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The Sounds of Success

September 24, 2009

Concept: Advertising is at a crossroads. The financial fall out, technology and changing advertising models has threatened to turn traditional advertising agencies into dinosaurs. As the meteor of change looms, MarkLives (and MandyLives) goes to the Loeries – the party at the end of SA’s adland – to investigate the apocalypse.

flickr.com: leigh2000villa

flickr.com: leigh2000villa

Why thinking ‘none of my business’ may mean you should get out of the Business.

In my early years in the advertising agency industry, there was a poster on the wall of the office where I worked that read: “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

I believe John Le Carre got it right when he wrote these words as they sum up the manner in which some members of the Agency world have lost their way.

We’re in an era when creative has been dumbed down through process and formulation and where we rarely see a truly original Big Idea freshly executed.  We’re operating at a time when many agencies – and even some clients – seem to have forgotten the fundamental needs of the consumers: to feel valued and value, loved, affirmed and rewarded.

They don’t seem to grasp that the WHAT hasn’t changed but the HOW has. The key word is ‘relevance’. To be truly successful you must have a fundamental ability to help grow your clients’ market share.

Yet for too long, there has been a tendency to focus on what’s irrelevant at the expense of what is important.

What do I mean by irrelevant? I am talking about a skittish focus on elements like channel, Web 2.0, winning awards, and ‘me too’ campaigns.

At the same time, there is a dearth of trust between agency and client (remember ‘trust’?) and, with that lack of trust, too little focus on the consumer.

It’s important to realise successful advertising outcomes are achieved not through dumbing down the creative process or ramping up the latest technology but through good old-fashioned approaches such as understanding needs.  I include in this, understanding the client’s objectives; understanding their business; understanding what makes them and their markets tick.

Some agencies may have lost sight of the need to get inside their client and learn about the market factors that affect its sector, and its growth potential. Some don’t even think it’s their business. They are too often pursuing a passion for tinsel (read Awards) when they should be passionate about immersion, participation, and resonance.

What ever happened to the good old days when the account executive and the creative got into the car with the company sales rep and went out into the field?  That was a great way to get inside a client’s business and really understand its drivers.

Yet these days, that function is largely fulfilled by promotional agencies.

I once worked with an account director who came to me complaining he was bored with working on his fuel account and needed a new challenge to keep motivated.

I asked him, “What’s happening on the fuel competitor’s forecourts? What do their convenience stores look like? What’s their biggest selling item?”

Needless to say, he couldn’t answer any of these questions.

Five minutes later he was in his car heading off on a tour of the forecourts – and he found some valuable answers out in the field.

The key message is this: agencies are only valuable when you don’t know where the agency begins and the client ends; where the two function as one effective team and when your business is their business. That’s when you know why you’re in business; and as long as it’s your focus you’ll probably always be in business.

So as you attend this year’s Loeries ceremony, you might reflect upon the sound you’re hearing. Would you rather be listening to the applause of your peers and colleagues – or the loud ringing of the cash registers of your clients? I can tell you which one will keep you the business.

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