The Marketers' Wishlist

Despite the changing economic and media environment, the agency model remains and it has to work harder to deliver. Anne Cassidy discovers that teamwork, great ideas and even passionate debate are what today's leading clients demand.


I always think clients get the agency service that they deserve. At British Gas, we work with the principles of openness, teamwork, collaboration and reward. We see our agency partners as exactly that - long-term business partners who act as an extension of our own team.

To truly maximise our partner relationships, we ensure everyone is embraced in our business model - we don't keep our agencies on the outskirts. As such, we expose them to our challenges and metrics, however sensitive. We trust their judgment and we expect them to work with us to deliver customer and commercial success for the whole business.

At British Gas, I believe it's our job as the client to lead and drive integration by creating the right frameworks, structure and environment to allow the agencies to do what they do best - putting ideas into action by bringing the power of creativity to life. I believe "less is more"; therefore, we only work with a select group of agency partners, each with responsibility for a specific discipline (brand, advertising, direct, digital and PR). Having this mall team means we are better able to build strong relationships, while improving processes, communications and driving efficiencies.

More importantly, it has enabled us to improve the quality of the strategic thinking and creative output, maximising our investment. We've also just recently reappointed our incumbent media agency, Carat, as the integrated media agency for the entire business following a competitive pitch.

Everyone in the agency world is keen to tell you they're about being "fully integrated". Most agencies own pieces of different skillsets - advertising, direct, interactive - but having the parts alone is not enough. Agencies really deliver against their "integration" claim when they work together in a truly collaborative fashion, and don't fall foul of the "not invented here" syndrome. Challenging other partner agencies purely to drive their own agenda ultimately compromises the success of the brand. On the flipside, not being constrained to their own disciplines ensures a breadth of ideas, much richer creative development and media-neutral planning, all of which ultimately leads to better solutions for the brand and shared success all round.

On a day-to-day basis, all of our agencies work collaboratively on business challenges. My teams produce integrated briefs and hold weekly status meetings, so all the agencies are involved together in projects from day one. On the planning side, we run a bi-monthly workshop with all the agency planners and I personally chair a monthly meeting with the agency heads, where we work on projects looking at the long-term strategy and health of the brand.

So, while I recognise that integration needs to be driven and managed internally, I do expect all of our agency teams (account team, planners and creatives) to have the ability to demonstrate a broad business contribution.

At a senior level, I expect our agencies to hire and cultivate strategic thinkers; people with a genuine ability to think strategically and come up with the next big idea, then drive them through to execution - these are the individuals who really make a difference.

Working with agency partners requires dedication and commitment from both ends. It's like any other relationship; you only get out of it what you put in. If you invest time and energy, you'll reap the rewards of a true partnership that benefits everyone.


It's a well-worn cliche that only 5 per cent of a marketer's job is spent working on creative communications with their agencies. Whether that's an exaggeration or not, a marketing director's time with agencies is increasingly finite and we're trying to reach customers across more and more channels. So you have to make that 5 per cent really count.

Marketers (and their agencies) are also more answerable than ever to their stakeholders, or, in the case of John Lewis, the thousands of Partners whose funds we are investing in marketing to grow the business.

This means that, for me, the most vital ingredient in any agency partnership is total honesty. You want your agencies to be bold, passionate and opinionated. They can provide the alchemy that will take your product, service and brand and make them desired, perhaps even loved, by customers. But vital to that magic is being able to hone ideas together, discuss them, debate your differences and agree actions as swiftly and efficiently as possible.

We don't have time to be anything other than honest, sometimes brutally, with each other. I find it uplifting when I see an agency team who have the courage to debate passionately among themselves in a meeting with their client. All too often, it can be a dispiriting party line that is spun out at those crucial moments of truth in the creative process.

Your individual agencies also need to be able to work together brilliantly. Not just in terms of being great collaborators, but collaborators that can create great creative campaigns across media, not the lowest common denominator. So again, steel yourselves for some debate and even argument, but good agencies, which know how good they are, will always be prepared to get in a scrum together to create great things.

As well as passion, the best agencies have a dose of humility - what can be learned along the way, what can be refined and made better. It always astonishes me that so many agency cultures confuse passion with arrogance or intransigence. This is frequently nothing more than a failure to challenge themselves, and perhaps, dare I say, laziness. The first solution may not be the right one, or at least not the absolute best one. What you want in your agency is that restlessness ... is it amazing? Could we do something more amazing?

You also need your agencies to be brilliant ambassadors for you and your marketing team. With more and more responsibilities falling to marketing, there are times when your agency needs to take your message directly into your own organisation and there are times where they need to be able to come into your organisation to dig out the key messages, that will make a campaign truly compelling. So you need them to be both diplomatic and relentlessly curious at the same time. If your agency can deliver that potent combination, you've found yourself a truly powerful partnership.


It's a challenging world, the consumer's life is changing, new routes to market, economic crisis and fragmentation of media, to name a few. Yet, the agency model remains. Clients still buy certain services from certain agencies and so agency structures are essentially the same.

If this continues in the medium term, we have to rely on behavioural adapts to ensure we get the best work. I'm looking for a few things.

Good work: I want work where my initial reaction is "Fuck me, I wish I'd thought of that", that makes the hair stand on end. It rarely comes every week but we have to create the conditions where it could be just possible.

An understanding of my strategy: some agencies get this, but you do find some that insist on owning the whole business strategy, forgetting their bit is one component of a larger commercial strategy, including new product development, the promotional discount plan in grocery or the reduction in advertising-cost- per-unit.

I want clever people with high levels of Emotional Intelligence. Those that can work with a broad range of people and know how to get the best out of those around them. Many agencies recruit bright people with no common sense.

Campaigns are not about individuals but about integrated groups, thus Teamship is vital. Some traditional rivalries between agencies need to disappear. I want some tension in the system as it creates healthy debate, but I need lasting relationships to work together.

Recruiting complementary beliefs, nurturing the relationship and giving people room to develop results in Strong Behaviours, a critical component of world-class results. Some agencies mistakenly recruit arrogance and it all goes horribly wrong then wonder why the client is always complaining about the team.

Passion and Challenge. I can show you Honda fanatics in all of our agencies today. It's contagious and compelling but clients need to create that environment and agencies need to recognise and invest also.

The key to sustainable growth is the combined integration of multiple teams producing successive Consistent Delivery. The best agencies understand their role in the bigger picture and contribute in a mature fashion with considered well thought-out amazing ideas.

Give me the confidence to have an idea but the maturity to know when I'm wrong. It's often amusing to see how many single solutions are presented as the only course of action! The best agencies have an Open Mind to new ideas and are clear when there is a better one on the table.

Have you ever put yourself in a state of Mild Agitation? It's amazing what you can achieve. Agencies often like thinking time to deliver a strong strategy, while a client often questions what they have been up to! We need agile, mildly agitated agencies that bring a focus to the thinking. I need the idea light-bulb to come on early in the process and a bit of pressure is best to do that.

Are you a Talker or a Doer? Those agencies that fall short have a great plan but a poor execution. Those that have strong internal people, structures and processes give a confidence that delivers and creates a stronger relationship.

So it's not about who's doing what right or wrong, clients get the agencies and the work they deserve and agencies get the clients they deserve so it's about having a commercial outlook on what can grow revenues irrespective of which camp you sit in.


I want my agency, no matter what its function, to give us ideas. JWT's mantra "growing brands by creating ideas people want to spend time with" is a philosophy I buy into. Ideas should be novel, I don't want to see an idea that has an element of deja vu attached to it. Every piece of marketing for HSBC should add to and drive our brand strategy. We need ideas to meet our shortand long-term strategy. Clients and agencies are both guilty of getting bored of work before the consumer tires of it. Too often I see an execution for a brand that is completely out of kilter with its history and I just know there's a new marketer in the building. So, rather than refreshing a strategy, they wrongly favour a new positioning.

This moves me to my next observation about the role of agencies: brand guardianship. We all accept that clients change faster than agency relationships; what is not broached quite so often is the quality of client marketing skills which are decreasing. While agencies still invest in the skills of staff, traditional marketing disciplines are fading fast.

Increasingly, it is down to my agencies' ability to maintain high standards of communication. I rely on my agency to consistently get my TV advertising right. This does not mean that the other channels are less important, but it is still the best way to hit a lot of people so must be done properly. Some agencies are so busy thinking about other elements of marketing, particularly digital, they forget to focus on creating quality TV ads.

But it should absolutely not be a case of create a great TV ad, and then add on the matching luggage by way of other disciplines. This still happens. Any agency should think about customer engagement first and build outwards. It's about the marketing challenge, not the medium.

The most influential role in any agency is that of planning. I want anyone who works on my business in this discipline to share and solve our business problems creatively. The good ones think about solutions in the evenings and weekends too. In saying that, the best creatives are also amazing at strategy, and some of the best planners behave like creative directors. When it comes to account management beyond impeccable disciplines, it is good to have something of a maverick streak.

Media agencies are increasingly offering a strategic value-adding service. They want to be involved in the forward planning stage and that is fine with me. If it creates competition with my other agencies then it should be a healthy one. Team HSBC agencies collaborate on a shared objective, working with each other's solutions.

Five years ago, we all did everything in silos (including our budgets). This is no longer the case. Integration was speeded up by the recession. The world is moving faster, clients have got faster but agencies could still react a lot quicker.