OPINION: REAY ON ... AGENCY STRATEGY

I think the world has gone a bit research crazy. Ever since the new government got in, the word ’focus group’ has entered our everyday vocabulary. But I’ve seen more pound notes burned on market research than I’ve had lunches at the Ivy.

I think the world has gone a bit research crazy. Ever since the new

government got in, the word ’focus group’ has entered our everyday

vocabulary. But I’ve seen more pound notes burned on market research

than I’ve had lunches at the Ivy.



So it seems a little off that I’d use this column to talk about a lack

of research - or at least a lack of data or crunchiness. Where? In the

business closest to my heart: advertising.



I was at a conference last week where I was inspired by guys from Tesco

and Shell talking about their future plans and what they based them on:

data.



I was struck by the contrast with data-averse advertising agencies. At

companies like Tesco, relevant facts are not just known, they are

finger-tip available. Just how many jars of dill pickle sell per square

foot in Plumstead versus Penzance. And on a bigger scale, exactly what

is the competition up to at home and on a global scale.



By contrast, how many managers in advertising treat their own company as

a brand at all? Whenever we advise clients we ask them basic questions

such as, are we seeking to grow the market or simply take share? Yet in

an over-supplied market like ours, which agencies are overtly following

a market growth strategy? An onlooker could be forgiven for thinking a

hell of a lot of agencies are blindly scrabbling for a tiny increase in

market share.



Similarly, when advising clients, we’d ask for data on user perceptions

of the brand. For example, I saw an innovative presentation recently

about relationship auditing. It was designed to provide objective data

on business relationships (for the likes of a Tesco and a supplying

manufacturer).



I was asked if I thought ad agencies might use it to track their big

client relationships. I was unsure. It struck me again that while we

base so many actions on behalf of our clients on what the punter thinks

and wants, there’s not too much formal questioning of what our customers

think and want.



Listening to those client marketing directors, I got to thinking about

the calibre of our own marketing directors. Does marketing have a seat

at the top table in agencies? Are agencies practising what they

preach?



And if not, is there a connection with how the business is faring versus

other competitive sectors?



Tesco swatted Sainsbury’s by being passionately committed and fabulously

professional. By this I mean Tesco knew exactly what it was seeking to

achieve, why and how. In advertising we have huge dollops of the

passionately committed, but just how strategically driven are we? We

have the ability - we do it for our clients.



The implications are strategic but also affect everyday things such as

fee negotiation. In a negotiation between Tesco and a supplying

manufacturer, the currency they deal in is hard fact - cost of goods,

margin, brand competitive performance. Are we setting the agenda via

transparency and knowing exactly what the key numbers should be?



I applaud Rupert Howell’s goals for his IPA stint and don’t believe that

they’re over-ambitious. One of the ways to stand tall and proud as an

industry is to be state of the art. Some of the businesses I was

watching the other day certainly were.



Carol Reay is the former deputy chairman of Grey.



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