Neither my host nor his boss had much interest in new media because they thought it offered scant help in finding solutions to their problems. They were ready to acknowledge that the Internet was the medium of the future, but they were hoping to retire before its power was manifest. In and , the Internet advertising model collapsed and these executives no doubt breathed a sigh of relief.
Those whose fortunes depended on television and print felt vindicated. Meanwhile, Internet usage has continued to climb. Now we are beginning to see broadband introduced into homes and offices, giving content creators the option of sending full-motion video at 30 frames a second, with no download delay, not over the TV or movie screen—but through the computer. Today we have the opportunity to project dynamic brand messages in TV-like commercials over the computer—with the added dimension of enabling the viewer to interact with the originator of such messages.
Eventually a new model has to evolve. Changes are afoot to enable the consumer to choose whichever ads he or she wants to watch and to offer a more transparent barter of content in exchange for advertising, much as occurs today in magazines, newspapers, and broadcast television. The model of the ad agency must change, too, in response to the opportunities provided by new media and new demands from clients and consumers for messages to be more relevant and timely. These issues are outlined in more detail in Chapter 5. So people will just ignore our commercials. There are certain givens. The first is the bedrock tenet of modern marketing: Differentiate your brand.
Agencies must learn early on to develop unique cultures and capabilities that separate them from the competition. Otherwise, they risk being marginalized by clients. No young agency can afford to offer all the above-the-line and belowthe-line specialties such a phrase suggests, and, if it did, would that agency be any different from more established agencies making the same claim?
How do you go about making your agency unique and competitive? This was the time of the Organization Man, when agencies and their clients were built like the Pentagon— with everything neatly in its place. Since then, the structures of clients have been updated and streamlined—but agencies never were. Under the silo model, everyone has a function and reports to a silo leader.
Occasionally you see people from other silos in meeting rooms, in the cafeteria, or on company picnics. Does this really make sense? To be idea-neutral, you need a brief and very little else. But in advertising, everyone brings a preconceived notion of what is required.
The pressure is on to make ads, not necessarily to achieve quantifiable results. Results growing out of advertising are very ephemeral things, because in actual fact you cannot measure, except in rare instances, the precise impact of a communication on consumer behavior. But did the ad drive milk sales? Great advertising is memorable and strikes an emotional chord with the target.
That should translate into sales results or brand awareness. How do you get great advertising? Slow down. What you need first is an idea. Really good ideas usually spring from very open thinking. Start with the idea. That may be harder than you think. Especially in this new environment where clients are looking for ways to communicate an idea beyond traditional media. For agencies to support a media-neutral approach, there is a critical need for a new architecture—one that breaks down the silo model.
First, cultures of mature agencies need to be overhauled to reignite the attitudes and work ethics of their people. The first issue in redefining culture is to agree on your mission. What do you want your agency to do? The obvious next question: How should we organize to best perform that mission? Everything in advertising seems to resist change. Ossification of culture begins to take place in months, sometimes weeks after an agency is born. Perhaps such an early definition is a natural development that allows people to define their roles and get on to the more serious business of client service and idea creation.
But advertising is an ever-changing endeavor. Agencies have to reform every few years to ensure their relevance and ability to deliver a superior product. This is not a new thought. As the great manufacturing companies started to experience the recession and market dislocations of the late s and early s, the call went out for something called process reengineering. Reengineering was meant to refer to the study of the processes and organization structures that go into the making of an efficient factory or business. But in the — recession, the phrase came to stand for laying off large numbers of people and downsizing.
In fact, process reengineering, when done right, is a tremendously energizing exercise. Interestingly, there were conferences on the subject throughout the advertising industry, but few agencies ever seriously tried it. One that did is Pittsburgh-based MARC Advertising, which dared to knock down walls and endure a traumatic, formal reengineering process. People were working nights and weekends. I knew there was something inherently wrong. The result was not only that profitability soared, but also that people felt energized. Within a few months of the completion of its new structure, the agency started to add new clients and billings.
The reengineering process of the silo model that existed at MARC has never really stopped, Bucci notes, because the agency now is constantly reexamining itself as it grows—especially as it adds new offices. But you have to change the mentality of people—most importantly of senior management.
You have to move from process to mind-set—and not just of staff but of their leaders. Bucci is very logical. He likes to work according to a plan—one that is understood and supported by senior staff. He spends a lot of time in meetings and retreats, discussing various approaches and trying to gain consensus from his associates on ways to attack problems. When there is agreement, though, the agency is not afraid to tear down walls and processes and introduce new approaches and architecture.
Bucci is tough on himself and the industry. Everyone is so focused on technical magic. What we need are business leaders who can help clients find the answers to their problems. In this mode, the teams put all the work relating to the client and the competition on moving or layered walls. But such war rooms are a temporary affair. Few agencies can afford permanently to allocate communal space to a single client. After the meeting ends, the team disperses and all the materials are packed into a cabinet.
It is a momentary thing. They might surround everyone with ideas, good and bad, and keep them working in close proximity to one another. Function follows form in a service business. In fact, with the advent of computers, most people spend the day focused on the screen in front of them and physical architecture has become less important. Consider what it would mean to organize the creative department to include media planners, account planners, art directors, and copywriters. Strategic planning, senior account management, and research could be isolated into a third grouping. Even better, this group could operate under a separate brand name and be sited on another floor or in a different building—so that clients meeting this group would get the impression they were in the presence of strategists whose work was not included in the advertising budget.
Imagine the effect this would have on everyone. Certainly account people might complain that they had been excluded from the creative process, but at least they would be asking to be part of that process rather than to control it. Creatives would gain a broader focus. Strategic planning would be recognized as a premium service. Traffic people might teach account people their negotiating skills— and learn from their new teammates more about the client business they were servicing.
Media buyers might just enjoy the hustle and bustle of the traffic department. Agencies contracted with architects to redesign their interiors and bring in movable furniture and walls so that account people, planners, creatives, and others devoted to a single account could be grouped together on a single floor or within a walled area. In those days, account people really had the numbers of the creatives—we were pretty much captive, right under the thumb of the account people who ran the accounts.
We like to put them on the wall and consider them and then take them down. Because a lot of our creative power comes from just casually checking things out.
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And one creative person sees something hot going on nearby and starts getting new ideas about his own problem. Agencies are being forced to execute strategies created by others. Meanwhile, in the rush of the past decade to bring down costs, the account service function has been pushed down to more junior and less-well-trained personnel, who are asked to spend more time on process and less on strategic thinking.
Well, agencies are in the relationship business— with clients and with the marketplace. Agencies have accountability. They have to stick around to see if the solutions they recommend actually work. Agencies need to either recommit to account service or fold its function into other parts of the agency. Clients have learned to interact on a regular basis with the business manager—just as they did with an account executive in the past. It may be hard for many believe that there is no one person responsible for the account on a day-to-day basis. But Roche insists his clients have learned to appreciate the system.
Like Ruoso, he came out of account management. He considers the most interesting part of his job working with senior management on the client side, and he has the luxury of having time to drill down to find the unique selling proposition USP of a brand. So we split the functions into two, allowing the project manager to run the day-to-day machinations and the planner to concentrate on the strategic side of the account, not only day-to-day but a year or two out.
Traffic people have been marginalized and underused, he says. Training them to take on more responsibility and assume a higher profile was fairly easy. But finding the right kind of person for strategic planning was more difficult. They tended to be more client-centric instead of consumer-centric. And account planners were just the opposite.
They were used to working with creative people and liked to concentrate only on consumers. The two disciplines have to meet. You have to be able to talk to clients about pricing and distribution—and then turn around and look at how the advertising works and what is going on with consumers. Few agencies, though, seem in a hurry to reexamine the account management function. Some are afraid of asking clients to relate to two handlers. Perhaps admitting that for some in the agency, process and not strategic thinking is their primary job might be a first step to unraveling the mess in which agencies have found themselves.
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Agency architecture cries out for experimentation. Hopefully, there will be new models in the future that will answer this question, either from inside the agency world or from the allied worlds of design and even architecture. At least until marketers get used to the fact that an idea is the most valuable thing we provide.
In the s, as clients began questioning media charges and became interested in achieving more clout in their media buys, they turned to giant unbundled media shops that could buy TV or print more efficiently. To do this, clients had to suspend some of their conflict rules—and accept the occasional disconnect that comes from buying and planning media in one place and ordering creative services from another. Now, innovative ideas for building brands can come from media sellers, too.
Without access to these people through day-to-day negotiations, such ideas are never heard. Meanwhile there is a new and more desperate need for better strategic thinking. Some agencies find themselves lacking the intellectual capital to stay competitive. Nick Brien, U. If I had, say, the four disciplines of an agency—account management, strategy planning, media, and creative—in one place, I would ask how they could be reworked with one goal in mind: conceptual creativity. In fact, at Fallon, management identifies such people and moves them around in the organization in an effort to increase the strength of each department.
They become a shadow board, if you will. To create organizational capacity you need to perpetually train and grow leaders. Go back to early years. Up until we were 60 or 70 or even people, the leadership came from the five founding partners. In the end, agency owners have to make some critical decisions. Most clients have learned to cherry-pick anyway—going to one agency for advertising, another for media planning, and somewhere else for strategic planning or research. However, new disciplines mean overhead, training, and experience, and they require integration.
Leo Burnett funneled tens of millions of dollars into broadening its resource base as it struggled to maintain service for its 15 percent commission clients. Then, over the past decade, as clients moved to a fee-based model, it had to shut down or cut back such units. To do so, he feels, only encourages people to try to sell the client separate solutions. We call this effort Project Power of One. That remains the leading conundrum: How can agencies generate and charge for truly big ideas for their clients?
Agencies are being asked to do a lot more. We need to find ways of delivering more impact for much less money. But agency architects must recruit to their cause strategic thinkers. Not just people with vision and a gut instinct for what a brand should be, but people who can organize their thoughts and support their premises with the kinds of data and proof offered by professional brand strategists. In the end, if agencies continue to give away their best thinking as part of the advertising package instead of spinning it off into separately branded consulting units with this mission, then their only hope is to develop ways to charge for the time of these superstrategists.
This is a worst-case scenario. Agencies would stand to gain more if they could persuade the client of the value of their ideas and sell the client on new forms of compensation. Agencies must learn how to fight for rights to their intellectual property and fees for ideas that prove to be huge drivers of the brand and that help propel the brand and the advertising idea into unforeseen platforms and media. All of this calls for a new commitment to making the ideas that an agency generates distinct and apart from the day-to-day communications it produces.
If an agency does not or will not pitch and package this deliverable separately, then it has no hope of expecting the client to regard it as worth much. Such a reexamination of the fundamental purpose of the modern agency has tremendous implications for the agency architect. Some agencies have tried to keep different disciplines in-house for fear of losing their sense of integration and equality. It offered clients a three-phase process. Research was conducted on the brand, the consumer, and the marketplace.
At the end of this period, the agency provided the client with a formal analysis of the brand and its opportunities. From there, the client was encouraged to go to the second phase, where the partners were asked to come up with a strategic advertising idea based on their research.
If the client wished, it could then purchase this idea for a hefty fee and rechart its business based on it— either through other agencies or through Rainey Kelly. Should it choose to work with Rainey Kelly the agency would charge for its work on a flat hourly basis without the usual markup.
There were no cost-plus charges for any work—such as production—that the agency jobbed out. This simple but radical approach suddenly transforms an agency from being an agent to being regarded as a creative consultancy. See Appendix B for further discussion of this subject. Many agencies started down this path over the past decade when they added account planning to the mix. As a result, although it has come to replace the old agency research department, it has lost any chance of being viewed by the client as a distinct product for which a separate charge outside the normal advertising budget is justified.
Every brand could benefit from a fullscale audit once a year. The consumer is never constant. Competing brands are always changing their positions. A ship owner would never go to sea without a compass that has been recalibrated regularly. Whole books have been written on this subject. Moving from this platform, the agency then has to determine what its deliverables will be and which areas of marketing can be left to other specialty agencies.
I like getting clients used to a nonadvertising budget. That way agencies may start to be perceived as an intellectual creative resource beyond just fillers of airtime or magazine space. They continue to be expected to prepare and deliver specific communications i. Someone has to head this team.
For a time, that may continue to be the senior account executive—but a few agencies around the world are experimenting with designating other members as account team leaders. In addition, at some agencies, media planning is growing in importance. This requires a new media-neutral philosophy that puts a higher premium on what creates the greatest brand impression than on billings and media clout. If it is going to claim expertise in direct marketing, it will at the very least need a good research and DM-focused creative department.
Other fields attracting attention include corporate design and logos, packaging and product design, interior and environmental design, event marketing and interactive, including Web design and digital customer relationship marketing. Sooner or later, clients are going to balk at being sold services simply because they are offered and owned by the same company that delivers their advertising.
They will serve only to degrade the overall quality of the agency and cause the client to seek other providers. The central issue to designing an effective and profitable agency is to minimize protocols and bureaucracy. In the old model, large agencies had creative review boards and other committees to approve ideas before they were presented to the client.
These layers added cost and time to the production of effective communications. In the reengineering wave of the early s, when agency costs were examined closely, many such structures had to be dismantled. No one likes to lay off staff, but layers usually add time and cost to the production of ideas. In all organizations, there is always a question of span of control by leaders.
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No one should have more than five or six direct reports. In the end, if clients are dissatisfied, they should be able to talk directly to a partner of the agency who understands their business and can easily address their problems. Meanwhile, agency heads should audit at least biannually how many steps are involved in outputting a piece of work.
Every year or so, that number ought to be cut by 30 to 50 percent.
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What are your partners best at? Which services can you provide that are best of class in your field or region? Can you package them in such a way as to support top personnel and services in all core areas? What can be done to streamline that process? They may be adding additional steps, time, and people to your own production effort. Without involving clients, most reengineering plans are doomed. Work with the client to realign the marketing strategy and tactical plans based on such an audit. One way to do this is to present your client with two media budgets— one for advertising and another for nonadvertising promotions and executions.
Create a separate budget when a new product is launched or an established brand needs a major repositioning. Where appropriate, help clients in the selection of those agencies and the integration of their work. Wherever possible, spin off your own below-the-line services into separately branded companies to ensure their excellence and viability.
Better to study the water from a few yards back first and assess the situation. Haphazard casting will get you fish, but a methodical, vacuum-cleaner-like approach will get you more. The same deliberate approach is valuable in new business development. Agencies that hit a hot streak are invariably led by people who instinctively know what clients are looking for and can assemble a team capable of delivering insights and ideas on a regular basis.
To appeal to your prey, you must understand the kind of communications the client is craving. In addition, the lure must appear alive and dynamic. This is a high art that few in the business have mastered. Nor is there any textbook to turn to for instruction. The two New Yorkers had brought along a suitcase filled with storyboards to illustrate their ideas and cookies baked in the form of various tools, to lighten up their presentation.
They made small talk, watching the elevator for rivals Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein to exit. At about 10 minutes after four, the elevator door opened and out came several burly workmen pushing two huge TV sets on racks. More workmen appeared delivering huge crates of material. Before long, there were several dozen piles of crates stacked in the reception area. Finally, after about six elevator trips, Jeff Goodby himself appeared, looking fairly pleased, surrounded by a squad of his top people.
Suddenly, Ryan started laughing hysterically, as she and Bond realized they had been totally outgunned—if not in ideas at least in terms of theatrics. Though Bond and Ryan recovered sufficiently to make a coherent presentation, the account ultimately went to Goodby Silverstein. No one save the client will ever know. Strong agencies can be measured by their ability to build revenues from current clients, but often this kind of growth is stunted by factors totally outside the advertising process. Even very good agencies have to fuel growth by winning new accounts.
Hence the constant emphasis on new business development. But Freeman never gave up. The request for proposal RFP comes in the form of a questionnaire. At this point, the client is usually playing darts. With or without the help of a consultant, the client has devised a list of 20 or so agencies to consider. Based on submissions, it then narrows the list to a manageable four or five agencies to advance to the next round—a more intense face-to-face meeting.
The requested response to an RFP is usually limited. In this early phase, a smart agency will seek to make its submission responsive while also addressing some of the concerns that may be driving the client to seek a new agency in the first place. As in fly-fishing, in the early stages of a pitch an agency must spend time fashioning its lures and make that first cast count.
One agency I know sends along a homemade video of its principals talking and joking when it responds to an RFP. It wants to start selling its culture by exposing the client to its people and ambience. This takes research. It may force you to play some of your cards before you have had the opportunity to interview people at the brand and hear firsthand how they view their problems. Instead, he would first call several dealers in the field. Are you sure you want to do this?
Can you honestly say this business fits the strategic goals of your agency? Is the client a screamer? Does the client even understand how advertising works?
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Oh, I see, the client is a screamer, but you feel you can reform him or her. Well, if you really believe that, I guess you can skip the rest of this and go on to the next chapter. Look for ways to customize your response. Or better yet, be candid. If you get to the next round, there will be time enough for delivering your analysis and ideas. Ensure that every question in the RFP is answered.
Most RFPs, though formulaic, have been customized to meet certain special interests of the client. Get it in on time. Clients in general consider agencies to be selfindulgent creative enterprises without a clear understanding of budgets and deadlines. The last thing to be considered is whether the pitching agency, given the field, has a good chance of winning the account.
Virtually no pitch is conducted in secret. The finalists are known. Losing a high-profile pitch may start an agency on a downward spiral. The loss can demoralize employees and make current clients anxious. The stakes are high. And there can be only one winner.
Though this is a book about becoming more responsive to the new needs of clients, there are limits. Some agencies embrace account service at the expense of creative services—or vice versa. Some portray themselves as expert at integrating below-the-line marketing services like promotions and direct marketing.
Certainly there are many reasons to respond to an RFP, but there may be better reasons not to. Agencies need to do a better job of defining who they are. What are their backgrounds? Who was the previous agency? We want to get to know them. Having decided to pitch, an agency has anywhere from a week to a month to prepare for the crucial first meeting.
We certainly have an overview of the category and a good analysis of their brand. We conduct a very thorough brand audit. The primary order of business is to talk to the client about their business. First you have to decide whether to go or not to go—but if you go for it, do twice more than you need to. And always anticipate. You should always be one meeting ahead. The best advice is to use this occasion to begin building rapport. If they have a chance meeting with the visitor, they should know enough about the account to make an intelligent comment.
Seeing the creative department and one other work area should be enough. The lobby should reflect the culture and standard of work of the agency. The conference room should be a comfortable, clean meeting area. Soft drinks, bottled water, fresh coffee, and munchies are enough. People should be relaxed and prepared. This is basically a credentials presentation. Clients are people. Use common sense in welcoming them as you would any guest. Listen carefully to their questions or comments.
The pitch process is a rare opportunity to have the client alone and ready to talk. What you can learn on this visit will help you prepare for the next session. Try to avoid PowerPoint presentations. Whatever rapport was building may be destroyed by someone reading slides from a screen. Your mission, your processes, your client list and billings—all these things can be addressed in written submissions.
One or two case histories are appropriate, but keep them brief and to the point. The more interactive you can make this meeting, the better. What we try to bring to the table is an idea that lets you leap over what the competition is, and so we put our brave thinking in the context of a business strategy before we ever show ads that might be a little scary or different than what a client thinks they should be.
We try to show them how we think about the business and how we think about the advertising they should do. So if we get hired, we get hired for the right reasons. Tonality is more important than creative content. We were New Yorkers, of course. The protocol called for a social meeting and then a business meeting. Normally, you would go out to a restaurant with them. Next day we had the meeting. The meeting bombed. They hated the idea we presented. And we still won the business. In the end they just liked us.
Clients are looking for an agency experienced at attacking the kind of problems they face—as well as ideas on how to build their brand. Then, too, selecting an agency depends on whether a company thinks its marketing department and the agency make a good team. Michael Agate, founder of the powerful Los Angeles—based search consultancy, Select Resources International, stresses the importance of chemistry. Typically, no decisions are made in this instance, or at least not consciously.
Others may be in a hurry to move the pitch along and start seeing ideas in the hopes of beginning to narrow the list of finalists. The first challenge for an agency is to get properly briefed on what is expected of it in this first face-to-face meeting and form an appropriate team for the task. If the meeting is to have a fairly light tone, agencies can plan on spending more time introducing their people, talking about their philosophy, and interacting with the client team.
Some agencies even bring finished ideas to the meeting. They are the Holy Grail of advertising. Sometimes an idea does not lead directly to an advertising strategy but may be more of a general positioning or marketing strategy. Sometimes the idea is in fact an advertising line—and so powerful it will drive the advertising and the business strategy for years to come.
Such ideas are valuable, but agencies bemoan the fact that they are asked for them in the midst of contests to win a piece of business and that they have little chance of protecting such intellectual capital or getting properly paid for it—unless they are fortunate enough to win the pitch. And we do it for free so that we can set the stage to show them some ads that might propel their marketing forward. I think our brainpower is immense, and we have to give it away on a regular basis to win a new account. The effort to give away some great ideas in exchange for the chance to win a piece of business will continue for the foreseeable future.
Great strategic thinking grows out of deep knowledge of a brand and its category. Insights come from a close study of the consumer, the competitive set in the category, the heritage and equities of a brand, and the vagaries of the marketplace—or any combination of these elements. A brilliant planner can sometimes divine such insights in a matter of hours or days. But often this process takes weeks or months. Encourage the camaraderie and teamwork that goes into making a pitch successful. Even if you lose, you want your team to feel they had a good time working their butts off. Figure out what you have to tell them.
Showing you are good listeners may be more important than showing you are good talkers. Take time to show how this will happen. There is the idea you need to win the business and then the idea the client needs to get back into the game. Ideally, they are one and the same.
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But often they are not. A pitching agency has to decide how blunt to be with the client in talking about its brands—and what strategy to recommend. Jean-Marie Dru has worked with food maker Danone as a client since and recalls the difficulty in making decisions early in a pitch on what line to take. You have to build knowledge and plan everything very fast.
Are we going to recommend A or B? They are doing yogurt and dessert. The first one is good for health, the second one perhaps not so good. So do you want to have a health strategy or not? The decision between indulgence and health is a big decision. If you ask me what is the most important thing for that business, I think it is for the client is to find the right balance between those two values. And it will be different in each country. But someone has to decide. And wowing the client. That really is the worst possible scenario. People respond to that.
Especially when these clients are auditioning five really smart agencies. It was a big ballroom kind of place. We got covering for the walls, brought in bleachers—brought every person from the agency to the pitch. They walked in and we were all sitting there. And weeks before the pitch, we assigned every person in the agency a Sega game to learn. So everybody in the agency was a specialist in one of their games. Second, it showed our own people how we pitched things, which was really a fascinating learning process for them.
We have somebody that knows it, that has been playing it days and nights, right down to the stupidest, worst games that you make. Even the ones that hardly sell at all. Video games are all about sound and light. So we got nine television sets and stacked them, three by three. We got an engineer and made those nine screens into one.
There was one enormous screen up in front made out of nine boxes. When Sega people walked in, they saw a teenager playing one of their games. And for a sound system we had hired a club system that The Grateful Dead used. It was loud as hell. It was like Desert Storm. I mean, it was really wacky. Think about ways of making them comfortable so that they can enjoy themselves and project good vibes. Figure out how you can turn it into a creative environment, if just for 60 minutes.
Assume that all the pitches the client hears that day are going to sound the same. That can be determined as much as by how your people act and how the room looks as by what you say. Even the smallest comment should be heard. In fact, to the degree possible, arrange your script to allow for that kind of flexibility.
If someone is not on board, leave them behind. Clients pick up more on the way you and your people interact with each other than on what you say. Have a good time pitching. In fact, have a good time in advertising or do something else. Life is too short not to have fun. In this case, according to Goodby, his people got carried away. And when you opened it up, it had all this wonderful stuff from the Northwestern part of the United States that would be interesting if you were traveling on Alaska Airlines. It was just astonishingly cool. And he gave a little speech about how bad things were at the airline financially.
Southwest was killing them and Alaska was having to cut back on everything, laying people off and cutting back on the frills. When the note hit the designer, Paul Curtin, all the blood drained out of his face. He and his people had worked so hard on the cases for weeks. In actuality, though, that leaves less than 60 minutes to make your points, because you have to leave time for questions.
After introducing the rest of the team—and letting each member have about five minutes to talk about their own capabilities—the hour is easily gone. In many ways, agencies would do well to script even less than that. Everyone dreads a PowerPoint presentation where the speaker reads every slide. Clients are human. They come with their own baggage. Start drawing them out. Think on your feet, or better yet, come prepared with answers to anything that might come up, and you will no doubt pass to the next round.
Because we view this as a chance to get to know the prospect and for the prospect to see us thinking on our feet. We engage in chemistry from the get-go. As the pitch develops it may be more strictly choreographed, so we work as much dialogue as possible into these early meetings. If along the way we see an opportunity to get to know these people, we do. The next day, he would phone, requesting a private session with the client. He knows the competition. He knows the marketplace. I would get four-hour lunches where they told me about their wives or husbands, their children, their business.
The client tells you everything you need to know. By the end of that meeting, I was so far into their heads that if we merely did something as smart as everybody else we were likely going to get the account. You had to guess who was who. The tendency in a credentials presentation is to talk at a client. We have retailers just like you. We have seven people in the style business who are up on the latest trends. Your purpose is to create a minute encounter so enthralling that the account will be virtually handed to you on a platter.
Successful agencies learn how to inject a sense of fun into their presentations. Ideas can usually be communicated very quickly. The rest of the meeting should be about making connections. He assembled a creative team, an account person, a planner, and a media specialist—along with Don Peppers, one of the legendary rainmakers of the s. Whatever it took, he got us in. We understood the product, we understood the business, we had all been in the stores, we talked to store managers, we talked to scores of truck drivers.
The drivers knew what their problems were. We showed that this was a product that parents gave to their kids to keep them happy. If you could convince mothers chips would give them some peace with their kids, you were home free. The half an hour became an hour and then three hours. They left at in the evening. We just hit them, the chemistry was wonderful, we understood what they wanted to accomplish, we gave them comic relief.
And we gave them a tremendously happy environment to put the product in. The simplest way for anyone new to a brand to sense where the brand should move would be to get the strategy from the client. But it is unlikely in a competitive pitch that clients will do the thinking for an agency. Anyway, the client might be wrong. It may have been misdirection from the client that caused the advertising to go awry in the first place. Increasingly, the pressure has been for the account planner to come up with the insight. Planning sets the stage. With a good planner, the idea just drops into place.
Sometimes you can almost hear it click. If you can talk about the client that early, you start to build better rapport. We start working with creative people from the beginning, sharing with them our thoughts and our learning. The ideas that will solve the brief are relatively easy if you have a precise, accurate brief. In that case, only great chemistry can save you. There are debates about whether to present one idea or many.
Some agencies feel more comfortable showering the client with several ideas—just to show how energetic and quick on their feet they are. Others present a single idea to show their belief in a single strategy that they believe best solves the brand challenge of the moment. There is no textbook answer. Others insist you can never be sure: Regardless of what your gut is telling you, you need to give it your best shot. The fast food you wolfed down at lunch may be burning a hole in your stomach.
You may realize that telling your people not to dress up for the meeting was a mistake. All you can do is attack and hope for the best. My casts were near perfect—given where the fish ought to be feeding. By all I could determine from what insects were feeding at that season, I believed my lure was right. But I would cast and cast and cast, and nothing would bite. Then, the next day, someone fishing that same river, with the same lure or even one less appropriate, would land a pounder on the first cast. But ask yourself this: Were you smart enough to make this cast in the first place?
Did you have the experience, the knowledge, and the tackle the river required? This industry has a lot of stupid, arrogant people who believe they are smarter than the other guys and that smarter is the way you get new business. So our work is going to create discomfort in someone seeing it for the first time. We know that. So we try to build comfort between ourselves and the client. The more creative you are, the harder that is. Remember, every new account has the potential to change your agency—for good or ill.
Time is money. Just getting through round one will cost the agency in terms of energy and time taken away from other business. In every pitch there are more losers than winners—and the losers often pay a psychic price. In the days or weeks between turning in the RFP and the credentials presentation, the agency must make sure it knows all it can about the client, the product, the history of its advertising, the category and the consumer mind-set. Where are the openings? How can the brand grow? Where does it need to defend?
And so on. Getting brand insights takes time. Give your planning department as much support as possible. Their insights may take you to the next round. If the client demands it, let the idea, not the execution, shine through. Make a strategic call about whether you want to present one idea or several.
If you do present more than one to show off your versatility, make sure you know what you consider the right idea for the client—and be ready to defend it. Even in facing a large room of people, take your time introducing your people and doing what you can to make their personalities come alive. Let the character of your people and your agency shine. Chemistry sometimes is more important than any single idea. Think about making your people comfortable. If they are at ease, their enthusiasm will be an important ingredient to getting an edge. Agencies are living, breathing social organisms.
Clients know this. Admit your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Then have your planners check it out. If you believe the brief is wrong, say so. Try to be media-neutral. If an idea can be expressed just as well by sticking labels on fruit in markets as by putting it up on billboards, say so. If sponsoring beach volleyball will have more impact than a print campaign in Rolling Stone, go to the beach.
Fishermen are a perverse and restless lot, constantly poised to migrate to greener pastures, ever helpless recruits for the wild goose chase. Creatives are allowed to come to work in running shoes and jeans, wear their hair long, and install pool tables and basketball hoops in their work areas. Agencies pamper them with pizza and Chinese food when they work late, and many reward their best creatives with expensive, weeklong trips to distant festivals in places like Cannes and South Beach to keep their creative juices flowing. Typically, they hang out together or with creatives from other disciplines or, worse, from other agencies.
Some arrive late for meetings and fail to turn in time sheets. They are a perverse and restless lot, always worried about what is happening down the hall or across the street—bellyaching about conditions in their own agency and dreaming of taking a higher-paying position somewhere else. But all is forgiven as long as they come up with a breakthrough campaign that impresses the client and saves the business. Is there anything wrong with this scenario? The elevation of the creative makes perfect sense. But without radical change, its value to the agency will decrease.
Classically speaking, these people have been trained and organized to do ads. The issue is not whether creative people should see their work and position as exalted, but at what cost and for what reason. If they can expand their role to include the new media-neutral culture that clients are embracing, then their canonization is justified. But if they do not evolve to fill the void that now exists, then their role will be taken over by other disciplines. Advertisers are already learning to look elsewhere for ideas.
Clients have come to see agencies as factories that make ads. That is about to change. I say that without undermining the role of agencies; we now need an idea-generation trust that knows how to work as a team. Somewhat like architects. An architect has to be able to imagine the idea of a building and has to be able to create a framework for it. The architect has to be responsible for creating something enduring, powerful, and relevant. It has to be successful and functional in the ultimate construction. There will be times when brands are best served by traditional ads and collateral.
At other times, an event or a radical new use of ambient media may offer better opportunities. Agencies are either going to have to retrain their creative directors in these nonadvertising arts or develop a new supercreative, as Goodby suggested, who can determine when to present nonadvertising ideas to the client.
But if agencies did that under current rules, the effort would be marginalized. Agency leaders have to make a greater commitment than that. And as a measure of our confidence in breaking the advertising habit, we are bold enough to say in some cases: Do not do any advertising. Put your hammer down! He is unusual in this effort. Our ideas for our clients should be more transcendant than just saying you need a new campaign for the fall.
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