Marion McDonald
Nov 1, 2012

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

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.

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

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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