Interconnected: Stop! Collaborate and listen

Marketing directors must accept the ringmaster role if interconnected working is to succeed

Child…‘it would seem agencies are better at collaborating than marketing teams are at leading’
Child…‘it would seem agencies are better at collaborating than marketing teams are at leading’

All consumers make connections, bouncing naturally from one communication touchpoint to an-other: asking friends, seeking advice online, watching ads, laughing at YouTube, browsing online and in shopping malls. 

The fragmentation of agencies mirroring this media landscape means an oversupply of opinions and agendas. While consumers are connected, the brand owners and the agencies that serve them are ironically, much less so. 

For the past five years or more, clients have wanted their many agencies to "collaborate" and work well together – so much so that, in 2014, more than 70 per cent of all Aprais agency performance evaluations included an assessment of the agency’s ability to collaborate. 

Marketing directors often believe that multi-discipline, multi-agency teams will collaborate efficiently with very little help from them. The equivalent client discipline – roster agency management, where the agencies evaluate a marketing team’s ability to lead and manage the various agencies – is found in just 15 per cent of Aprais evaluations. 

And it would seem that agencies are significantly better at collaborating than marketing teams are at leading. Agencies receive an average rating of 76.5 per cent for collaboration, which is a sound 4.5 per cent above our benchmark average for agency performance. The roster management skills of clients are assessed at a low 70 per cent, 6.4 per cent below their overall average rating. 

Only a few marketing directors are taking responsibility to actively lead multi-agency teams. They rarely set a consistent, motivating strategic vision, nor establish success criteria – collectively or for the individual agencies within the mix. They shift responsibility to the agencies that, being hardwired client-pleasing organisations, readily accept it. 

Read the recent IPA study into client/agency relationships, From Mad Men To Sad Men, and weep. It shows a high level of marketing company dissatisfaction with agencies, which they criticise for, among other things, "not collaborating effectively". Clients are "frustrated by agencies claiming they can do everything, and pitching constantly for a bigger share of the pie". 

Could these be the same clients who, according to the agencies, neither bother setting "clear principles" about how the agencies are meant to work together, nor provide any "clear KPIs" or fair remuneration/incentives to facilitate this objective?

Only when marketing directors accept that it is their job to be the ringmaster, the brand guardian, the decision-taker, the impartial budget holder, the owner of the inter-connected customer journey, will this tired debate about models, structures and remuneration move on.

Only if their companies accept it is a big job, that requires leadership talent – and trains and values it accordingly. Only if those companies are also willing to break down their own legacy structures, and to create more integrated and agile cultures that can respond swiftly to the flood of data about their customers. 

This step change will help liberate agencies so they have time and energy to be creative. 

Agencies must then step up to be neutral, trusted advisers, to be transparent in all they do, and to strive for measurability, accountability and demanding KPIs. 

My Perspective

- The chance of "interconnected" success is increased if there is a powerful "collective imperative" that acts as unifier and motivator, a crisis, a deadline or – best of all – an inspiring business vision. 

- It remains a challenge for clients and their multiple agencies to deliver this interconnected communication, even though it has been a shared agenda for many years.

- Marketing companies are too ready to leave the responsibility for collaboration with their agencies (which they then think will fail), while the agencies expect clients to provide more active direction, establishing clear objectives and success criteria.

- This negative cycle of blame will be broken when marketing directors and their companies fully accept that, as the brand, budget and customer-data owners, they have to take on this leadership responsibility. 

Libby Child, chief executive, Aprais UK


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