Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Start your own upswing

A mindset is a terrible heavy thing, maan. It's that word set. It's like concrete. It no bendy. Need a lumphammer to change its mind. Never pretty.

How often have you heard your clients being described as completely stupid fucking idiots? How often have you described them that way yourself? I have, plenty. On occasion I have posited the lofty assertion that they wouldn't know a good idea if it wore a Good Idea t-shirt and bit a tattoo with its sharp little teeth on their idiot arses saying This is a Good Idea.

They're not idiots. And in the main we're not smarter, better, more informed, more articulate or more in tune with the consumer zeitgeist. We just operate in a narrower frame of view. Clients care this much for our peer-to-peer love affair with little statues. Which of course is like a constant grain of sand in our high performance gearboxes.

Clients care for shifting units. Marketing 101. Always have. Never pretended not to. It's why you don't get to see the client's top brass very often. Not even when you're pitching for €10 million worth of their business. Big picture relevance. And so predictably, somewhere along the line, the idea of an us and a them became entrenched. Set. It's tribal and it's petty and it's human nature but right now, with traditional agencies shedding people like confetti, it's an attitude none of us can afford to hang on to.

Clients need to sell more than ever, and they need us less and less to do it, truth be told. As far as we ought to be concerned, there are other metrics that tell the story with a lot more clarity, and we've been too snobbish to learn how to read them. Former Forrester researcher Peter Kim estimated that marketers gave their ad agencies a Net Promoter Score of -21%. That means not very good things.

And now a pleasing interlude with some questions. Be blunt with your answers. You're only talking to you.

  • Do you embrace your client's ethos?
  • Do you actually understand their most pressing needs?
  • Do you honestly know how they rate you?
  • Would they recommend you to another non-competing client?
  • Did you - do you - deliver on your pre-election promises?
  • Are you embracing new media on their behalf?
  • Are you proactive in finding ways to make those media work for your clients?
  • Does the work you deliver come from a team mindset, or is it more often cobbled together to make it over the line?

It has been a shitty week or two for many agencies in Dublin. Redundancies have become a repeat reality. 20% pay cuts, some people down to half-time.

The fact that social media happen to be around right now, making some noise in a refined and highly measureable format, might be considered as rotten luck from one perspective. It is an ill omen for traditional ATL agencies, but only if they flat-out refuse to embrace new opportunities. Clients in the main are recognising that turning the tap off is a very limited short-term solution. The smarter ones are restructuring their communications matrices, and ATL is feeling the lumphammer. But clients are not the enemy. They never have been. They have a wider set of needs than most agencies traditionally see or care to grasp. Sorry to all those 70s heyday Dublin admen: Life on Mars doesn't exist any more. Answerability is everywhere, and the multinational model applies.

But this is an opportunity! Several hungry and lean organisations are out there right now delivering new, measureable options to clients. (Possibly your clients, particularly if you do some work for the larger ones who now love to spread the love.) In my own experience, some of these have started to spend more on their digital reach. Not a betting man, but I'd wager that it's still nowhere near as much as they're chopping from their trad spend on ATL.

Meh. Pessimism is all well and good when things are going well for you. It's about as much use as a bull's tit the rest of the time. Tough times make for tough blah blah blah.

The question quickly becomes how much of a team player you can be alongside your client. Can you state the difficult truths? Will you settle for hanging on while the tap drips something, anything, a 40" corporate branding ad plus three 20" cutdowns every other year? It'll do! We'll take it!! WE'LL TAKE IT!!!

Or will you adopt the model that consumers are already using so adroitly? Will you actually engage with your clients in a two-way conversation that leaves no room for doubt?

Like Jesus distilling the ten commandments into 1. Respect the Chief, and 2. Do unto Others, distil all of the shit that's going on right now into a single, positive focus, and share it with your clients, and begin the process of them sharing it with consumers. The future gets brighter that way.

This rant inspired by FutureLab's Alain Thys & Stefan Kolle, with particular reference to their report RECONSIDERING THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY. Want a copy? Just say so.


  1. As always Nick, you have an unusually 'colourful' habit of hitting the nail on the proverbial head. I usually find myself forwarding your articles to a senior manager in an attempt to bludgeon some sense into them. As a full service agency, it never ceases to amaze me that the ones I have the hardest time convincing that the landscape has indeed changed for good, are the ones that have the most to loose. The continued view held by ATL that new media is either a threat or not a consideration will ultimately be their downfall. In an environment where revenues & budgets are rapidly shrinking, the potential to replace that stream with innovation seems to be beyond the obvious. What aren't people getting that?

  2. I don't get it myself tbh. The truth is out there, and the agencies are ironically sitting on a massive treasure trove of brand data that gives them a unique status with clients. Don't know where the disconnect started, but I do know that it's being widened by the point blank refusal in the case of some agencies to acknowledge their obvious lack of knowledge. You can't buy in the solution long term, you have to grow it. All the better if you grow it proactively with your client. Meanwhile, the smaller digital agencies are visibly delivering on rates of investment for a lot less outlay, but perhaps don't always have the step-back big brand perspective that's needed by clients. More disconnect.