TVC Group

Interconnected: Tear up the agency rulebook

Agencies should stop playing by rules that have ceased to exist in the era of social and digital

Amster… ‘Agencies need to be less precious and more respectful’
Amster… ‘Agencies need to be less precious and more respectful’

In a world where every moment of our customer journeys with brands is a complex mix of connected interactions, we are still playing by fixed rules that don’t really exist.

If I walk into McDonald’s and buy a Big Mac, I’m then asked if I want fries with it. Do I want a Big Mac Meal? Do I want to "go large"? 

By understanding that, as soon as I walk into the restaurant, I am looking for an economical, relatively satisfying experience, the brand offers to enhance that experience for little additional spend.

This process represents pretty much the opposite of how agencies convince clients to work with them.

You need strategy and consultation, above-the-line ideas that can only be provided by a beardy copywriter and art director, and below-the-line work that clearly requires a specialist designer who understands the intricacies of a flyer. Then, meet our digital friends. They have glasses. And, finally, there is PR, with their posh shoes, to amplify everyone else’s work.

Some agencies offer a one-stop shop and some agency owners want you to bounce around their sibling shops but, in general, clients have to deal with a plethora of people across every aspect of communications. 

This doesn’t even include the media agencies, which have their own creative units, and, of course, the clients who want to bring some – if not all – of their work in-house.

The rise of social and digital have changed the game. We are all learning the rules – and we are making mistakes and discovering new techniques along the way. 

Working as a broadcast creative director (for Disney and NBCUniversal), I looked after above-the-line, below-the-line, on-air, digital, social, PR and new media without batting an eyelid; it was what you did in a fast-paced environment. But in an agency structure, there are so many chefs it’s hard to know what the recipe is supposed to be.

Recently, one of our major clients came to us with a problem. It was launching a product and its traditional "lead" agencies had failed to provide an answer to the issue. By using our strategic and creative skills applied through non-traditional means, we came up with something that answered the brief and more than fulfilled their expectations. It might have come to us by default, but the answer matched and exceeded a traditional approach.

Concentrating on the message and not the medium is not a new refrain but, as social communication grows, it becomes much more important. Major advertisers such as Nike, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble are committing ever-greater resources away from above-the-line to alternative communications. Plus the growth of consumer sharing means that work designed for individual territories can be a hit anywhere in the world.

When I was a client, I just wanted great ideas that connected my product with my audience to produce understandable ROI. Now, the complex array of agency choices and approaches available to a client turn this into a minefield. "Reach", "likes", "shares", "brand engagement" – by these rules, any campaign could be manipulated into being a success. 

We need simplicity and clarity without hitting lowest-common-denominator work. Agencies need to be less precious and more respectful, and clients need to understand that everyone just wants to make awesome work. I realise I sound like the Jeremy Corbyn of creativity – but I hope I have  significantly better dress sense.

My Perspective

- Too many agencies are still playing by fixed  rules that don’t really exist. 

- We are learning new ways of working. It’s  the Wild West out there at the moment.

- Much of communication and selling has  remained relatively constant since the start  of the 20th century but the rise of social  and digital has changed the game.

- We don’t have understandable rules of  measurement any more – ‘reach’, ‘likes’,  ‘shares’, ‘brand engagement’– by these  rules, any campaign can be manipulated into being a success.

Simon Amster, creative content director, TVC Group


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