From memory, the gist of the question was: “What is the one thing that agencies could do better/more/less of for their clients?” It may seem inappropriate for an agency head to comment on this, but do hear me out.
First of all I would say that it is entirely appropriate, and that framing this discussion topic as a question to clients sadly perpetuates the supplier customer mentality that blights agency-client relations. This is a cliché, and only a small band of sociopaths would profess anything other than a desire to have a partnership with their marketing communications provider.
But like all clichés, it’s true. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over two decades in this business, nearly all of them household names, but also a number of smaller businesses and start-ups. And it is always, without fail, those that are treated as equal partnerships that yield the greatest results. I don’t want to go off on a tangent here, and sadly in my experience many businesses are culturally hard-wired in such a way as to prevent this and there is little logic as to why (it’s just as likely or indeed unlikely in professional services as it is in nuts and bolts businesses).
Anyway back to the question. “What’s the one thing” that agencies and clients can do better? I used to have a Creative Director who had won loads of awards (doing Hale and Pace Clorets ads coincidentally), and he insisted that every single issue was boiled down to one clear statement with no room for competing issues. It’s a brilliant but difficult discipline, especially in business-to-business when usually there are rafts of distracting FABs. So to that end, there are literally hundreds of right answers to this question, most around themes of being cheaper (better value sorry), faster, more responsive and more transparent, etc. All of which are valid.
But when I’m asked to do something cheaper, faster and better I ask someone to draw a triangle with each of these attributes on its corners, and then tell them they can draw a circle with a radius that’s large enough to cover two corners. Whilst I am sure this is scientifically incorrect, my experience tells me it’s a very good rule of thumb to follow.
So, what’s the one thing we should focus on?
Well for me, it’s creativity. It’s exactly what the Converge event opened out on; creating marketing communications that stand out, that create memorability and engagement and that deliver results. Some agencies will tell you that they don’t want to win awards and that they are focused on your business – well last year another venerable trade association, the IPA, produced a wonderful piece of research called “The long and short of it” which, unlike my triangle, uses science to prove a demonstrable link between award-winning work and business results.
For too long in B2B we’ve hidden behind complexity as an excuse for poor communications, but the tide is turning and the evidence is now there to support this. gyro’s own research earlier this year, with Fortune in the United States and YouGov here in the UK, showed that almost 70 percent of business decisions are made based on non-rational factors. I think that many B2B agencies fall into a trap of trying to be faux management consultants, or vertical sector specialists, at the expense of being a creative marketing communications business. You can never know a business as well as a client does, and indeed it’s often detrimental to.
Clients, setting this as your purchase driver is missing the point. I would advise that we recalibrate our relationships, including all of the metrics around our engagement with creativity. Agencies must ask themselves: “What is the one thing that you can do that your clients can’t?” It’s not business strategy or deep sector expertise, but creativity. Yes, there are plenty of client businesses with brilliant in-house “agencies” that are often a pleasure to work alongside, but usually they are best placed to deliver marketing economies through execution.
I’ll leave you with Adam Smith’s Division of Labour theory, which expressed in contemporary Mancunian says: “You do what you’re good at and I’ll do what I’m good at, and that way we’ll both become excellent and the sum will be greater than its parts.”
Danny Turnbull – Managing Director, gyro Manchester
Part of gyro’s global leadership team, Danny Turnbull runs the Manchester operation in the UK. He has spent almost 20 years in agencies both B2B and B2C, and has worked on a large number of household brands from DAF to Granda, from Smithkline Beecham to British Gas. Much of his experience is related to branding and corporate identity; however, he retains his strongest passion for the broader subject of creative work that really works.