The relationship between client and agency is pivotal to this industry. Melina Meletakos asks key advertisers what they want from agencies.
Brands want to work with agencies that are smarter than them. So says Enzo Scarcella, Telkom’s new chief marketing officer who was poached from Vodacom at the beginning of 2014.
As the person in charge of shaping the parastatal’s public profile, Scarcella says it’s essential for agencies to understand their discipline far better than the brands hiring them.
“Culturally, we also look for partners who can challenge us as much as we challenge them. Then of course there are strategic capabilities. We need people who can understand our problems and are able to provide solutions,” he says.
Telkom contracts 15 media-related agencies, but the company is in the process of cutting this number down to seven, says Scarcella. Ideally, they would like agencies for sponsorship, digital, direct marketing, events, internal marketing, creative and media.
“Having specialised agencies ensures that we have the best of breed. It also ensures that we have access to different kinds of creativity. The challenge, however, is that you need good brand management skills to be able to pull it all together,” he says.
Standard Bank uses more than 20 media-related agencies across Africa and internationally for a variety of disciplines, says Nikki Twomey, the bank’s executive head of marketing and communication.
International advertising agency TBWA (part of the Omnicom Group) is the global agency responsible for driving their creative integration across all communication channels throughout the continent. It offers insight development and communication strategy, full though-the-line creative conceptualisation and implementation, and field marketing and market research. When it comes to the digital space, however, Standard Bank uses six agencies, each with their own specialisation.
Omnicom Media Group (OMG) is used for online channel inventory (the space in which online ads appear), while Tequila specialises in creative and digital campaign strategy. For paid search and Google media (process of gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines), Standard Bank uses Aqua Online. When it comes to social media and mobile platforms and apps, the bank uses Native VML and Wunderman is used for direct marketing strategy, creative and execution. Acceleration Marketing is the bank’s technology partner and is tasked with implementing their web analytics tools and providing consulting around data management.
Developing a cohesive strategy that factors in so many different agencies may be challenging but it certainly isn’t impossible, says Twomey.
“If the brand is placed at the centre of everything, it will guide the thinking towards what is right for the business. One of the challenges is ensuring that all the specialist agencies are given input into the campaign formulation. A creative idea can come from any discipline and it’s important that digital isn’t treated as a bolt-on to a traditional approach,” she says.
Twomey says Standard Bank values an agency that shows a genuine passion for the brand. The right creativity for the bank is also crucial.
“Not just creativity for creativity’s sake, but creativity that delivers business returns and makes real connections with people. Creativity is the single most important output, the one thing that is most difficult to drive internally,” she adds.
Coca-Cola South Africa marketing director Sharon Keith says good integration between the brand’s 15 media-related agencies is essential in driving great work.
“We brief all of our agencies together off a single integrated brief and we expect them to collaborate in generating their responses to our briefs. Reverts are done in an integrated manner with everyone in the room,” she says.
Of course a number of brands are choosing to bring some of these services in-house. This is becoming increasingly prevalent in social media marketing, with brands like Nike, Ford and Campbell Soup moving from relying on agencies for their daily social media updates to doing it themselves.
This is partly the case for Standard Bank, which believes that it’s important for the brand to be as close to their customers as possible in the arm’s length relationship that social media has afforded them.
“The moderation, analysis and tracking sits with the agency. We rely heavily on the agencies’ broader experience across other clients and industry trends. We are careful not to move too many services in-house as we don’t want to become overly operationally heavy,” says Twomey.
Another reason the bank hasn’t brought these services in-house is that agencies have a different mindset to the company. This adds extra value to the work they do, says Twomey.
“We depend on their fresh and unbiased perspectives and expect them to challenge our thinking and the way we do things. Trying to in-source the variety of agency skills that we would need would require an increase in resources to ensure that we have the right minds working on our business. Over time I think that we would
‘bank-ify’ these specialists to think like we do, which defeats the purpose,” she adds.
At Telkom, the service side of the company’s relationship with its customers is in-house. For the dialogue side, they use an agency. Scarcella says it’s difficult to predict if this will change in the future.
“Media and marketing is content-driven, a skill better suited for outside the business. There are also not many marketers who would be willing to work for a big corporate,” he says.
Keith says Coca-Cola has strong internal talent to lead strategic thinking brand passion. “We need to match that talent with strong partner agencies to generate fresh thinking and compelling campaigns which resonate with our consumers and build brand equity,” she says, adding that roles are clearly defined to avoid overlap.
But great relationships don’t just happen, adds Keith. “They require commitment, hard work and mutual respect. Both parties need to want a great relationship for this to be possible.”
Scarcella says that to improve the relationship, brands like Telkom need to have a thorough understanding of their business and be able to give a clear brief.
“On the partner side, I think they are generally weak on strategy. The strategic interpretation of problems could be a whole lot better, in my opinion,” he adds.
Twomey says she has found that there is a discrepancy in perspectives between the agency and the brand when it comes to understanding the business and return on investment (ROI).
“Brands should spend less time trying to make the agencies be like them and realise that the very reason they partner with an agency is to uncover and explore territories that they themselves cannot,” she says.
And, in addition, clients need to believe that creative work can really move their business forward. Agencies should realise that clients expect them to operate as if they were fully responsible for the client’s brand, says Twomey.
“If agencies stop trying to sell award-winning work and focus on the brand, I think they will achieve award-winning work.”
This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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