Close-Up: What moving client-side can do for agency staff

There's a long list of ex-adlanders working for client companies. Campaign decided to get their thoughts on the other side.

Last week, Mark Sinnock, Fallon's chief strategy officer, decided to turn his back on agency life and venture over to the client side when he accepted the role of marketing director at Asda.

He's certainly not the first person to make this career choice (Rick Bendel, who will be Sinnock's boss as the chief marketing director, moved to the supermarket from Publicis in 2007) and follows a long list of ex-adlanders who have made the transition to client side.

Campaign decided to ask the following four marketers for their thoughts on jumping the fence.

Sara Bennison, the marketing communications director, UK Retail Bank, Barclays and the former head of account management at Grey London.

Rick Bendel, the chief marketing director at Asda and the former chief operating officer at Publicis.

Jeremy Davies, the director of brand and communications at E.ON and the former managing director of JWT's digital brand consultancy, Digital@.

Garbhan O'Bric, the head of marketing communications at Diageo and former head of business development at Mother.

- What was the attraction of going client-side?

Sara Bennison "The opportunity to play with the whole communications train-set rather than just one line."

Rick Bendel "I wanted to make a real difference and the chance to work with a company like Asda with such a clear purpose was a huge opportunity for me."

Jeremy Davies "The chance to do things with depth - a lot of agency life is about breadth, dealing with different clients in different sectors. Client-side requires much greater depth, seeing through multiple projects within a single sector from the start to the finish."

Garbhan O'Bric "Curiosity. I would imagine there are few people in agencies who haven't wondered how they would do things differently if they were the client. Never more so than today as the very foundation of communications is shifting dramatically."

- What do you think of the client agency relationship now that you're a client?

Davies "The right agency really can add significant value to marketing plans, so appointing the right agencies and developing proper partnerships is critical: It gives access to insight and thinking that is not normally available within a business."

Bennison "Realise that there is no such thing. It's the individuals that make the relationship. Find the right ones in an agency and all is good. Recognising that the way talent is managed, rewarded and retained within the agency is key. That's always talked about but rarely done."

O'Bric "I believe great campaigns are born of great client/agency partnerships. The hallmarks of a great Guinness campaign as a client are no different to that of a Coca-Cola campaign as an agency. A bunch of talented people who get on well, strive to create great work that becomes famous and transforms a brand's fortunes."

- How have the pressures of your job changed from when you were in adland?

Davies "I spend much more time on management issues, which tend to take substantial time and effort to resolve. Multiple stakeholders make all issues more complex to resolve."

Bennison "I now have a far greater sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, a campaign. Things go wrong agency-side and there are mitigating circumstances. Things go wrong here and the buck stops with me. However day-to-day 'life' pressures are less, with more control of the diary and more support - which means I feel less torn between work and family."

- What did you learn in advertising that makes you a better client?

Bendel "It is increasingly clear to me that it is extremely difficult for agencies to stay close to customers as agency life is becoming increasingly distant from the reality of the way most people live. This will need some fundamental changes if agencies want to remain relevant with their insights."

Davies "To understand and apply customer insight and listen to (and consider) everyone's point of view."

O'Bric "I learnt that the people in the top agencies are wonderfully talented and thoroughly professional, working under incredible pressure and rarely paid enough. To appreciate that creating great work is not like mining coal. To appreciate that it is an incredible amount of science and thinking that goes behind all those pretty pictures. That only poor clients think agencies only care about creative awards - and why brand's logos don't always have to be bigger."

- What have you learnt as a client that would make you better at advertising if you went back?

O'Bric "What a P&L looks like. That clients are as hungry as, if not more than, agencies in the pursuit of innovation - as long as it leads to increased sales. That advertising makes up a tiny fraction of the multitude of considerations and challenges a brand marketer faces everyday.

"That budgets are real and not some random notional number invented to prevent directors filming from helicopters. That the procurement discipline has real value, but that good clients will always pay fairly for great work.

"That being responsible and accountable for a multimillion-pound campaign is a huge responsibility for a young brand manager and that he or she will understandably want to link-test the life out of it if it means he or she still has a job next year.

"I learnt that clients spend as much time on the golf course as agencies do in the Gutter Bar."

Bendel "Simplicity and clarity is crucial with all the pressures to market many disparate messages. My time in advertising has helped me realise that to be famous for one thing is difficult, to be famous for five or six is impossible."

Bennison "That agencies should be more proud of what advertising can do. Focus on the magic and spend less time apologising for advertising or obsessing about the 'bigger picture'. Yes, it's important to understand the client's business and the pressures they are under, but don't turn into one of them. It's even more important to understand the impact that advertising can have on clients' businesses and champion that."

- Would you ever go back?

Davies "Possibly - for the opportunity to work again across a broader range of different businesses and sectors, but mainly to be in a creative people-based business again."

Bendel "I'd never say never, but right now, I'm enjoying Asda."

O'Bric "The chance to work on outstanding campaigns for great brands will remain irresistible. As long as I'm part of a team that wants to do the same, which side of the fence I sit on isn't an issue."

Bennison "Never say never, but I'm enjoying the challenge too much to see why I'd want to go back."

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