Agencies should be looking to empower marketers
A view from James Murphy

Agencies should be looking to empower marketers

There remains a thrill in working alongside a really top marketer. The type of client who combines total professionalism with an intelligence and instinct for making brave decisions.

Like the best film or theatre impresarios, they handle a complex process, with many opinionated specialists involved. And the best do this while never relinquishing control of their overall vision.

However, four meetings in the space of just one week gave me pause to think about the role of the modern marketer and the danger that it is becoming marginalised.

Meeting one: a procurement meeting where client bean-counters pressed the marketing team to deliver efficiencies by cutting out what they saw as duplication of responsibilities.

Meeting two: a pre-test research debrief where a client sought a go/no-go decision from both qualitative and quantitative research companies.

Meeting three: a coffee with a client bemoaning their vulnerability as they are held accountable for their brand’s appeal but have no control over key channels in e-commerce or social media.

Meeting four: a stormy one, as a client’s managing director berates them for looking to research to make decisions.

While these meetings had contrasting outcomes, the overall takeout was that marketing directors need to work harder than ever to make it clear that they are the ones making the decisions.

It's incumbent on agencies to arm clients with the thinking and creativity to make the decisions they want to own

It’s commonplace for agencies to bemoan the twin "dark forces" of pre-testing and procurement, but even we have to admit that there remains a role for them. Having said that, an over-reliance on back-covering research, procurement parachuting in from holding companies, the evolution of complex client structures and divestment of key digital channels outside the marketing team pose serious threats to marketers.

Clients should be wary of ceding control and agencies should fear this too, as there’s a danger we could eventually be left to present work to people who aren’t from a marketing background. Thankfully, solutions are there.

True, some marketers may be all too ready to abdicate responsibility to research or procurement, but the best ones are not. It’s incumbent on agencies to arm clients with the thinking, creativity and evidence to make the decisions they want to own.

Help them towards making the big decisions by fostering, as clients said at the recent IPA Adaptathon event, less of an "us and them" mentality. Empowering the modern client is a big issue and one where agencies can play their part as the pressure on marketers builds from all sides.

James Murphy is the chief executive of Adam & Eve/DDB