Bigger may be better

The Brazilian advertising sector is big and client relationships are deeper. Can the UK learn anything, Ben Kay asks.

There’s nothing small about advertising in Brazil. Big agencies, big budgets, big characters and big ambitions. Here is an industry enjoying the kind of heyday not seen in the UK since the 80s, with the swagger and confidence born of knowing that advertising is the leading light in the creative industry of one of the most vibrant economies in the world.

Surprisingly to some for a market so renowned for the work, this isn’t an awards-obsessed culture – in fact, the UK continually brings home more Cannes Lions than its South American counterpart (72 in 2012 compared with 56). Neither is Brazil doing anything significantly strategically or digitally different to (or arguably better than) the UK. Instead, it is an industry flourishing under the twin influences of economic growth and a model of advertising that comes straight out of Mad Men.

In Brazil, media and advertising are still handled by the same agency. Agencies are, for the most part, paid a media commission – meaning that the big clients really are the big clients.

You can argue in circles about whether that model is right or wrong, but it would be pointless because there’s no way that the UK is going to go back that way any time soon. What isn’t pointless, however, is looking at what it means for those client-agency relationships.

Speaking to the account lead on Itaú, one of Brazil’s largest banks, at the country’s leading independent advertising agency Africa, I learned that the shop has 60 dedicated account people and planners on the business. That’s 60 people whose sole job is to understand that account inside out and deliver the best work and results possible for them. The result is a client-agency relationship that is deeper, broader and, you could argue, more productive than many of their counterparts in the UK.

In the UK, agencies are frequently heard complaining about how thinly stretched they are. Conversely, clients are understandably and justifiably looking for increasing efficiencies in their spend. But, somewhere between the push and pull, I can’t help but think we’ve both sold each other short.

If we want to build a model as mutually beneficial as possible for client and agency, I think we need to "add one".

"Add one" means calling your agency and asking whether the account is under-resourced. If the answe is yes (surprise, surprise), split the cost of one extra person for six months. If you see a real difference, bring them on to the team and pay for another, and another, until you’re no longer getting disproportionately more value out of your agency than the incremental cost you’re putting in. You’ll end up with the right-sized team for your account and the right conditions to build the best possible results.

Pie in the sky, right? Not really. Twice in the past six months, one of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s clients have asked for, and paid for, more resource on their account. Twice it has made an immediate and significant difference. Twice it has been made permanent.

It’s not the Brazilian way, but maybe it should be ours.

Ben Kay is the chief executive at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R