Archive for May 29, 2014


Posted: May 29, 2014
Comments: 0

Another new model for tomorrow’s advertising agencies?

Some years ago there was an emerging trend among London advertising agencies to launch their own consumer products. From what I have seen it didn’t amount to much, but some high profile agencies were promoting the idea that in order to authenticate their proposition agencies should start practicing what they preach by setting up business initiatives of their own. There were a couple of product or brand launches as a result, but I’ve not seen much of this kind of thing since.

Last week I saw a report in The Drum of Tim Williams from Ignition Consulting expressing the belief that, in the light of the decline in traditional agency business, agencies should give this kind of initiative serious consideration and he was able to cite a few successful projects of this type to underline his point. Not only do such projects provide agencies with a revenue stream to offset the fall in income they are experiencing these days, but as Tim says it gives an agency greater credibility with clients whose needs have changed a whole lot since the traditional agency mould was set. Sharing clients’ experiences with production, distribution and the like certainly won’t hurt any client/agency relationship. These days clients are looking for agencies that they feel can offer them serious business advice, not just the arty-farty stuff that was their forte in the past. This has all kinds of implications for agencies, not the least of which regards the age and gravitas of account handlers and strategists (how much weight does the recommendation of a college-leaver carry when you are making a major investment decision?) as well as the structure, skills and processes contained within the agency offer.

Maybe the agency of the future looks something like a business I encountered recently in Dubai? There a woman called Asil Attar is investing in promising fashion jewellery and furniture designers, providing an incubator with mentoring and support from her team of marketers. As I understand it she’s devised a programme where her wards are able to gradually buy themselves out, but meanwhile they become part of a promotions machine that includes features like pop-up stores and I believe, shortly a fashion store in one of the big Dubai malls. Isn’t this an approach that a few traditional agencies should be looking to adopt right now?

Adam Healey, a friend of mine in the US is involved with an incubator that provides a roof over the heads of start-ups but additionally a club-type venue for students with ideas. Here they can hang out and hope the magic of the start-ups rubs off and they can attend talks from experts and successful entrepreneurs. So far, at least HackCville, as it is called, doesn’t invest in its members but philosophically, at least, that’s a small step to take.

I really like the idea of agencies as incubators of new businesses. It gives them a chance to put their money where their mouths are and I can envisage such agencies evolving into stables of talent with varying degrees of cudos. Like a grown-up university start-ups could enhance their value by association with particularly successful stables. Its an all-round win-win.

The agencies would have to have deep pockets and be prepared to invest in fledgling businesses or maybe tie up with an investment bank or consultancy for third-party investment, but I can see it working.  Is this the solution for traditional advertising agencies? Well, there are definitely some who might be able to pull it off. You might even see this as sorting the men from the boys, given that any agency worthy of the name should already have the business nous a start-up needs. I’ve already worked this in reverse a few times by working with investment consultancies to develop strategies for businesses they were thinking of taking on and in the past few weeks I’ve raised the subject with senior figures I know at investment consultancies, banks and agencies. It seems there are a number of ways this could work and nobody has said “no way!”. Read More

Urgent edit

Posted: May 16, 2014
Comments: 0

Is your inertia holding back your business?

You can imagine, I’ve seen the inner-workings of quite a few businesses and encountered numerous senior managers, but I’m still amazed at the lack of balls some managers demonstrate when it comes to making a decision. I was particularly interested therefore that, in this month’s Transformation Monthly, the transformation specialist Rob Llewellyn explores this inertia.

So what is it that in the current marketplace where opportunities are rare, competition is tough and ruthless, that leads those charged with the success of a business to hold back on initiatives that might give them the advantage their business need? Rob probably has as much experience of this as I and he explores a few examples and ideas in his article. As far as I am concerned though, it’s mainly about the insecurity of the managers concerned.

When I was starting my career I was lucky enough to have the ex-Publicis Regional Chairman Michael Conroy as a boss for a while. If you ever encountered Michael you’ll know him for his charm and wit, but he was also something of a sage and took delight in dispensing pearls of wisdom to young-bloods such as I was at the time.  His attitude to decisions was simple – make them! Michael’s argument was that so few of the decisions you make in your life have any real consequence and you can never tell at the time which those are, so you may as well just go for it! (actually, Michael put it far more eloquently than that, but you’ll get the idea).

Don’t get me wrong, Michael wasn’t cavalier by any means. His sharp mind, considerable experience, knowledge and ability to think forward meant that his quick decisions were always a product of an even quicker and thorough assessment of all the pros and cons, but that’s what every senior manager should be capable of and if they aren’t they are simply not up to the job. Sadly, we appear to have manufactured two critical obstacles to the development of decision-making managers. The first is we are dumbing down. By this I mean many managers are very ordinary. This isn’t my judgement, although its not a hard one to make, you just have to look at the evidence, its the news from the managers themselves.  I touched on this a couple of months ago when I referenced research in which over half of managers admitted they felt they weren’t up to their jobs. The same report also highlighted the belief held by managers that on average they didn’t expect to be in their roles longer than two years, which means that, right or wrong, they wouldn’t be around on judgement day anyway. All they are looking for therefore is an easy ride and making decisions that often prompt change and could possibly be wrong, isn’t the quickest route to a restful night. To make this worse, the consequences of failure loom like the sword of Damocles over today’s managers. In most sectors success is expected rather than rewarded, so you can see why so many choose to play it safe and and take the easiest route to a simple stress-free life.

Having chosen not to do anything though, I do wish managers would fess up and be honest. Comments like “No we won’t do his ’cause I’m chicken would go down a lot better with me than the usual “We’re not ready for this yet” or “This puts us too far ahead of our competitors. We don’t need to take it that far” which leave me somewhere between incredulous and incensed. Comments like this usually come from managers who have put-off making decisions for so long that their business is incapable of being ready for anything, and that is often why they are calling me in the first place. The point is that their competitors are often not only ready, but some way down the road to putting similar ideas into practice.

In today’s competitive marketplace you are either fast or dead. You can’t afford to ponder over decisions, so make sure your inability to make them isn’t holding your business back.


Posted: May 15, 2014
Comments: 0

Get the best from your new business presentations

Last week I found myself sitting through a series of presentations by agencies who were pitching for business with one of my clients. Those of you who have done this will know that these events are either a fascinating and learning experience or like a re-enactment of the torture scene from Marathon Man. This was better than most, but I still came away wondering how agencies that clearly know their stuff and have produced great work for their clients aren’t always so good at getting their own message across in a face-to-face meeting with a prospect.

I’m often the one making the presentation, so I sympathise with agencies who struggle with the challenges of pitching it just right. I’ve also mentored more pitches for agencies than I care to remember and my batting average is high. I’ve seen great ideas fail to gain traction because they have been presented poorly and I’ve also seen some crap ones get adopted because their presentation was superb. Both small details and bigger factors will influence the success of an event like this and I’m afraid there’s no getting away from it, it’s all about planning, I know agencies can spend ages agonising over the content of their pitch presentations, but they frequently forget that the solution is rarely the only thing your prospects are judging. Stuff like general expertise, processes, principles and that old chestnut, chemistry, are all in the spotlight. If you are going to cover all the bases, you need a plan.

By the time you reach the final pitch presentation you’ll usually have presented your credentials, but you still need to highlight how the factors that influenced your selection for the shortlist, come into play in developing your proposal. Two of our agencies appeared to have done this and two seemed to have turned up with a rough idea of what they wanted to say, but largely prepared to busk it, which is just not good enough.

Final pitch presentations are a story and as such divide into sections. The first of these, and the one that most presenters miss completely, is a summation of what you are going to do. I don’t mean an agenda (heaven forbid!). I mean a simple statement like “Hi, I’m Phil and in the next forty minutes I’m going to explain to you how, using our approach to campaign development, we’ll help you realise your objectives …”. Be direct, confident, but be sure to avoid sounding like a washing machine salesperson as one of our candidate agencies did. Its a pity because otherwise they did very well. Your opening is what gets your audience’s attention so don’t overlook this. Over the years there are agencies like the UK’s Allen Brady and Marsh, whose presentations have been the stuff of legend. Maybe you don’t have to go as far as they did, it was a different era, but you leave something other than a set of visuals to remind them why you came.

One reason why it’s dangerous to place all your emphasis on your solution, is because there are often people in the meeting who you haven’t already encountered. Newcomers to a judging panel, such as CEOs who haven’t been involved in the process to that point, may have a different idea of what the business needs and their influence means that your creative approach might not be liked. This will scupper most pitches, but it doesn’t have to. I’ve actually rescued more than one pitch from this situation and the trick is to present your solution as a product of your prescribed process. This way you place the process front and centre, if your solution rocks, it will cut through, but if they don’t like your outcome at least its credible for you to suggest that if they work with you using the process you will together arrive at a solution that everyone likes.

Process was the major differentiator of our candidates this week. Two agencies had a clearly defined process and expressed it well. You could see how it applied to what they did and it was reassuring to know that they were organised and efficient as well as creative. The remaining two may have had processes in place, but the theme didn’t run through their presentation. The two with processes also had clear principles that they explained and in the same way that their process was evident throughout, they were at pains to highlight where their principles had also guided their hand in the solutions they were offering. However, they could all still have done better.

On a more detailed note, one of our judging panel later passed an enlightening comment. “Nobody looked creative” he said “There were no funky suits or crazy haircuts”. I’ve heard this kind of comment in similar situations before, so it clearly matters. Which brings me to the question that I know many, more thoughtful agencies agonise over when they are considering their presentation. What constitutes suitable attire? It’s worth a few minutes of your planning time and it’s not difficult to cover all the angles. You should be taking at least a suit and a creative representative to your meeting anyway, but don’t think you have to make the creative dress like your client. Its not what he is looking for. I don’t mean let your creatives turn up looking like they have slept under a hedge either (we had one of those!), you can look cool and neat at the same time. Similarly, strategists and account handlers can be more business-like, but you can wear a suit without looking like a civil servant. Its also not a great idea to turn up with a team of twenty-somethings. Your prospect is talking to you because he needs advice on how to spend significant sums of money and he’s looking for someone who knows more about their subject than he does, not a college-leaver with a few years experience. Oh, and low cut dresses and push-you-up bras don’t work. One of our presenters was obviously trying desperately to conjure up a cleavage with insufficient raw material and it was a bit tasteless and embarrassing.

Don’t take people to a presentation who don’t have a clear role to play and make sure everyone understands their part. You need a leader to create a focus and you must decide who that is before you go in.  This doesn’t have to be the most senior member of the team, ideally it should be the best presenter. Don’t bring people who are nervous. It will do you more harm than good.  Remember, you have to exude expertise and authority and a sweaty shaker doesn’t cut it! I recently had a conversation about presentation nerves with a psychologist and apparently its back to our old flight-or-fight heritage. If you see your prospect as a threat this will always come into play and you’ll get nervous. I don’t suffer with nerves and its probably because I see my prospects as people with a shared interest. In primal instinct terms this makes them part of my group and therefore not a threat.

Think of your pitch as a performance. If your role is the front man (or woman) its your job to direct it. You need to be ready to manage those taking part even if that mens telling your boss what to do.  I know that all this stuff makes a difference and these days the marketplace is so competitive no agency can afford to go to battle with anything but the best show, so next time you get an invitation to pitch, make sure you milk it for all it’s worth!

Choithrams poster

Posted: May 13, 2014
Comments: 0

It’s all change in supermarket retailing

Boy, is there a lot going on in the world of supermarket marketing lately! In the UK its all-change with the resurgence of the discounters (albeit more polished than they used to be) as Aldi and Lidl win the hearts of shoppers and the champions of the cardigan brigade Morrisons dive to still further depths with the announcement of a 7.1% fall in like for like sales for thirteen weeks to 4th May.

Stuck-in-the-middle Tesco are meanwhile responding with “a little extra” effort of their own, manifested in the development of their “pound zones”. This is pure Tesco, possible only because of their intimate understanding of customer behaviour, which in turn is a product of their years of work with the Clubcard programme. Pound Zone is not just about discounts, but master class in where they appear in the stores and how they are presented, all driven by customer insights. Any retailer who has poo-poo’d the idea of loyalty in the past (and believe me I’ve met a few) must be kicking themselves right now for not appreciating the real value of a loyalty programme.

There’s no doubt that omni-channel retailing is also making a difference for those who have taken the plunge. One reason that Morrison’s is looking so sick these days is the challenge they face with their digital marketing strategy. When your consumer segments don’t shop on-line there’s nowhere to go when physical stores lose their attraction. I’m sure Tesco and Sainsbury’s would look far more desperate than they do now if it were not for their channel convergence. Don’t confuse omnichannel with multi-channel. Real omni-channel is the seamless combination of all channels with QR codes at the point of sale linking mobile shoppers to price comparisons, recipes and product information, integrating social media and having the same products available at the same price through all channels and available to order anywhere and either collect or have delivered. Having a website, even a transactional one doesn’t even give you table-stakes these days.

However, while their competitors are distracted by tough times in developed markets Tesco have landed a new deal to distribute their products through one thousand Choithrams stores in promising Indian, Middle East and Asian markets. Choithrams, for those who aren’t familiar with them, are one of India’s better retail exports with supermarkets in many developing markets. Like all retailers of similar origins, they lack refinement, have operational challenges and poor marketing, which means that, even in their traditional markets, they’ll face a tough challenge when the international players come to town and as new laws in India suggest, that might be sooner rather than later. However, maybe they’ll be getting more than competitive prices and decent product on their shelves with the Tesco deal? If I were them I’d be eyeing Tesco’s know-how with a new sense of advantage. If only they have the in-house nous to actually leverage this treasure-trove. In this part of the world though, what is obvious and compelling to us westerners often goes unnoticed and unexploited by businesses like these, so only time will tell. Choithrams’ Indian cousins Fine Fare Foods in Dubai have singularly failed to leverage the prize that was their Waitrose franchise, although, as I wrote in an earlier post, this must have in some part been due to Waitrose’s lack of control over the application of their brand.

Retailing and supermarket retailing in particular is a challenging and exciting place to be these days. I’m sure we’ll see some interesting acquisitions, closures and innovations this year and I’m looking forward to being in the middle of it all.

John Lewis

Posted: May 8, 2014
Comments: 0

150 Years of brand community

I know that I go on about brands as communities, but hopefully I am getting my message across. Maybe those of you who don’t get it yet will find a moment of inspiration in this commercial from the UK Retailer John Lewis which was showcased in a commemorative collection of 150 years of John Lewis the retailer.

John Lewis are masters of the art of storytelling that lies at the very heart of brand community and this commercial is especially potent in that regards. Don’t you just want to share the lives of the community depicted in this story? I don’t just mean the subject family, but the John Lewis community of families just like them who, over their century-and-a-half have communed around the brand.

If you are unfamiliar with John Lewis you need to know that they have taken community to the extreme by making all their employees partners in the business.  The company is actually called “The John Lewis Partnership” and the “belonging” that employees share as a result is the driver behind their success. I’m known to push businesses I work with to build their brands from the inside out.  That is by starting with employees, expanding to suppliers and business partners and then embracing customers.  This is what John Lewis does with panache. If you get this wrong, or try to skip a group, you’ll fail. Employees deliver the brand promise to customers, while suppliers like advertising agencies feel real ownership of the brand and, as a result, produce commercials like this that represent the brand promise better than any brief could prescribe.

Its not just advertising that benefits from a strong brand community though. As I have said many times, once all your employees feel they belong they are motivated to contribute to the strengthening of the brand in any way that they can. Customer-facing staff deliver the promise through their interactions with customers, your product sourcing and development people will see to it that the products they create are representative. Even little seen back office employees such as those in accounts will work with new commitment to streamline their processes and HR will know what fellow community members they are looking for and see to it they they are found and welcomed. Suppliers of all kinds are also part of the community and if they feel included they’ll work with you to give you the best service they can.

I see so many businesses that operate like some kind of war zone with battles between different departments and between the organisation and its suppliers. The bottom line of all of this is that if you view and run your business as a community it will be more efficient from end-to-end and, as we all know, the major differentiator between a successful organisation and an unsuccessful one is efficiency.

So, as you view this commercial, see it not as a piece of advertising, but as a manifestation of community spirit and remember that brand isn’t some ethereal notion, it directly drives the efficiency and therefore success of your business.