Monthly Archives: September 2012

Calling An Agency Review? 3 Reasons Why The CMO Should Be Part Of The Process From The Start

This article is by Lisa Colantuono, co-partner of AAR Partners, an agency search consultancy. It first appeared in Forbes on September 20, 2012.

Chemistry is vital but compatibility is the core of a successful relationship, and when relationships have both it sets the stage for enduring partnerships that create some case-study results.  Yet the average tenure for many client-agency relationships range anywhere from four to six years. Why?

AAR Partners recently received a call from a spirits company inquiring about our service to manage a review.  Whenever we receive these calls, our policy is to ask, “Why are you considering an agency search?” The intention behind the question is to evaluate if the search is truly necessary. In this case, the potential client responded, “It’s five years. It’s time.” The hidden meaning behind that answer is usually one of relationship problems, change in client and/or agency leadership, poor results and/or quite often flat creative.

Just like in personal relationships, divorce has become commonplace in business relationships. The toll on lives in terms of behavioral and societal difficulties defy measurement, and when it comes to business break-ups, there is a deep economic impact for both sides. Aside from the lost income to the agency, the client also suffers a loss by needing to go through a learning curve with a new agency aside from the two to three months it typically takes to go through the process of a properly managed agency review.

So how do some client-agency relationships endure for two, three or even 10 times the industry average like, say, General Mills and Saatchi & Saatchi since 1928, or Wrigley and BBDO since the 1933? They don’t consider themselves “client-agency relationships.” Instead, they consider themselves “friends all contributing to a successful business partnership.” And it all starts with the CMO as the keystone of the friendship.

Here are the key characteristics of successful relationships and why CMOs must be part of a new agency relationship starting with the agency search:

Friendship. Strong friendships create staying power. In the business world, strong relationships create enduring partnerships. They not only enjoy rolling up their sleeves at the same conference room table, but also breaking bread together. So what does this have to do with the CMO being part of the review process from the start?

People like people who have similar personalities, work ethics and integrity. Of course, all are necessary for successful relationships but hard to determine if the CMO is not in the room. “Fit is everything. At the end of the day, your agency and CMO must have a deep personal connection that leads to transparency and trust. Their personalities and working styles have to not only be compatible, but also need to be perfectly aligned,” according to Amy Muntz, president of Neiman.

Communication. As obvious as this may seem, constant communication is key to any successful relationship, whether it is personal or business, and it must be solid from the start. Those who are able to openly express their thoughts, insights, hesitations and concerns instead of burying frustrations always have a way of coming out at some ground-breaking position.  Again, this starts with the CMO. The CMO who articulates the vision not only for the company but also for the brand is what separates the good CMOs from the great. If the CMO isn’t part of the agency-review process from the start, there is a tremendous missed opportunity to ensure that everyone on both the client and agency side are on the same page. If not, that vision can be subject to interpretation and in danger of not being translated into transactions in the end.

There are often times when CMOs feel that they will empower their team to manage the review process and they will be part of the final pitch as an “objective third party.” There is a lot of value behind leading but not micromanaging. However, we’ve come to realize that if you don’t come to the first meeting, you should not go to the last. “In theory, it is great to give authority to the team who works on the day-to-day agency relationship, but sometimes those decisions are overturned later in the process by the CMO, therefore turning the process on its head, which can be demoralizing for the marketing and agency team,” says Barbara Stefanis-Isreal,  senior VP and director of marketing for MARC USA.

Collaboration. Great collaborative efforts come from great chemistry, and great chemistry must be determined from the start, which is why CMOs should be part of chemistry meetings scheduled at the start of the process. “Marketers are often quick to stress collaboration both from and within their agencies. Yet, they sometimes fail to collaborate within their own marketing departments,” says Michael Palma, president of The Palma Group. Chemistry meetings are a key opportunity to evaluate agency philosophy and culture, approach to business and creative solutions, as well as team dynamics within and between the client/agency teams. CMOs who arrive only for the final decision are in jeopardy of making a subjective decision based solely on creative instead of a comprehensive decision regarding the entire process based on research, strategic thinking, integrated business solutions and measurement. It also sets the tone for a non-collaborative relationship that’s often the set-up for a short-lived agency relationship.

Client-agency teams must be in sync from the start, and that begins with having the CMO in the room. They set the stage, share the vision, define the role of the marketing team and establish expectations.  Scott Goodson, Chairman of StrawberryFrog, says, “CMOs should dig into the team and experience first-hand how they come up with strategic and creative excellence, how they think on their feet, how they react to change.”

That sense of security so vital for both parties in the relationship? It’s dependent on the CMO being part of the process from the start.

Blow Up Your Agency in 5 Easy Pieces

Don’t fiddle while Rome burns…

Talk is cheap, as Keith Richards taught us. It’s time to stop analyzing this. Analysis is paralysis. It’s time to act. You love the smell of napalm in the morning? So, let’s make some:

  1. Fire that Abusive, Adulterous Client — You know who they are. Everyone has one. They think they own you. You let them. They will kill you with a toothpick. Whack them first. It will be better for morale in the long run. You may have to lay off some enablers, but sometimes it’s good to cut out the dead wood. This client threatens you. They run you through flaming hoops. They seek creative sex on the side.  Do you really want their money? Who’s the whore — them or you? Make it them. Marry Madonna, not the whore.
  2. Turn the Firing Into a Press Release — Crispin has done this well. They fire the client citing “Creative Differences” and take the story to the Trade Press. They make it clear that they have experience in the category and they are now actively seeking a new partner that would like to exploit that experience to their advantage. Crispin did this quite well when they “fired” Nike and were subsequently hired by UnderArmor. What is more compelling than a “man bites dog” story?
  3. It’s the Creative, Stupid — Strategy is good. So is Service. And, it’s awfully nice of you have an Understanding their Business. Digital fluency… hey, great. Clients consider all these things to be included in the price of playing poker; mere table stakes. These are checked boxes and all are purely a means to an end. That end is Creative Execution. You’ve invested millions in cool office space, facilities, processes and technologies — but, your creative is just fair, at best. If you can’t sell your agency with your work, then good luck selling it with all this other stuff. Above all else, clients seek agencies for their CREATIVE communications. Do great work and new business will come to you. You want Inbound Marketing? Then do great work. How? It starts at the top.
  4. Hire Leaders, Fire Followers — What’s at the top filters down. If you are retaining leadership (Creative or otherwise) simply to maintain existing business by not making waves or rocking the boat, then you will never grow. You will continue running on the treadmill. You will only get phone sex and not the real thing. Your coffee will be decaf. Sorry, but to grow, you have to risk rocking the boat. Your good clients will recognize and respect that you are really acting in their best interests by changing. You are upping the ante. You are improving your game. Stand still, and you will die a slow death.
  5. Be Decisive, Don’t Look Back — Put a stake in the ground. What is your agency’s value proposition? How do you create a point of differentiation? If you create nothing else — create that. Make that POD own-able. Then rebrand yourself accordingly. Make it simple and universally understandable. If you have to explain who you are in more than 20 seconds…then BLOW IT UP. It won’t work anymore. The rate of change around you is so rapid. you’ll get whiplash.