Claire Beale: If only all CEOs were a bit more like Steve Jobs
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: If only all CEOs were a bit more like Steve Jobs

This week I met an agency CEO who'd been crowing, among other things, about how one of his agency's new campaigns had grown the client's business by over 20 per cent in a matter of months. Even with a performance-related fee, though, the CEO admitted that the revenue from the account barely touched what the client paid the agency five years ago (for pretty much the same amount of work). There was no significant upside...

Then I read the branddna blog on page 25 of this week’s issue. It reports Lee Clow’s comments from the Caxtons seminar in Australia, where he bemoaned (again) agencies’ willingness to give away their intellectual property and succumb to the procurement mentality of their clients’ business. It chimed with a letter I received from Adobe claiming that "research reveals 80 per cent of CEOs don’t trust marketers and 60 per cent believe they live too much in their creative and media bubble".

If agencies are happy to give away their transformational big ideas in return for a service fee, and if client CEOs don’t even trust their own marketers, what hope is there for agencies to ever get to the heart of the brands they work on and share in their success? It’s a bleak picture. But Clow’s Caxtons speech shows there is another way. The Steve Jobs way.

"Steve Jobs was the best client I ever had," Clow said. "He understood that everything a brand does is an ad… this guy loved what we do." Clow says he met Jobs every week to talk about advertising and marketing; they worked together to invent the Apple store concept: "We spent an hour arguing about the shade of grey for the men’s- and ladies’-room signs in the first Apple store. Everything they did was something we sat and talked about in our marketing and communications meetings."

Clow believes that if agencies have the opportunity to touch every message from the brands they work for, whether it’s the packaging, the design of the store or what it does online, the brand is stronger and agencies can do their best work on its behalf. He says he wishes there were more demanding clients (like Jobs) who creative people had to work hard to satisfy – clients they could live up to, instead of "these bottom-feeders who want the lowest common denominator". Instead, Clow says, good agencies can end up caring more about a brand than the client does. The marketing merry-go-round doesn’t help, when marketers are in place for such brief periods they barely get the chance to understand the brands they work on; the job all to easily becomes about process. It’s a vicious circle, of course. If so many CEOs really do mistrust and annexe their marketers, they’re unlikely to engender much corporate loyalty among them. And their agencies are unlikely to get much purchase in the boardroom and ever get paid a proper fee for driving their clients’ business. If only all those mistrusting CEOs could learn from Jobs.