There is no doubting 2016 has been the year of transparency, which so far has mainly seen agencies come in for a drubbing. Accused of obscuring margins and pocketing rebates, it may appear too simplistic to assume they are all tainted while senior marketers are without blame.
Any CMO would probably agree the debate would be far better served if senior marketers realise they have a part to play in achieving full transparency too—not just with their agencies but also the organisations they work for and the customers they serve.
Certainly, Alastair Pegg, marketing director at Co-operative Bank, believes senior marketers have a responsibility to be transparent themselves before they are in any position to criticise agencies. Speaking to CMO.com at the recent Festival of Marketing in London, he was very open about how he feels marketers could put more effort into getting a better relationship with agencies.
“It’s just far too easy to blame everything on your agency, and fire them,” he said. “You then have to get through a pitching process and brief up a new agency, which puts you back six to nine months. So it’s better to be upfront and clear with the agencies you work with. For me, that means not holding back. We share insight and data with our agencies, and we’re very clear we want work that gets over what we do and shouldn’t be seen as a reason to go off-piste and try to win awards. We’ve put the time in with our agencies, and that’s why we’ve had some very fruitful, long-term relationships.”
Treat Agencies Like Staff
Shane Stafford, head of brand at bookmaker BetVictor, agrees and believes the best way to back up such talk is to bring agencies into the proverbial campaign tent with the brand’s own people. He reveals the betting brand aligns training between staff members and agency partners to ensure that everybody involved knows what the brand is aiming for and how it expects to achieve those goals in a highly regulated sector.
“When you work with an agency, you have to consider them part of the company, so we issue the same compliance training to our agency partners as our staff,” he said.
“Our legal and compliance teams provide packs for events on the do’s and don’ts when it comes to marketing, and when our offers are decided, they go through compliance to make sure they are phrased appropriately and not misleading to our customers in any way. A toolkit is then produced and shared internally, and with the agencies. Pre and post-campaign debriefs are also a must as is clarity of marketing goals.”
Transparency Is A Balancing Act
There is, of course, more to transparency than senior marketers getting on better with their agencies. Mark Evans, marketing director at Direct Line Group, points out that the current debate is actually a poignant moment for senior marketers to consider how they balance the interests of the customer and their employer, as well as agencies.
“Essentially, this is a conversation about trust, which operates at two levels,” he said. “Can marketers be trusted by their organisation to spend their budgets wisely, and can consumers trust the authenticity of the advertising that marketers produce?
“When both things align, transparency is a natural consequence. As a pre-condition, though, you need the right learning and development environment in which marketers learn the hard skills of ROI and the soft skills to empathise with consumers. It also requires the tenacity to force this philosophy through into agencies.”
Clearer On Influencers
Balancing an organisation’s goals with the interest of the consumer comes into sharp focus with influencer marketing, and it is here where many CMOs will find their true transparency test, Evans predicts. It is not just a case of fitting in with guidelines and being open about a commercial relationship with the influencer, it is also about establishing trust with the audience, he advises.
Hence, he insisted a campaign to encourage young people to bring down their insurance premiums by driving carefully with the aid of telematics had to use an influencer who was willing to use the technology himself. Alfie Deyes was chosen. His PointlessBlogVlogs YouTube channel has more than three million subscribers and delivered the lion’s share of the campaign’s 800,000 video views. But he was not chosen purely for reach.
“It can be easy to be seduced by the reach of influencers when, in fact, the fit can be tenuous and merely leverage fame,” Evans pointed out.
“So when we worked with Alfie Deyes to help to educate young drivers to drive more safely, we needed him to be passionate about improving his own driving through our DrivePlus telematics app, whereby he would obliquely be coaching other young drivers. As a result, the campaign was a great success and, arguably, a poster child for brand-influencer campaigns.”
Change The Conversation
One of Don Draper’s more famous lines in TV series “Mad Men” sums up how many in marketing believe the seeds for better transparency can be sewn. He famously quipped that if you don’t like a conversation, you should change it. That is good advice for anyone who wants a more fruitful relationship between brand and agencies, believes Tom Denford, chief strategy officer at ID Comms. He regularly lines up major brands, such as Ikea recently, with a media agency that provides a good fit for their objectives. He believes a new, kinder dialogue is needed.
“Transparency is a two-way process—while ‘Rebategate’ told us that agencies needed to be more transparent, movement is also needed on the CMO side,” he said.
“They can lead that process by ensuring colleagues around the business have a positive view of media partners. Changing the narrative internally and changing culture is a critical task. Many marketing organisations have an ongoing attitude of not trusting agencies. A positive message from the CMO can ensure they are more open with data and insights, for example, that will allow media plans to be more powerful and help demonstrate the value of these partners.”
So senior marketers and media experts are agreed that there is room for improvement on both sides. While media agencies, in particular, need to be more open on their practices and billing structures, CMOs need to bring them in closer, right at the heart of the campaign tent. They need to do this with a kinder dialogue that empowers the entire organisation to see agencies as partners, not pariahs.