Asda's Andy Murray: 'Tremendous waste in agency/client relationship'

Streamlining creative development process benefits both parties, Asda's chief customer officer says.

Media 360: Murray and Beale
Media 360: Murray and Beale

Asda’s top marketer has admitted that agencies found his unconventional approach to working on briefs "demotivating" at first, but that they have found it "liberating" after adjusting their expectations.

Andy Murray, who joined the supermarket in 2016 as chief customer officer from parent company Walmart, was interviewed on stage by Campaign editor-in-chief Claire Beale this morning at Campaign's Media360 conference in Brighton.

Last year, Murray appointed a set of agencies led by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO to form what he described as an "ecosystem" model. Asda works with Publicis Groupe for media planning and buying.

Murray asks agencies responding to a brief to present a single idea in 10 minutes to Asda’s whole marketing team, after which the agency team is asked to leave the room. They will then receive one unified piece of feedback straight away, presented by the most junior member of Asda’s team.

'I only want one idea'

Responding to a suggestion from Beale that this approach was "brutally clear and streamlined, and maybe a little uncomfortable", Murray said it had been born from his own agency-side experience – he founded shopper marketing agency ThompsonMurray, which later became Saatchi & Saatchi X – and his desire to be "the client I always wished I had".

"One of the things that gets in the way for agencies is the amount of rework, the lack of clarity, lack of decision-making, lack of authority," he said.

"I only want one idea – not eight. You might have two or three others, but if you’re giving me four, someone has a bad strategy or didn’t communicate the brief. That’s extra work for you. Don’t ask me to pick – that’s what you’re paid for.

"Give us one idea, you’ve got 10 minutes, we don’t need to see the strategy slides – those are usually backed into after you’ve got the creative done anyway. If the creative is good, the strategy was good.

"My whole team will show up, top to bottom; we’ll give you one-voice feedback. You’ll have to step out of the room. We’ll all agree, and the most junior person will deliver the feedback. We’re all aligned 100%. You’ve got a top-to-bottom decision on your first ask; no going back and forth, up the chain, to get rewrites and revisions."

Murray argued that there was a "tremendous amount of waste in the agency/client relationship because of lack of clarity and leadership on both sides", adding that tackling this would benefit everyone.

He admitted that agencies "do find it demotivating at the beginning – but their eyes open up when they realise what’s really going on. We owe the agency high-quality feedback and you can’t do that by committee.

Murray added: "I’m not saying we’re the easiest client to work with. We’re retail, you’re flying at a million miles an hour," noting that the streamlined approach was "the only way to make it work and get people excited".

In-housing 

Murray said he had brought between 15 and 20 staff in-house to handle production art and had cut costs in this area by half – money that he said he had reinvested elsewhere in marketing.

But, unlike an increasing number of brands, he was not looking at bringing programmatic media buying in-house: "I haven’t seen the economic model that says that’s the best idea."

On the failed merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s, Murray said he had not been closely involved in the process. While the deal would have allowed him to "accelerate" his strategy, he explained, its collapse "really hasn’t affected me", adding: "We’ve been cracking on with the transformation of marketing and all the buzzwords around getting closer to the consumer."