collaborating, IPA|ED:three, Mediated

Clients versus Agencies Round One Results: Clients 1 – Agencies 0 … and why some independent mediation may be required


Clive Woodward … Coach supremo – it will make sense later on (pic via WalesOnline)

something of a war or words seems to have broken out on the pages of Adnews of late. on one hand we have David Morgan of Nestlé (let’s call him the ‘client’) and on the other a range of voices including Leigh terry of Omnicom Media Groupe, Travis Day of Vizeum and Peter Grenfell of VCCP (let’s call them the agencies).

here’s a few samples of the debate:

“We’re getting stuck in the middle, stuck in operations, stuck in process management … we’re spending so much time doing things that are not core to our trade of marketing, that it’s taken up our ability to do our trade of marketing. Today, our guys are managing eight, nine, 10 different agency groups – digital groups, media groups, creative groups, strategy groups. It takes up a lot of time to talk to them, coordinate them, project manage them.”

David Morgan, Nestlé director of corporate communications and marketing services, speaking at ADMA Conference two weeks ago

“Managing relationships is easier when agencies are treated as strategic partners … modern agencies of all disciplines are recognising this and pouring significant effort into ensuring that they have a partnership role with all clients; that they are trusted advisor and, most importantly that their reporting and admin are streamlined”

Travis Day, general manager of Vizeum Melbourne

“Agencies can be guilty of getting caught up in their own world … agencies need to open up and be more collaborative with each other. Creative agencies need to not be sniffy because they lead the strategy and media agencies need to not be sniffy because they hold all the money.”

Peter Grenfell, MD VCCP

it’s been an interesting debate not just because it comes at a time when tensions across a whole range of agency / client issues are coming to the fore – remuneration and transparency, the pitch merry-go-round and the protection and respect of IP, and most recently the time and agency effort spent on entering awards – but also because there doesn’t seem to be any kind of logical or constructive response or solution to Morgan’s assertion.

the frustrations on both sides or more than understandable. unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your POV) media went and fragmented. fact.

non of which is new news … back in 2008 I wrote a piece as part of my IPA Excellence Diploma (module three if you’re wondering) in response to the question: what approach should a client take in terms of who does communications planning on a brand? my observation at the time was that the agency response to “media fragmentation … has been twofold. Firstly, diversification into a multitude of different and varied operations; secondly, generalisation …historically all props had to do was scrummage; now they expect themselves to run, catch, pass and lift in the line-out too”

I know … I resorted to a sporting analogy, but bear with me.

I explored the idea that the players (agencies) on the pitch were now so diverse and the necessary roles so specialised that coordination was a full time job (the latter point was perhaps the very one that David Morgan was making at the ADMA conference that sparked this debate). it seemed to me at the time that there were to solutions, the client coordinates or the agencies do, and observed flaws with each:

“One, individual agencies can never know enough about other disciplines to ensure communications planning they derive consider every perspective. It’s like asking prop-forward to plan a game strategy incorporating the nuances of the role of fly-half; the knowledge required is too broad and getting broader all of the time.

Two, Buckminster Fuller’s principle: “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” (as quoted in John Grant’s After Image). A player will never take themselves off the pitch; the very concept that any one agency can comprehensively and without bias write comms planning that excludes themselves is fundamentally compromised.” (source)

I suggested that there was a third way. that some clients may want to employ a coach (and the sporting analogy is complete) who is neutral, independent and can coordinate and allocate roles and responsibilities for agencies whilst the client focuses on marketing and ultimately business objectives.

as Clive himself said:

“My role isn’t to do players’ jobs for them. My job is to ensure that every player performs to their potential and as part of a team”.

Clive Woodward, BBC Interview

that sound’s like exactly the kind of role we need to me.

it’s perhaps not entirely right for every client, and there are flaws – not least of which is that its another outsourced role and relationship for a client to manage; but its a constructive suggestion … and I can’t help but observe that some of the agency response to Morgan’s challenge is at best smart observation of the problem, and at worst a claim (bordering on a whine) that agencies aren’t respected enough as ‘strategic partners’.

I fear that statements like “Creative agencies need to not be sniffy because they lead the strategy” do less rather than more to win the respect of a client who posed a reasonable and clearly present issue to the agency community.

this round’s result: Clients 1 – Agencies 0

we explore this is a ton of depth on last week’s PHDcast which you can enjoy listening to here:

player not working? click here to listen on Audioboo

featured image is Clive Woodward (the coach, gettit) via WalesOnline

awarding, conferencing, debating, printing, publishing

Celebrating the end of the Party: Why dumping the junket is exactly what The Caxtons needs


so I’ve just returned from The Guardian Australia’s launch drinks, but before I call it a night I thought tonight’s happy event made it timely to throw some thoughts down about yesterdays shock report in Adnews that “The Caxtons’ famed jamboree to an exotic location will not happen this year. But the awards will. And next year the junket could be back.” … furthermore “Tasmania has been mooted.”

well phew. heaven forbid that in the midst of the biggest systemic shift in print advertising in several generations we miss the chance to junket it up somewhere exotic.

I should declare an interest; I was honoured and privileged to be asked to speak at last year’s Caxtons – on Hamilton Island, above – so last year I very much enjoyed the benefit of giving a presentation in Adnews’ mourned-for sunny climes.

I have to be honest though; I didn’t wholly enjoy my presentation. and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why.

the truth is that I wasn’t at my best … it wasn’t the most focused of talks, and that’s my bad. but I think it was also a lot to do with the room; a mix of mainly newspaper staffers, ad agency people, journalists and some flotsam and jetsam like me. you see sometimes when you present the room is with you, and if you’re like me that makes you better. but sometimes the room isn’t with you, and that makes some people stronger, but if you’re like me it makes nagging doubt creep in … perhaps I’m wrong? perhaps I’m a crazy person for even suggesting this!? and when your presentation to a bunch of creatives pivots around your (my) belief that “the worst thing that ever happened to advertising is adverts” you can see how that would affect your (my) performance.

I’ve gotten pretty good at reading rooms, and I think the reality is that whilst I wasn’t, by my full admission, at my best … a lot of people in the room just didn’t want to absorb the message: that the time had come to change.

my audience, perhaps quite rightly, wanted to get on with what the Caxtons are there to do: celebrate creativity in newspaper advertising. who the freak was I to turn up and rain on such a brilliantly orchestrated parade? people’s hearts and souls and time and effort had gone in to organising that celebration. people much better than me had created ingenious and awesome presentations to delight and entertain and stimulate.

the words of Maya Angelou echoed in my head that night and many nights since: “People will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, But people will never forget how you made them feel” (source) … and I think that is why I failed that day on Hamilton Island – when the words and actions were long gone, I had made that room feel no better about the situation I believe press advertising is in. I hadn’t followed-though my dark night to deliver a dawn. I’d attempted, but it hadn’t landed.

so why the confession? well, yesterday’s Adnews report that – essentially – the party was over, filled me with nothing but sheer optimism. because the party is over, and that’s what I so desperately tried but failed to say last year. but the party being over makes it all the more important that the celebration continues. because what I experienced on that island, that energy and passion and creativity shouldn’t be lost because of some crazy perception that the Caxtons is a junket … what I witnessed was much more than that. the Caxtons isn’t living the vida loca in some exotic location, its an idea … an idea shared by some staggeringly creative and passionate people.

the Caxtons, like print advertising, must reinvent itself … and that is a conference (in the truest sense of the word) that has never been more urgent nor necessary. this is the Caxtons’ opportunity to fight for its own future, I believe that it’s more than up to the task.

featured and above image via trip advisor