What the advertising industry can learn from the Premier League
A view from Martin Jones

What the advertising industry can learn from the Premier League

Ahead of his team, Brighton, playing its first Premier League game tomorrow, AAR's Martin Jones reflects on the similarities between agency life and football.

It’s not just a matter of life and death…

After 34 years in the football wilderness, this Saturday, my team, Brighton, will play its first game in the Premier League.

This momentous occasion led me to reflect on the huge similarities between the worlds of football and agencies.

No doubt there are many that I will have missed, but here are a few to kick off with (see what I did there!):

  • The importance of teams. Whether it is in a chemistry meeting or playing the league leaders, the team will pretty much always win out over a group of individuals;
  • Supreme optimism. You may have lost five games/pitches in a row but next time, you are definitely going to win!
  • The lack of black, Asian, and minority ethnic representatives running agencies/teams. Our manager Chris Hughton (he of the Blue and White Army fame) is the only black manager in the Premiership, and one of only three in the four divisions of English football.
  • The constant movement of talent between both agencies and football clubs. One "man" clubs are a rarity in both worlds, while both Campaign and the tabloids are full of pictures of new signings holding up the literal or proverbial shirt.
  • Everyone knows when the pitch presentation is and the transfer window closes, but both are invariably characterised by a mad last few hours (or indeed minutes) of trying to get everything over the line.

So, if there are many similarities, what can the agency world learn from the football industry? While I suspect there are many things, here are just a few starters:

Caretaker managers

When a team loses its manager unexpectedly, the sensible ones put in a caretaker manager for a period of months while they make a more considered, long term appointment.

Faced with the need to find a new chief executive, many agencies feel the need to make an instant appointment – often the planner – rather than take their time by appointing an interim manager while a full search takes place.

Yellow cards

When a client calls a pitch, we ask them whether the news will be a surprise to the incumbent agency. Invariably the response will be: "Well it shouldn’t be, we’ve given them enough warnings".

Unfortunately, the message doesn’t always appear to have been heard so maybe we could introduce a formal yellow card warning that the client can give the agency to let them know that they are in danger of announcing a review.

Valuing itself

When Sky and BT approach the Premier League for negotiations on TV rights, I don’t suspect that they will be told, "Well, you may be looking for £2bn, but we could probably do it for £1.5bn.

Our industry is full of stories of agencies undercutting each other and "doing work for free". Surely the time has come to take a leaf out of the world of soccer and start collectively valuing ourselves.

And finally, a couple of suggestions which sadly are unlikely to see the light of day, but wouldn’t it be great if…

Having spent years training and nurturing their talent, agencies were able to charge a transfer fee if one of their players was poached by a competitor.

There was a closed season when clients weren’t allowed to review. No serious games are played during the summer period and there is always talk of a Christmas break. Adopting the same practices in the agency world wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Are they pies in the skies? Ten years ago, if you’d told me that Brighton would be playing in the Premier League, I would have said that was an impossibility, so you just never know!

Martin Jones is managing partner at AAR and an excited Brighton fan.