Tag Archives: value

Why Marketing & Procurement Are On A Collision Course In The Web 2.0 Universe, And Beyond.

The environment for most brands is changing fast. A stream of new opportunities keeps flowing – social media, word-of-mouth & location – based mobile marketing right now – and the means to take advantage of them comes increasingly from start-ups. In this universe being entrepreneurial is key to Marketing success and a well-intentioned but misguided Procurement department can be as great a threat to brands as the competition.

Differentiation is Both Quantitative and Qualitative.

Companies have to differentiate what they produce in a relevant way. That makes them stand out against competitors and makes their brands valuable. Ad agencies often do this through distinctive creative output. When they resort to scam ads it suggests they haven’t grasped the ‘relevance’ issue. What marketing service providers must do is to price the value they add, or the savings they generate, for clients. If they don’t their service may seem generic, inviting client Procurement departments to squeeze them on price.

Most procurement methods originated to reduce production costs by managing how standardized commodities and homogeneous goods and services are bought. They are fundamentally quantitative, which leaves qualitative, ideas-based or creative services particularly vulnerable to being under-priced. Recent trends toward quantitative RFPs submitted online with no Marketing department participation and no qualitative performance measures, are clearly misguided and a cause for grave concern.

Don’t get me wrong,  Procurement management is critical for all forms of production. However, marketing services contain creative problem-solving elements – not just ad ideas – which are not homogeneous, and which even their producers struggle to value accurately. I went into this earlier in the post on Creative Services and the Vicious Cycle of Procurement.

Wisely applied, Procurement is Good.

The thing is, successful supply chain cost management is vital to business success. If a company can produce consistent, sustainable, marketable quality at a lower price than its competitors it will tend to gain market share and benefit from economies of scale, all increasing ROI. Marketing services companies need to become just as savvy about Procurement as their clients and must apply it in their own businesses too. That TBWA recently appointed a global head of Procurement makes an interesting statement. That their competitors responded with a deafening silence does too.

Where problems arise is with the “consistent” and “sustainable” aspects in that previous paragraph, especially producing the specialty services provided in marketing communications. For example, media agencies slicing income to win business volume for larger buying discounts, a process rampant for a decade, is an unsustainable “Race To The Bottom”. I wrote on this in ’03 working at Carat (Media, 23 March).

What happens is this: after winning a new piece of business with a low bid, a media agency can only afford to staff it with cheap, lower quality staff, overseen by an overstretched senior if they’re lucky. Procurement is happy but Marketing soon complain of weak advice, errors and unresponsiveness. When it comes to a head they put the media account up for pitch again. Procurement lends a hand and the account goes to the lowest bidder. Work into a lather. Rinse. Repeat. Soon nobody in Marketing has much hair left and all the media agencies are producing poor service and making no money.

What Happens When It’s A Race To The Top?

Procurement departments not used to valuing and buying marketing services often have unrealistic expectations. Network media and ad agencies with big holding company parents have helped those develop. As a result many believe that if you lean on a marketing services supplier they’ll find a way to drop their price and keep providing the service. The near sweat-shop conditions in some major agencies probably prove their point.

However, real trouble strikes when Procurement meets Entrepreneurs. The company best positioned to offer cutting edge social media and other innovative services needed for a brand, is increasingly a relatively new start-up. These new firms are staffed with very focused people with little knowledge of procurement methods, nor time to learn them while pulling 18 hour days. Critically, they have limited funds.  To survive and prosper they must build their business up to long term health as fast as possible. In pioneering fields, for start-up founders, and their angel investors, it’s really a Race To The Top.

Start-ups need business, but not on destructive terms. They realise that quickly, or die. However, as any entrepreneurial 21st Century marketer knows, you need these specialists and their new services to differentiate, defend and build your brands in these exciting but complex new arenas. Currently it’s social media, search, and location-based mobile marketing. There’ll be something more within a year.

The Procurement Curse/Benefit Analysis For Marketers.

Whether it all ends in success or tears for any given marketer depends on three main drivers:

1. the marketing company’s culture – exploratory & innovative Vs scared & defensive;

2. that company’s senior leadership & vision  – supportive Vs punitive and;

3. how well their  Procurement department is trained and for what purpose – pure cost saving Vs helping brands be as competitive as possible.

In the bigger picture this applies to dealing with long established ad and media agencies just as much as to social media engagement experts and branded app developers.

If Marketing gets only what Procurement lets them pay for, the question facing marketers has to be: “Does our Procurement department have the skills to help us buy these services successfully?”

If they do not, they will compel you to use and become, second best.

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How Job Insecurity & Professional Cowardice Made Bud Light Stumble For The First Time Ever.

Ads blamed for Bud Lite sales fall.

A  US Budweiser campaign, “Drinkability”, is being blamed for the first full year sales decline in Bud Lite history. This in a recession when beer sales are often one of few things that go up. A firm of consultants  was  involved. Apparently their recommendations became ad briefs which DDB and Euro anwered by coming up with the “Drinkability” campaign.

Lots of voices are now being heard from all quarters about why this happened and who is at fault.

A Wide Range Of Differing Opinions.

A number of points have been made including:

“Were the spots entertaining? No. Were they loaded with brief-filling, focus group-tested, chest-puffing talking points? Yes.” – Adman blog posting

“Consulting doesn’t boast creative expertise nor does it have any interest in “starting a turf war” with creative agencies.” – A consultancy spokesperson

“…some clients will pay consultants millions to rehash research and refine positioning, but then they pressure agencies to lower costs on the thinking/ideas that positions and builds awareness of a brand and ultimately sell products.” – online comment posting

“Unfortunately, too many people are willing to blindly accept whatever “dictate” trickles down and don’t bother to question the validity of the premise or invest themselves in its integrity. This is a cause for shame in our industry. It opens the door for spectators to broadly crucify agencies and consultants, wastes money, damages brands, and demoralizes everyone involved.” – online comment posting

“Agency creative directors tend to do more damage to brands if left unchecked. They too often develop high concept ads that win awards but do very little to motivate consumers in any way. The examples are endless.” – online comment posting

Others attribute the Bud Lite decline to Anheuser-Busch being bought by InBev.

Then of course there’s the question of whether one can or can’t directly correlate advertising and sales. Well, one can’t have it both ways.

All these points have merit to a greater or lesser degree. However, I think there’s a simpler, deeper issue behind all this.

When you’re scared you tend to make bad decisions.

Let’s face it, those ads are weak. The consultant-driven briefs that Budweiser Marketing pushed on DDB and Euro should have been declined immediately for what they clearly were: weak, lacking compelling beer consumer insights and likely to generate poor advertising harmful to Bud Lite in the competitive context.

Next, the agencies should have proposed better briefs, drawing on what was useful from the consultant reports, avoiding what wasn’t or was clearly going to harm the brand. At that point the Bud clients needed to listen carefully, debate it skillfully and collaborate on agreeing powerful briefs.

The Great Recession is partly to blame, as is unchecked Procurement thinking.

Budget cutbacks and the retrenchment of expensive but experienced ad talent have taken a toll. We seem to be left with scared ad agency people lacking the experience and the faith in their craft, and thus also the confidence in it, to do their jobs bravely and professionally. To say a professional “No” instead of an easy, but ultimately ruinous “Yes”.

Advertising is an industry with a high proportion of people eager to please and who are in fundamentally weak positions relative to their clients. As a result they are thus very vulnerable to being bullied by equally scared, inexperienced or under-qualified marketing staff.

The result of all of this seems to be increasing levels of professional cowardice. Among advertising people, and among Marketers too.

That old Young & Rubicam house ad nails it. The one that shows a spinal column from the neck to the coccyx with the headline, as I recall it:

“This is a backbone. You can’t run a good ad agency without one.”

Actually, you can’t run any good business without one.

(PS, if anyone has a copy or a link to that Y&R ad please link it in the comments below or email me. Tx.)

5 Ways The Ad Industry Stumbled & 5 Ways To Rebuild It, Only Better.

Yes, you got burned. Now come back stronger!

Reading the trade press one would think the ad industry has suddenly and unexpectedly fallen on hard times.

It hasn’t. The current shake-out has been a long time coming.

Here are 5 industry features which combined to cause the collapse:

1. Miguided creativity. Many Creative Directors and their ad agencies shifted their focus and that of their staff, away from their real purpose.

They used to produce marketing communications to engage consumers, build brands and help drive sales for their clients. Now one would be forgiven for thinking that they prefer making ads for each other. Scam ads and festivals of self-congratulation have put this into sharp focus, making marketers question the professionalism and value of the industry.

Why did it happen? Ego, bad HR practices, poor leadership and forgetting the essential role advertising is supposed to fill in the marketing mix.

2. Laziness, Fear, Maybe Arrogance. Continuing to use Transmission Model thinking. ‘Brand advertising’, like 30 second TVCs. The industry failed to embrace the digital media era and become truly consumer/user centric; listening to them and letting them search for and find marketers doing the right things in the right places. Failing to be idea-focused and media-agnostic. Too many ad types tried to stick to what they were comfy with. Digital, direct, sponsorship, PR and events remained 2nd class colleagues in silos; afterthoughts to be briefed only once the Big (all too often TV) idea had been “cracked”, or were left out of the picture altogether;

3. Failing to add & track value. Trying to perpetuate an archaic revenue and overall business model with little or no value-based or performance-linked component in their remuneration. An approach where the value added is not tracked, recognized and as a result often not rewarded either.

4. Failure to invest. Take a good look at the holding company model. While there have been some benefits of size, have they improved what the ad agencies within them actually do? Not really. In fact, the holding companies have become distractions for agency management and hindrances to progressing the craft. This simply because they siphon profits from front-line companies which need the money to retain and train the best people, conduct research and pilot new techniques to add value to clients’ business (see 3. above);

5. Strategic blindness. Earlier, ad agency groups un-bundled media planning and buying from the development and creation of advertising which everyone seemed to believe was their main business. That divorced media strategy from brand communication strategy and handed over the data & analytics too.

More recently the industry failed to recognize the impact of online advertising and social media. Ad industry leaders are now under immense pressure.  Digital is for them a poorly understood rod with which they are now being beaten. Added to that, marketers made major budget cuts during the downturn, reviewed their approach to marketing and are demanding real results (see Value) whilst Procurement has also become a permanent stakeholder at the table (see earlier post Creative Services & The Vicious Cycle of Procurement). All rather challenging for the old school mentality.

Here’s hope for a brighter future.

Now marketer budgets are slowly rising again. The more sophisticated ones pulled back very little anyway, knowing one cannot cost-cut one’s way to market leadership. The problem for most ad companies now will be how to gain, retain and make money on a share of that re-instated spending because the business has changed substantially.

Here are 5 ways the ad industry can make real changes to evolve into a better professional services sector.

1. Focus on adding, and invest in tracking, the value you create. Ask “how will this improve our client’s business results and how will we track how well it does that?” If you can’t prove a clear connection to improved desirability, higher perceived value or better service perceptions, or to lower costs of achieving the same or better sales and branding scores for your client, think again.

2. Return to deeply understanding the target prospects. If you know them deeply – especially their motivations, communication profiles and online behaviour – and better than your clients, you will be able to lead your clients professionally producing work which truly adds value and justifies a decent margin.

3. Charge, and get paid, for Ideas. Marketers need to pay you on the basis of the ideas you create and implement and the impact of those on their marketing KPIs. Paying you on the basis of the media spend behind your ideas is lazy and unprofessional on both sides. Yes, it has been a long standing tradition that clients get free ideas, but as both sides must finally have noticed by now, the world has changed and the old commission model is broken.

4. Embrace Procurement. Procurement is here to stay in contract negotiations, in getting paid each month and in annual or semi-annual performance reviews. Learn from it and make the most of it. Clients want results, so negotiate with them a data-based way to track your performance on appropriate KPIs and make sure they commit to providing the data needed from their side to do this. Learn, and run your own company with the same degree of attention to supplier costs, results, transparency and fat trimming or frankly, you are doomed.

5. Have fewer, better people who are better paid, better equipped and better led. Yes, there is such a thing as critical mass, but you need to be pragmatic and deal with the realities of your business. Size is not everything. Clients want leadership and service from experienced, quality people and will pay for the value they add. If you don’t have sufficiently skilled, motivated, talented people to deliver on that, you will not succeed, let alone prosper.

Get it right and you will keep the business you have, earn bonuses and better payment terms on it, win yet more business and have future clients and talented potential staff banging on your door.

OK, you may be feeling like you’re sitting in a pile of ashes. Rise from them as something a whole lot better. Good luck.