
  • A willingness (humility?) on the part of clients to accept that the best way to get the most out of their agency partner is to find out more about themselves via a genuine two-way evaluation.
  • Relationship evaluation should use statistically robust large-scale data with external benchmarks. This is the only way to provide for actionable insight as to what 'good' looks like for client, agency, industry and geography and thus lead to confidence in decision making.
  • Both parties must commit to acting on the findings and investing the necessary resources in terms of time, people and /or money to ensure meaningful progress is made.

It’s not often that a client gets the chance to make its hard-challenged marcomm budget work up to 37 per cent better. Add to this the fact that this gain is so directly under the client’s own control, and surely it is an opportunity too big to ignore.

Jeremy Caplin has 20+ years of client-side experience with P&G, ReckittBenckiser, Nestlé and Monster. He currently serves as CEO of Aprais, which uses proprietary software to provide relationship evaluations for individuals, departments, and companies and their professional partners.

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Planners must meet CMO demands to 'Show me the money'

By Marion McDonald on Nov 1, 2012
filed under Media, Asia-Pacific

The game-changing communications planners of the next decade will come from a different talent pool. Marion McDonald, Asia-Pacific managing director of strategy and measurement for Ogilvy Public Relations, describes this new breed.

Warning: This contains a strong left-brain-leaning to data analytics and effectiveness measurement. Creative types should proceed with caution.

Warning: This contains a strong left-brain-leaning to data analytics and effectiveness measurement. Creative types should proceed with caution.

The most successful and game-changing communications planners of the next decade are likely to come from a very different talent pool: the world of data analytics and financial analysis. They are currently lurking in many agencies, pigeonholed as ‘consultants’ and already harnessing data analytics tools as a route to customer insights and campaign ROI measurement, in the language of their client’s CEOs and CFOs. Clients currently grappling with the ROI question will place a premium on this future skill set in their agency planners. However this shift will necessitate the ability to assimilate these ‘left brain’ skills into the creatively driven agency culture.

We are in a business climate emerging tentatively from the GFC and hesitant about another slowdown around the corner in 2013. CEOs and CFOs are reportedly frustrated with marketing’s general inability to speak the boardroom language of effectiveness. CMOs have arrived on ‘Planet Data’ without a map, just as CFOs have increased their influence over marketing, and procurement guides more and more marketing allocations.

The most recent IBM Global CMO survey found most feel “overwhelmingly underprepared” to harness and interpret customer and market data as it increases exponentially in both volume and value in shaping marketing strategy. CMOs are also struggling with providing the numbers that demonstrate marketing ROI, and while 63 per cent say ROI will become the most important measure of success, only 44 per cent feel sufficiently prepared.

Though not in all cases:

"The success of my role is far more about analytics...than...hanging out with my ad agency, coming up with great creative campaigns. We must increase campaign ROI."
Rob Colwell, executive general manager, commercial and marketing, Qantas Frequent Flier

This guy gets it! But his communications agency is not his partner of choice for answers—yet. How do we get there?

As a former Deloitte auditor turned marketing director, years of monthly forecast meetings are an excellent teacher that no one outside marketing gets excited by brand awareness, recommendation or campaign recall as input to a sales forecast. However, learn to wrap these softer scores up in predictive modelling techniques and you become a boardroom asset.

Planning at its best is acutely focused on a client’s business ambition—defining commercial objectives that require deep understanding of our client’s business environment and goals to ensure our work is grounded in and measured by shared KPIs. This is what I would label ‘upstream planning’ or planning at a business consulting level. However, this alone is not sufficient to produce any real customer insight.

Clients lack impartial systems to measure and evaluate the impact and effectiveness of planning beyond subjective annual agency appraisals. Procurement complicates the equation, lacking a comparative measure for the value of a brilliant insight.

As planning lead for public relations, I constantly deal with the need for better data to define a business problem and set ROI measurement beyond ‘free PR coverage’. A 2011 Ogilvy Public Relations study of the next decade’s trends in the PR industry revealed that the No. 1 challenge is measurement, specifically, managing the increasing importance of campaign ROI. PR is widely viewed as the least financially numerate marketing discipline, often seen as interested in the numbers only when they support the story we wish to tell.

Getting this right presents a very opportune shift for the rebranding of planning. Planners solving client’s business problems before defining communications briefs is the natural intersection of agency talents and mutual commercial interests with clients. Agency groups are already beginning to harness their senior planners as a business consulting resource, as in Ogilvy RED. Solving the right business problem typically results in more sharply defined communications briefs and campaign work that is intrinsically linked to financial success.

Agencies are also shifting ‘Digital’ from a department to infusing digital skill sets across the entire organisation, teaching planners to use quantitative and qualitative data from social media to identify relevant cultural tensions, mapping customer journeys and ensuring messaging is rooted in the everyday social-media language of the target audience.

Agency moves to sharpen measurement of integrated marketing campaigns are also underway to deliver timely assessment of marketing campaigns using data analytics. 

All this does not mean the traditional research and insight planning skills are obsolete. They will remain as critical as ever to make sense of the volume of data available and spot actionable behaviour-change opportunities. However, a considered and careful approach to acquiring and blending new skill sets is required to help planners learn how to derive insights from data analytics, measure and optimise programmes and connect right across the C-suite with broader business problems. Agency culture, with its tendency to be ‘wowed’ by award-winning planners with a strong gut instinct, will need to adjust to integrate digital/data analytics types well within the creative community.

As a former client working at a global FMCG in Australia much earlier in my career, planning was treated as some form of mysterious divination to deliver agency insights (that frankly looked a lot like research agency conclusions, only with better visual treatment!). This has changed remarkably, but the planner of tomorrow needs access to a client’s data, and that requires a client-agency relationship with deep mutual trust.

We are coursing into the river of data coming at CMOs and in prime position to re-engineer planning toward business problem definition, customer insight based on data analytics and data-driven touchpoint decisions. This change will require a new breed of planner, comfortable with data analytics, financial analysis and generally more left-brained skill sets. Clients currently grappling with the ROI question will be casting around for this type of agency partner increasingly to “Show me the money!”

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Secrets to a lasting client-agency relationship

By Suzy Bashford on Nov 11, 2010
filed under Advertising, Asia-Pacific

Long-term client agency partnerships may seem a thing of the past, but those who stay committed often find it a far more rewarding experience.

Asia’s ad industry is going through something of a mid-life crisis when it comes to client/agency relationships. Just like that all-too-familiar stereotype of the married man who hits his forties then ditches his wife for a younger model, many clients are signing project-based contracts at the expense of longer-term partnerships.

Why should this be the case? There are many contributing factors, but the biggest is the effect of the Asian market suddenly rising to such prominence in brands’ marketing plans.

“The stakes are higher with growth and globalisation, so relationships have had to become more professionalised,” says Chris Harris, managing director at UK-based Leagas Delaney.

“We’ve switched largely from a very practical relationship with a local agency, which was command and control, to valuing what a more strategic and sophisticated agency can bring to the game.”

With this elevated relationship status, come new responsibilities. From the client side, Andres Kiger, senior director of integrated marketing at Coca-Cola China, stresses that “speed, efficiency and effectiveness have become even more critical for us to succeed in these challenging times.”

The knock-on effect is that clients are shopping around more, checking they are getting value for money from their agency compared to what is available on the market. Often, procurement is now heavily involved in this process too, making agencies prove they are providing bang for every buck.

The involvement of procurement has soared by a staggering 40 per cent in China over the last two years. This is according to fresh research from consultancy R3’s biennial study, called R3:GC, on agency relationships, which involves more than 400 face-to-face interviews with marketers. R3 principal Greg Paull attributes the steep increase to the financial crisis exerting more pressure than ever on clients’ top-lines.

The global financial downturn has made clients more promiscuous, as they seek out one-night stands to validate their choice of long-term agency. Many agency heads reference the huge jump in the number of pitches (particularly re-pitches for existing business), the need to perform in the short-term to please shareholders, high client turnover and agencies being squeezed, sometimes unfairly so. Indeed, this promiscuity is borne out by the numbers.

According to R3, the average creative agency relationship in China now lasts only 2.5 years. In India the figure is little better at just 3.6 years. In the US and Europe it is 6.8 years. Paull adds that the situation is even more depressing if you remove the stable relationships of the multinationals, often in excess of 20 years, from the equation.

“When you remove these, the Asian relationship is definitely as short as it’s ever been. I often say that agencies are like concubines in China in particular,” he says. As well as this, Chinese marketers are increasingly managing more and more agencies, as they turn their backs on the ‘full service’ option.

This makes it harder for roster agencies to foster close relationships with clients, as they tussle for attention. It also means there is a growing tendency by clients to view agencies as disposable commodities. Paull jokes that working with many clients in Asia is like going on The Apprentice. “You have no idea when and how you might be fired,” he says.

Arto Hampartsoumian, CEO BBH China, agrees. “Yes clients are more promiscuous,” he says. “And agency turnover is generally a problem, particularly in the bigger agencies.”

The fact that many agencies are still paid by commission, instead of fee-based remuneration as part of a retained relationship, is not helping. Feebased pay is the model of choice in more developed markets, but the shift is occurring more slowly than anticipated in Asia. In India, fee-based remuneration levels are among the lowest in the world, with 56 per cent of clients using a commission approach with their creative agencies. The figure is even higher for media agencies.

With such short tenures, lack of retainers and the inevitable lack of trust in relationships, it’s no wonder that R3’s research also reveals that Chinese marketers have consistently shown lower satisfaction levels than in nearly every other market. In another rather depressing twist, this year’s study shows satisfaction levels plummet even further, revealing that promiscuity doesn’t pay off.

Chinese marketers are particularly dissatisfied with digital agencies, especially their evaluation methods and way of working. This is probably because marketers feel least confident about this growing area, shown by the fact that 92 per cent want more training in this specialism. But digital is not such a concern for all Asian markets. In India, for example, the provision of digital services by their creative agencies rates as the lowest in the priority list for marketers, with 30 per cent still handling digital in-house.

While it is true that there is a new focus on the short-term, it’s also true there are still some very strong relationships in the region. Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, for instance, have all seen their businesses flourish off the back of stable and balanced relationships.

“The people that have it right attract better agency talent, better marketing brains and usually better ideas,” says Paull. “A great client/agency marriage will always achieve more than having freelancers darting in and out of your business, second-guessing your business objectives. Coke, P&G, Unilever and others who invest in long-term partnerships have much higher agency consistency and loyalty.”

As in any marriage, clients are looking for a partner who really cares and is not afraid to show it. Agencies who have held on to business for extended periods repeatedly talk about how they eat, breathe and sleep the brand. Success stories come from ‘immersion’ techniques: such as when P&G put their agency teams through rigorous training courses on their business strategy and marketing disciplines; or when McDonald’s insist ad teams work in a store flipping burgers; or when Coke and Unilever send their agency partners out into the sales field.

Paul Pi, vice-president, marketing, adidas Greater China, says clients generally could do “a lot more to really engage their agency partners into the company’s strategies and business goals.”

At adidas, he is always interested in finding new ways to involve his agencies, as well as bring his various agencies together, so they are all working towards the same goal.

Johnson & Johnson client Ellesha Kirby, regional franchise director, beauty care, agrees that this kind of immersion leads to better outcomes: “Always the benefits of a strong client/agency relationship are in getting the best work that is creative, beautiful and brings a new level of insight and intelligence to the strategy.”

Nirvik Singh, chairman and CEO of Grey Group Asia-Pacific, recalls his experience with client Dunlop. “The joy of my weekend was counting tyres on the street, going to the factory and seeing how tyres were made. That built up immense trust.”

However, keeping a global client happy is getting harder. Singh points out that often agencies lose business because they are not able to gauge the temperature correctly. “You need to read the client correctly and there comes a point in any relationship where you may have to sit down and clear the air. You can find ways to be direct in Asia. It depends on where and how you have that conversation.”

Kiger believes the agencies that will successfully hold on to key accounts will be those that “create, co-create or adapt. Agencies we want to work with on a long-term basis are those with the capacity to adapt to assignments and put the same amount of energy and drive into projects, regardless of the roles being sol ic ited,” he says. “A lot is changing and the ‘traditional’ roles between agencies are getting more and more blurred. Cooperation between otherwise competing agencies is sometimes difficult to achieve.”

Hampartsoumian argues that while agencies need to show clients more love, they also need to have a firm vision. “You have to show clients you really care about the brand,” he says. “Be honest. Have a point of view, and stand up for it. Don’t play the ‘suit’ or the ‘ad man’. Clients can see right through that.”

One changing relationship dynamic causing unrest seems to be the growing ascendency of the media agency. According to R3, 41 per cent of marketers see media agencies leading the communications process now. Inevitably, this is putting some creative agency noses out of joint.

Mike Cooper, global CEO of PHD Network, argues that media agencies are better structured to help clients negotiate the constantly fragmenting media landscape. He explains that in PHD’s China operation, it has a department dedicated to creative channel planning, to link creative thinking with media planning and buying strategies across all media channels.

“It’s this ability to offer clients control that is changing the nature of relationships media agencies have with clients,” says Cooper, adding that one PHD China client has even asked the agency to help pick a creative digital agency, such is the level of trust between them.

Another deal-breaking agency dynamic which affects relationships in Asia is the balance between local and expat talent. iris Worldwide’ regional CEO for Asia-Pacific, Josh Thomson, argues that getting this mix right is one of the “keys to a long-term relationship”.

“We actively ‘manage’ this balance at iris, as it can be difficult. In the early phase of our development we relied on expats but, as we mature, employing local talent is more and more important. In our Indian operation, for example, there are no expats at all,” he says.

The problem with expat talent, according to Thomson, is that it can be transient and lack the necessary cultural understanding. With clients feeling so promiscuous at the moment, iris doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.

However, despite the current frisky fickleness of clients, most agency heads are optimistic that clients’ collective mid-life crisis will soon blow over. Like many a married man waking up after a one night stand, they will soon yearn again for the cosiness and comfort of a long-term marriage. While the courtship and honeymoon may be exciting, there is nothing quite like someone who knows you well - warts and all.

“Long-term relationships allow us to better understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There’s no steep learning curve or wasted time ‘courting’ to impress. Agencies and clients can then concentrate all of their energy identifying challenges and finding solutions,” says Kiger. “The danger, of course, is a relationship going stale. All parties need to ensure that every day is seen as a new day and that every assignment is as challenging and as exciting as the first one.”

This article was originally published in the November 2010 issue of Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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Google's tips for agencies striving to work at the pace of digital

By Emily Tan on Aug 16, 2012
filed under Digital, Global

Aiming to help advertisers work more effectively with itself, Google has compiled an insight report, called ‘Agile Creativity’, that contains broadly applicable wisdom from a selection of digital experts regarding necessary changes to the client-agency relationship in this digital era.

In the report, the internet giant compiled a list of tips from its own experience in Silicon Valley, as well as interviews within digital agencies (including its own stable of agencies, which includes BBH, AKQA, 72andSunny, Big Spaceship and a few others).

As several commenters pointed out, none of the digital creatives Google featured are women. Despite this, the list offers a thought-provoking look at how client-agency relationships might evolve—and even adopt some of the product-development techniques pioneered in the technology industry.  

Here's what Campaign Asia-Pacific gleaned:

1. Physically (or virtually) co-locate

According to John Boiler, founding partner and CEO of 72andSunny, the agency had to change the physical space of its office to adapt to working at a higher pace. “We built a wall...," he said. "At any time you can see people moving up and down the wall—strategists commenting on the creative work and the creatives commenting on the runup work.” Because the wall was a constant work in progress, it enabled the agency to constantly improve the work in real-time.

Winston Binch, partner and chief digital officer of Deutsch LA, finds it important that teams are kept together. “Rather than sit by department, we are sitting by account," he said. "It encourages accountability and allows people to focus on the extra iterations.”

While Matt Howell, global chief digital officer of Arnold, believes in involving clients as contributors instead of just approvers. “The decision-makers are part of the team," he said. "The rate of work accelerates and the relationship improves because of this joint ownership.”

2. Add technologists to the creative team

“Expand your core team’s skill set by including developers, digital experts, and freelance specialists based on project needs,” advises Google.

Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO of Big Spaceship, said his top tip is to pair designers and technologists on each team, as does Binch.

“I err on the side of mixing it up when I assign people to a project, I let people try working on another brand, in a different medium, with a different partner,” echoed Patrick O'Neill, ECD with TBWA Chiat Day LA. “More times than not, you get new kinds of thinking by having that attitude.”

3. Develop T-shaped talent

Purely vertical experts are no longer viable employees in a swiftly changing world. Desirable employees are highly skilled in at least one area, highly collaborative, empathetic toward different perspectives and interested in many other fields and skills, according to Google.

4. The “minimum viable” brief

Borrowed from the tech companies, which quickly build a ‘minimum viable product’ with only the features needed to make it functional enough for real-world testing, the MVB should cover as much as is needed for creatives to glean the information they require from real-time testing, and shouldn’t take more than a day.

5. Hackathon mode

Also inspired by tech companies, hackathons are day-long events where technologists quickly crank out ideas and build software.

AKQA often has one-day offsite events that go from briefing to concept to idea presentation in under four hours. “Just because you have more time doesn’t guarantee your work will be better,” said Rei Inamoto, CCO of AKQA. "Some of the best ideas I've seen at AKQA have come from that sort of condensed, intense lack of time.”

6. Iterate and test campaigns

“Be more prolific than epic,” advises Greg Anderson, CEO of BBH New York. “You don’t have to lose your standards to be prolific, but it allows you to learn and create the next thing by getting your ideas out of the way quickly.”

Just as in software development, where a product constantly evolves with fast and flexible responses to feedback, agencies can collapse the creative process: rapidly building out executions in tangible form, testing them and optimizing early and often to get to the best version, Google said.

Anderson drew a parallel between BBH’s approach to campaigns and “a portfolio of stocks”. “If we have $1 million, we think about spending it on getting 10 things into market at once to see where we should pull or double support,” he said.

7. Partner (with the client) on pilot projects

It’s hard to constantly iterate if you have to wait hours for permission. “We didn’t want to launch and leave, it's software," Lebowitz said. "Imagine what the world would be like if Adobe had stopped at Photoshop 1.”

One method agencies can use to get the biggest bugs out of the way is to use clients as beta-testers, advised Google. “Once the client partner is on board, set the team up for success in this trial period.”

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Is there any value in value-based compensation?

Well, this was a good week to be Tony Blair – a short taxi ride to Claridge’s in London for a three hour meeting, to broker a deal between Xstrata and Glencore, in exchange for a US$1m fee.

I can see the procurement people looking over this now, and asking “Is $333,333 a fair hourly charge out rate?” No doubt one of Tony Blair’s men would have replied “Well, he is one of our top executives….”

This industry has become bogged down in too many irrelevant and counter- productive discussions about time and costs. I feel confident in saying this, because in a lot of cases, my company is also involved in these. If martians were to land on earth and study the advertising and communications sector, they would laugh – “you mean the slower you work, the more you get paid?” For the majority of agencies right now, on hourly fees and retainers, this is the reality.

Two days ago, I ordered some books off Amazon, and paid a fat premium to get them delivered as soon as possible. Imagine if I had paid more to get them delivered more slowly…. Last week, I got a piping hot pizza from Pizza Hut – imagine if they charged me more to deliver it in three hours. The world’s tallest building is currently going up in Changsha, China right now (…not a typo….) in seven months – if they take seventeen months, how much more could they charge?

THE DRIVE FOR VALUE When will someone from the client or agency side take more of a risk and work on a greater value based compensation approach? According to our 2012 research, 49% of global marketers now pay their agency a variable fee, linked to results. So this is a start – but likewise in the same study, 65% of marketers are unhappy with the current structure and want to change. Barack Obama this year couldn’t get re-elected with 35% of the vote, so it’s really time to hope for some change.

Coca-Cola has taken the first shot three years ago with a Value Based compensation approach and P&G tried Sales Commissions – but as we said at the time, both are a good step, but still remain challenged. Holding companies don’t like the idea of having so much at risk – and procurement people at companies can’t imagine paying an agency double or triple the actual cost to get work done (meantime, they happily pay McKinsey or Bain on this basis).

The key potential has to be the way agencies can better measure and drive their overall performance, and the performance of all the agencies working for the brand. This idea of ‘mutual risk and reward’ is a cornerstone of good integrated marketing. We were lucky this month to have top clients and agencies help us on an Integration White Paper – (write to me for a copy)

Digital needs to be at the center of this. In five years’ time, there won’t be any digital agencies or social agencies – there will just be agencies – and some dinosaurs. The goal needs to be not “How many followers we got”, but how this work genuinely influenced Brand Equity, Purchase Intent and Business Results. All it needs is a client and agency to both take a stand together. Who will be the first?

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Four classic pitch mistakes

By Nick Manning on Jul 5, 2012
filed under Advertising, Asia-Pacific

The seeds of client-agency mistrust are often sown during the pitch. Nick Manning, managing director for business development at Ebiquity, explains how to avoid the pitfalls.

Relationships often go wrong. It’s a fact of life. But when relationships go wrong so often it’s worth asking why.

I asked a group of highly experienced marketers why the bond between media agency and advertiser frequently lasts just two to three years. Their answer: a breakdown in trust.

Conditions for this rapid erosion of trust are established at the pitch. Advertisers that want a longer-lasting relationship need to avoid four classic pitch mistakes. 

Pitch mistake No 1: Being economical with the truth

In the natural euphoria of pitch-frenzy, it’s easy to forget that the outcome of the pitch is a relationship and a contract.

The client needs to know that the promises made at pitch stage are based on real, copper-bottomed commitments that will be enshrined in a contract that both partners intend to fully comply with.

This means, for example, that the people offered to service the client’s business really are available and are not being promised at over 100 per cent of their time. If they work for a sister agency, this should be clear too, with associated actions for transfer.

If an agency is weak in a particular market—a classic challenge in Asia—the agency needs to say so and explain its proposed actions.

It means that transparency is real, not partial and can be delivered even in markets such as China where lack of transparency is common.

Trust derives from transparency and truth, and there can only be a proper, long-lasting business relationship if both are present.

Pitch mistake No 2: Leaving things open to interpretation

Relationships often break down because of a mismatch between what the client thinks they’re getting and what they actually receive.

If, for example a client will only pay on a commission basis, this should be set out in the brief. If they need 100 per cent dedicated full-time employee resource located near their head office, this should be clearly stated.

It’s a good idea to set out the main contractual terms as early as possible, as this also reduces the possibility that the eventual contract may take a year to resolve.

Clients need to take more time getting this right. It’s harder and takes more time, of course, but it pays dividends. Most multi-territory pitches should take six to nine months from start to finish.

Be as comprehensive as possible at briefing stage, especially when it comes to specifying contractual ‘must-haves’.

Pitch mistake No 3: Conflicting client-side expectations

It’s a cliché to say that all parts of a client company must be aligned in a pitch, but it is, of course, true. Marketing, procurement and finance must all be unified centrally, and local teams must also be in agreement as far as possible.

If this isn’t possible, an internal contract review might be a better option.

Assuming all parties are aligned, the brief is everything. Different stakeholder groups have their own goals, so the brief needs to be crystal-clear in covering all needs. There must be balanced scorecards to ensure the weighting is right between all the components of an agency’s contribution.

Ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are addressed in the brief and don’t hold a pitch unless everyone agrees that you should.

Pitch mistake No 4: focusing on Year 1

The main advantages of a pitch are recognised in the first year. This is where the headline-grabbing, double-digit advantages are to be gained. However, there is often too much emphasis on Year 1, with later years left open-ended.

Given that contracts are usually designed to last a minimum of three years, it is important that the promise of performance is set at the right level for the whole life of the contract.

After the early adrenaline wears off, the media agency has to demonstrate long-term enthusiasm for the business.

The status of agencies is still dominated by new business wins. When a big pitch is on, clients see their teams evaporate and often find that their much-loved account director is promised on the new win, leading to frustration.

The best-run agencies concentrate on servicing the growing needs of their longer-term client partners, widening their income organically and nurturing their relationships. In the longer-term these agencies do better and get stronger. By being stronger, they win more business.

Long view

Advertisers don’t want to lose trust in their agencies, and they don’t want to keep changing agencies. It’s highly disruptive, risky and time-consuming.

A more open, honest, thorough and professional approach to pitching and contract compliance goes a long way to creating longer-term relationships.

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Finding true love in China has never been harder

Well, there it was, buried into an outstanding article in the New Yorker by Evan Osnos, probably the best English writer in China right now (sorry, Tom) – a lovely request from a woman looking for a man, posted on, China’s largest dating site,

“Never married; master’s degree or more; not from Wuhan; not an only child; no smokers; no alcoholics; no gamblers; taller than 172cm; more than a year of dating before marriage; sporty; parents who are still together; annual salary over RMB50,000; between 26 and 32 years of age; willing to guarantee four dinners at home per week; at least two ex-girlfriends, but no more than four; no Virgos; no Capricorns. “

Damn, I thought; I nailed every criteria, but I was from Wuhan! Curse you, Wuhan!

Jiayuan is amazing – started by Gong Haiyan, a disgruntled dater seven years ago, it’s now a NASDAQ listed company, with over 100 million members and a market cap of RMB1billion. Looking for that special someone in Beijing? Well, you might have to sift through over 1 million people in Jiayuan to find them. Gong has now been called “China’s #1 Matchmaker” (I finally have a role model) and been featured on many business and lifestyle shows.

Everyone knows about China’s one child policy, and the leaning towards men. By some estimates this decade, there will be 24 million men of marrying age unable to find a wife. While marriage rates are down to as low as 51% in the west, in China, 98% of all women will marry at least once in their lifetime.

Then it struck me.

Marketers are like the women of China.

In a country of 143,000 agencies, there’s simply no need to settle down. There’s no real benefit to find a long term partner, when there are so many hungry suppliers looking for their next meal ticket (or Martin Sorrell’s next meal ticket). Why just read a book, when you can have the whole library?

In our research, no country on earth has shorter agency relationships than in China. An average they are two and a half years – for a lot of local clients, even less. But this is not only a local problem – Unilever right now is pitching their China media.

Their last review? Two and a half years ago. A spokesperson in London said “this kind of review timing is normal.”

The “concubine approach” to agency relations has meant agencies undercutting, often having to under-deliver to break even, seeking revenue from media and production houses to subsidize their low fees, paying and training their people less than they should. According to our research, only 66% of Chinese marketers are satisfied with their agencies. In Europe, this number is over 90%.

So what can we do about it?

  1. Look to new models – what P&G have done with their BAL (Brand Agency Leader) model is a giant step forward, albeit not perfect. We were lucky to work with Coca-Cola China on a similar model before the Beijing Olympics – it worked for them then. The best brands in China trust their lead agency to manage others and drive business – with some very long relationships – P&G and Grey, Publicis, Saatchi and Leo Burnett have more than 50 years together.
  2. Focus on Outputs, Not Inputs – we spend a lot of our lives helping clients and agencies agree on appropriate compensation, but really, what is more important, is that the agency is held accountable, and has a significant “skin in the game”, based on agreed outputs. I don’t really care if you think that integrated campaign will take you 1,500 hours to produce instead of 1,200 hours – I care more how much it will sell and what it will do for brand equity – and you should too.
  3. Take Digital Seriously – if you thought Above the Line relationships were bad, digital relationships are terrible in China. Most marketers hire their digital agencies by the yard, not by the year. So digital agencies for the most part, usually don’t see the need to invest in Strategic Planning or analytics, since neither side knows how long the relationship will last. Everything is so new, so everything is so short term. Imagine, one client hired us this year, because their roster of digital agencies was too small – they needed to look more widely. That roster? 14 digital agencies. What if all that business was in 1 or 2? How much talent and how many great solutions come could come? Coca-Cola, conversely, has only just started broadening its digital roster, after staying quite focused for five years – in R3’s EnSpire study, it’s the #1 brand online when it comes to engagement. Who knows how much this strategy helped, but it sure didn’t hurt.
  4. Benchmark – well, I guess you knew I would say that, but marketers and agencies should be using external measures, whether it’s tracking research, 360 degree evaluations, media audits, or other measures to benchmark where they are in an ever-changing marketplace. It doesn’t have to just be through a pitch. We have one big client in Shanghai that audits their agency every year – seven years later, there’s been no pitch – and sure, the relationship is not perfect, but there’s a lot of continuity and consistency. Johnson & Johnson do evaluations better than just about anyone else, as you would expect from such a ‘nurturing’ company, actively asking agencies for feedback on how they can become a better client. China might be an easy place to find short term love, giving the dynamics of the marketing industry right now, but the real winners will be the ones who set up mutually rewarding partnerships for the future.

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Technology means little if it doesn't meet my objectives: Marketers

By Matthew Miller on Sep 18, 2012
filed under Digital, Asia-Pacific

SINGAPORE - A session meant to address whether technology hinders or helps creativity ended up focusing more on the relationship between agencies and brands when it comes to the proper use of digital tools.

The Spikes Asia panel, moderated by Jean Lin, chief executive officer of Isobar Asia-Pacific and founder of wwwins Isobar Greater China, featured Dwayne Serjeant, Isobar's regional practice leader for user experience, as well as two brand marketers: Haresh Koobchandani, COO of Microsoft Indonesia and Ajay Mohan, director of partner marketing and digital marketing, consumer marketing and sales with Intel Asia-Pacific.

The panelists dispensed with the planned topic rather rapidly, mainly agreeing that technology is a tool that serves as a great acclerator of creativity, as long as it's employed in the service of marketing objectives and not as an end in itself.

"I fundamentally believe technology is not a hindrance," Khoobchandani said. "But if you use it for the sake of using it, it is a hindrance."

Mohan made light of technology's ability to interfere with creativity on the personal level when he claimed to suffer from "GIADD" which he said stands for Google-inspired attention deficit disorder. The condition interferes with the quiet ideation and introspection necessary for true creativity, he said. He nonetheless concluded, as one would expect of an Intel man, that technology is a powerful catalyst for speeding up creativity and sharing the results.

When Lin asked how agencies are doing with harnessing technology for brands, the marketers spoke plainly.

"Things are evolving so fast that I don't think about technology," Khoobchandani said. "I think about what effects my consumers."

He went on to decry digital agencies who—surprise—advocate digital solutions, and described what he'd like to see more of: "At some point the conversation has to be about me, what I need, and where I need to go," he said. "Having agencies come in to have that discussion and say, 'Hey, let's look at what you need, and then let's build a plan to achieve that.'"

Mohan took a soomewhat more sanguine view. "As clients and agencies, we are all guiilty to a certain degree of finding the next shiny object," he said. "There is always that quest for doing the next shiny thing, and sometimes we forget, both as clients and as partners, we forget that technology has to serve a purpose."

Another issue that brands and agencies need to address, and which technology can help with, is expanding reach, Mohar said.

"You name it," he said, "the next billion of whatever you sell will be sold in this part of the world. I don't think we've used technology well enough to reach out to those peple, and ideas that would get us those people--any clients would be all for that."

The panelists also spent some time, at Lin's behest, naming the next big technology innovations that the industry will need to come to grips with.

Serjeant spoke about the "democratisation of product development" enabled by 3D fabrication tools, as well as the possibilities of haptic feedback systems that would allow users to feel textures or reactions as they interact with a device. Khoobchandani mentioned the ageing population, asking whether technology in its current forms is relevant to older consumers and calling for more development in this area.

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The Agency Directory online coverage is now Portfolio

Portfolio is a unique platform which combines the existing Agency, PR and Digital directories into one comprehensive, content and data rich showcase of agencies in Asia-Pacific. Easily browse, search and review agencies on key performance criteria, as well as their Creative Ranking.

We hope Portfolio makes finding the right partner a little bit easier but we’d like to hear from you - simply select the feedback tab on the site and let us know want you think.

The Campaign Asia-Pacific Team