Close-Up: Live Issue - Accountability and the misunderstood client

Agencies missed a chance to gain some insights into what drives marketers at the Marketing Forum, Claire Billings writes.

Given the absence of mainstream ad agencies and the tiny smattering of those from other disciplines on board the Oriana this year, marketing executives could be forgiven for thinking that the issues debated at the Marketing Forum are of little interest to agencies.

Strange, then, that the most hotly debated topic this year was one all too familiar to agencies: the evergreen subject of accountability.

The issue this time was not how above the line could make itself more answerable to financial targets, but how marketers can deliver short-term return on investment without sacrificing long-term brand development.

Dr Stan Maklan, the director of the marketing consultancy The Forge, believes marketers have to define their role in a business' sustainability.

"It's how you link reporting performance with marketing decisions to enable investors to assess the quality of the decisions," he says.

However, the Grey Global head of planning, John Lowery, argued that a crisis of trust in marketing's effectiveness was increasing the popularity of pre-testing. The discussion "holding accountability accountable" put the onus on clients to rely less on pre-testing and more on tracking and the expertise of the marketing team.

Liam Newton, a brands director at Inbev, uses the example of Lowe London's £1 million-a-spot TV ads for Stella Artois. The first of these - 1990's "Jean de Florette" - failed in pre-testing. He thinks that greater collaboration with agencies is the key to successful work, saying: "Clients need to treat agencies as partners and present a broader picture of their issues."

However, marketing departments' revolving doors make long-term relationships difficult, according to Andy Knowles, the chief executive of the design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie. "Agencies hold the information, data and history of a brand, whereas marketing directors move around a lot," he says. Research carried out by the Haddon Consultancy on a sample of marketing directors at this year's event backs Knowles' point, with most professing to prefer the challenge of a new job to moving up through the ranks.

Marketers are often misunderstood by their creative agencies, Ann Francke, the chief financial officer of Yell, argues. She stresses the distinction between marketing communications and marketing, explaining that the latter should be primarily concerned with getting the product right.

"The most creative advertising doesn't always deliver the best results," she warns. She cites the example of Nescafe's "Afro" TV ad against the more recent Trinny and Susannah campaign: "The second ad sold more coffee, adding seven share points. The first ad cost three times as much to make and dropped two points."

It's a point that would have been interesting to any above-the-line agency staff. Perhaps next year there will be some on board to hear similar arguments.

Accountability isn't going anywhere fast.

- Diary, page 25.

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