Lessons for marketers on 'buying a gorilla'
A view from Pete Markey

Lessons for marketers on 'buying a gorilla'

"A great early Christmas gift for your colleagues in the procurement department."


Reviewed by Pete Markey, TSB marketing director

I always like books with a catchy title and this one, How to buy a gorilla by David Meikle, certainly caught my eye. While not in the market for a gorilla myself (well, not yet anyway), the title was enough of a hook to get me interested.

In short, it’s a book aimed to help you "get the right muscle behind your marketing effort" and it’s a billed as the "ultimate guide" to help marketers and the brands they represent to get the best from their agencies. The book is all about the important essentials in building the right kind of client and agency relationships including the right relationships with the procurement teams on both sides.

So, it’s relationship counselling in its best form, the kind that drives the right sorts of relationships and ones that drive the best results such as the legendary Cadbury’s Gorilla campaign from which the book derives its name. In essence, the argument being that without the right foundations in place no agency would feel confident enough to pitch an idea like a drumming gorilla promoting chocolate and no client or brand would feel confident enough to buy it.

The author uses excellent case studies and draws on his own personal experience to outline practical examples of how to build and cultivate the best relationships. From ensuring the objectives are aligned and clear up front to designing and executing the right pitch process through to creating the right environment for agency talent to thrive, the book helps to provide unique models, insights and take-aways that the reader can readily deploy.

The author clearly understands the tension between clients, their procurement departments and agencies with the telling quote, "Reassuringly expensive is much better than dangerously cheap." The book clearly shares the warning signs that a poorly structured relationship creates the wrong sort of tension, poor work and poor results and the right kind of remuneration is central to this.

Where this is most evidently displayed in the book is in the context of risk where it’s argued that different brands need differing levels of risk in their life-cycle including a view on different approaches in both strategy and creativity. The author argues about the danger of short termism and overly safe strategies particularly in times of economic downturn where brands come under increasing pressure to cut budget and to prove short term ROI.

Overall, this is an excellent book. It’s a handy guide and easy read and I’ve already gleaned invaluable insights to take back to the day job. Its also a great early Christmas gift for your colleagues in the procurement department…

A real labour of love by Meikle in pulling this together and it really pays off – great book.

Key take-outs

  • Find the shared goal between marketing, procurement and the agencies and in this be clear what problem you are trying to solve.

  • Attitudes to risk need updating and need to be reflective of the context in which a brand and their agency operate.

  • The "talent paradigm" (including investment in talent) needs addressing such that agencies are able to deploy the right talent matched to a client’s needs.

  • High control both from a client and at an agency causes diminishing returns.  The author argues that lower control over an agency but with high accountability to the client for advertising performance will attract and motivate the agency’s best talent and produce more effective work.

  • Cultivating a strong relationship starts with the right pitch process.

  • Everything must start with the business problem a client/brand is needing to solve and from there, employing the corresponding buying strategy and design of appropriate remuneration terms.

    How to Buy a Gorilla by David Meikle published by LID Publishing