Greg Paull
May 9, 2014

Taking the emotion out of conflict

The age-old issue of client conflict got a thorough and impassioned airing on the third day of the ANA Advertising Financial Management conference.

Greg Paull
Greg Paull

Greg Paull, principal with R3, is blogging from the ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference in Naples, Florida, where 400 of the world’s biggest procurement and marketing leaders have gathered with agencies and consultants for a three-day talkfest.

On the third and final day of this annual conference—where companies including Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark, Ford and others have taken the stage—now it was the agency’s turn.

Lauren Crampsie, the global CMO of Ogilvy, gave an impassioned hour-long speech on conflict—the age-old issue that agencies can only handle one player in a sector.  

I must admit, I had anticipated this to be a whine session. But the reality is, the clients are equally disadvantaged by the conflict rule, and Lauren did a great job showcasing it. This was one of the best speeches of the event, stressing that we need to remove all the emotion from the issue and focus on rational outcomes.

Of course , we started with McKinsey, Bain and the law firms, all who have ‘divisions” dedicated to packaged goods or automotive, handling multiple brands. McKinsey, bless them, are far more ingrained in corporate strategies and secrets than any agency. Crampsie made a point that resonated with all: “If your back is sore, you need to get a back doctor, not an ear, nose and throat specialist.” And she did a good job of showcasing what Ogilvy was doing “in one region” (obviously Asia) to protect the security of multiple conflicting brands.

Finally, we were reminded of highly successful US fashion agencies Select NY, Laird and Partners and others who specialize in that sector: “You know what they say? Two is a conflict, three is a specialty.” It’s time the rules changed.

The last two presentations addressed the area of agency transparency, and from a global aspect.  Debbie Morrison of ISBA and Steve Lightfoot of the WFA came all the way from Europe to share market research on UK and global trends. Imagine that 82 per cent of UK marketers believe that online media buying is not transparent. And in Canada, according to their local association head, 15 per cent of marketers are aware of the idea of agency trading-desk arbitrage. New global “heatmaps” from the WFA  showed the countries where the biggest issues lie. Yes, you guessed correctly: China was in red.  

The final panel featured Colgate’s global head of media procurement and two other consultants. The only person missing was someone to speak up on the agency’s behalf, which was a shame as this became a ‘bitch’ session.

“Agencies have a number of different ways to make money, but make very little from clients,” said one of the participants. Katherine Freeley of Colgate left us all with, “Transparency is the new green.”  And we all packed up our things and took that home with us.

The message for marketers and agencies in Asia from the three days? Advertising can no longer disrupt,  it needs to entertain, be useful, and be part of a dialogue. And for those who “procure” it, and those that are being “procured” from , dialogue is also the key word.

If not, welcome to The Hunger Games.


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