"At the IPA, we tie communications and creativity back to business value"

In uncertain times, clients desire partners adept at insights from data and signals and at ideation to drive real, meaningful business opportunity

Nigel Vaz is president, IPA, and CEO, Publicis Sapient
Nigel Vaz is president, IPA, and CEO, Publicis Sapient

When I introduced my Reimagine agenda about a year ago, nobody could have fathomed what kind of environment we would be reimagining it for. I talked about Role, Revenue and Responsibility. The focus of Role was to transform agencies into being the indispensable partners for growth that our clients need. The evolution of how we partner with clients is still relevant – helping them reimagine their businesses and how they engage with their customers – but now the context is very different. 

Today, many of our clients, some of the world’s most beloved brands, need a partner to help them survive so they can eventually get back to thriving.

Ever the rock and roadmap in challenging times, brands are more important than ever. At its inception, advertising and marketing focused on building brands to sell products. Agencies and brands have become obsessed with measurement. We are an industry that understands every click metric possible but struggle to tie those metrics to driving meaningful business outcomes. Or worse, they just become another interesting data point already strained clients have to make sense of and agencies risk being an expendable vendor whose work can be insourced or automated.

I was speaking to a passionate creative director whose client was an apparel retailer. An insight they were exploring was about the volume of clothing abandoned in the changing room. Trying on clothing is a key influencing moment but also a very private moment. If they could positively influence that moment, it could have a huge impact on sales.

The team developed a smart mirror with built-in intelligence to detect what clothing the person was trying on. It included a small, non-invasive portion of the mirror that would light up with the appropriate clothing designer to talk about the garments. If the clothing the person had chosen did not ‘go together’, it would suggest cohesive looks to the shopper and they could request additional items to complete the look.

The client loved it but said the project needed to be ended. The margins on the garments were so razor thin, that producing one piece of content would cost far more than the margins that would be made on the sale. The effort of producing content would need sales to scale exponentially to yield a return on the investment. This type of experience would only make viable business sense in high-end fashion but those fashion houses already have people to swoon over the customer. The creative team would have benefited from understanding the basic economics of the apparel business. The client should have provided this guidance but was so enamoured, they lost their grounding in the economics and the practicalities of execution.

What is impacting the stock price, how do we stimulate growth, what can drive efficiency and, more importantly, what are the inter-relationships and trade-offs of the levers a business can use to make a positive impact on their top and bottom line? That’s what we need to know. The business impacts of our ideas.

The business of creativity
At the IPA, we pride ourselves on tying creativity and communications back to business value through the Effectiveness Awards and EffWeek. Another jewel in the IPA crown is its learning and development programme of training and qualifications, teaching the art and business of advertising and marketing. This year we have embarked on a partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE) to create a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Essentials in Association with the IPA course. The LSE is one of the finest institutions in the world, with its leading research and renowned academics, so we are incredibly excited about this collaboration.

As we shape the pilot programme, we are ensuring it is adapted to meet the needs of today’s agency executives. It will act as a strong fundamentals primer to help understand the business of not just advertising and marketing, but the business of business. We are also pursuing co-sponsoring a full-time MBA programme as we know the value of what a dedicated immersive course can provide our agency leaders. In the context of the creative industries, these accreditations will build the skills advertisers and marketers need, and that clients will come to see as a prerequisite for the work we do in partnering with them to drive growth.

The MBA itself has evolved. From serving just those pursuing a career in finance or consulting into becoming a place to learn about a myriad of topics from social enterprise to entrepreneurship, all while getting the business essentials. Historically advertising has been under-represented in MBA programmes. We believe these programmes will also serve to create diversity of perspective and thought within agencies as the participants emerge with the business acumen to tackle tough client challenges and ground the dazzling narratives they craft with business solutions.

This is possibly the best time for the LSE programme idea to come to fruition because clients are searching for ways to survive. To do so, they need a partner that can help them re-shape their now and reimagine what is next. This means more than just responding to client briefs. They need agencies to be able to help identify business opportunities and work with them to help shape them into something that will add meaningful and lasting value.