OPINION: Clients need cost-effective creativity, not loads of frills

David Gwyther argues that many agencies maintain the profligate habits of the past while showing more concern for covering their overheads than imaginative flair

David Gwyther argues that many agencies maintain the profligate habits

of the past while showing more concern for covering their overheads than

imaginative flair

I very much applaud the comments made by Raoul Pinnell, the marketing

director of NatWest (Campaign, 9 February), when he criticised the

limitations of the service now provided by so-called full-service


Many of us have felt for some time that they seem to be stuck in a time

warp and just aren’t providing what today’s clients really need. There

seems little recognition that clients’ imperatives have changed

dramatically in recent years. The increasing pressure to achieve short-

term growth has seen a move to smaller, flatter marketing structures

with strategic planning decisions now taken at higher levels.

And these senior people only want to talk strategy with senior advisors

- people who know what they’re talking about because they’ve done it

successfully before, not relative juniors whose experience is limited.

Because marketplace pressures are forcing down the prices of their

products, clients have got to have marketing communications which really

do add value. There is no room for ordinary advertising from middling

creatives any more. It’s got to be a big idea every time, derived

directly from that clever strategy and, therefore, likely to come only

from creative heavyweights who really understand clients’ needs.

The big idea has to work across the range of communications channels

available. It’s as important at the point of sale or in advertised

promotions or in trade presenters as it is in conventional media. Too

often this part of the brief still goes to the middling creatives.

Also, the media recommendations have to be objective, giving the most

cost-effective application of tightly stretched budgets and taking full

account of the wider range of options now available. It’s not good

enough just to recommend yet another TV campaign because it generates

income and there’s a margin in the production quote.

Having spent 20 years on the client side, I’m well aware of the

pressures on senior marketing people. But I’m still appalled at how

little real change has occurred on the agency side. There remain too

many agencies with no unique skills trying to sell proposals that seem

aimed simply at covering their own overheads.

The end of this sort of approach is long overdue. Sharper clients are

already recognising it, knowing they have got to get a demonstrable

return from their communications investment. And they have also got to

have work that’s good enough to get them an edge over competitors.

So they want only senior heavyweights working on their business and

marketing strategy and on their creative material. And they want to pay

a realistic fee for this, which is a lot less than normal commission

rates and which doesn’t include unrealistically priced TV production

costs or the acres of marble, armies of middleweights or other

profligate habits still retained in many agencies.

But it’s still not easy to find an inspired but cost-effective, no-

frills service. That’s why I and some heavyweight advertising colleagues

have put a new business together to fill the gap for a new approach to

clever marketing and value-added creativity at a lower cost.

It’s always good to find a gap in any market. But why hasn’t someone

already done it in the advertising industry?

Perhaps because, in reality, it’s very difficult to change the culture

of a traditional agency even when you’ve cut back and restructured it.

What’s needed is a new approach, a new culture where client needs can

meet cost-effective creativity without any expensive frills.

David Gwyther is a partner in Smith and Thompson, Gwyther and White and

a former managing director of the Showerings drinks group