‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half’

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Craig Hart
Assembled Group Chairman
February 9, 2023

Craig Hart, chairman of Assembled Group, considers how agencies must hold themselves accountable to delivering clear and measurable outcomes for clients who are increasingly asking for more.

"originally-published" Originally published on Mumbrella, February 9, 2023

We have heard that all before, haven’t we?

It is after all one of the most famous quotes relating to marketing communications expenditure. The observation is old and obviously precedes digital marketing and social media but is it an any less a relevant observation today? Perhaps not!

Successful marketing service offerings, today, simply must tick more boxes. They must accord with the clients’ brand proposition, be capable of passing detailed return on investment evaluation and need to support multi-channel campaigns.

This is not to dismiss or marginalise the intrinsic value of a great creative proposition as the centre point of a campaign. But it is to say that the generation of the creative capability that is delivered proportionately, efficiently, and affordably is perhaps rarer in a world where service providers are insufficiently measured or accountable.

Agencies must be accountable for how they deliver with the same commitment as they passionately talk about their “unique” offers.

The market dynamic in which agencies are required to compete and perform is undergoing undeniable change. Clients have many options for taking forward their marketing requirements by selecting from a vast and increasing range of external providers, or through the establishment of internal teams.

Whether competing against a myriad of other agencies or being challenged by internal capabilities, agencies are being required to re-define their provable points of differentiation, validate their competency, and increase their accountability for delivering clear and measurable outcomes.

We have for too long assumed that being possessed of “proprietary” or “our” skills or products is the cornerstone of the client-agency value equation.

That is wrong in two primary respects:

  1. It has never been the case but is masked by an accomplished agency salesperson focused on compellingly pushing their “unique proposition”
  2. Yes, differentiation does exist between agencies, but it is more uncommon than the external marketing universe would have clients believe!

In an increasingly changing reality, these anecdotes are being tested by clients as they search for marketing and communications initiatives that must deliver a sustainable competitive advantage nearly always better, absolutely faster and most certainly where possible cheaper!

This is not a trend! It is the way that clients must ask for more given the landscape in which they are required to perform. The clients’ customers are more demanding more complicated, and their behaviours continue to evolve. They are discerning and will only consider the offers they want to receive through the channels they chose to engage.

"callout" To manage the demands of customers, our clients must in turn require us to act and perform differently. That complexity cannot be covered off by a great creative idea alone and the offer must be conceived, defined, delivered, and evaluated in a number of ways.

These observations are not new or altogether misunderstood. However, the question today is “How are agencies really changing in terms of their performance and accountability in order to meet these demands?”.

I would suggest the answer is, insufficiently and or very slowly!

The media buying and planning landscape is often under the microscope in this regard. Great accountability and commercial transparency are often spoken of but rarely delivered to a truly open ledger standard. With the proliferation of independent media agencies there is an opportunity for challenger agencies to confirm, with clarity, where the clients’ funds are deployed and moreover how and what the agency receives via commissions and rebates.

The matching of fees to outcomes doesn’t happen enough and when it does the metric is too often only around program completion as opposed to the metric that the client internally will have chosen to define success.
In many industries there are benchmarks defining how services must be delivered. Why should marketing services be exempt? Today, delivering on time and within budget is key and a miss in these core commitments can make a real difference to a campaign’s effectiveness.

It is to be expected that as clients grapple with a lack of brand loyalty and the expectations of an increasingly fickle and demanding customer base, they will in turn require more from their marketing partners in terms of not only what they deliver but “how” they deliver and the extent to which they are invested in project outcomes.

We will do well to embrace and propose a way of working that addresses our clients’ new realities.

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