Marketing pundits the world over have long championed the role of consistency when it comes to building great brands. When citing examples, we frequently here about creative expressions of that consistency ranging from Budweiser and the Clydesdales to Nike and their “Just Do It” slogan to McDonald’s and their “Golden Arches” or Coca Cola’s iconic red can.
Rarely do we tout the generation’s long relationships between advertiser and agency which have contributed mightily to building so many of today’s top brands. Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald, Ford and J. Walter Thompson, Exxon Oil and McCann, Kellogg’s and Leo Burnett, Met Life and Young & Rubicam or Unilever and Lowe + Partners are but some of the examples of long-term collaborations. And yet, sadly, even some of these unions are no more.
Great advertising is the result of proven methodologies and sound processes, which guide talented professionals steeped in brand knowledge and keenly aware of the needs and desires of the brand’s target audience to produce compelling work. This doesn’t happen overnight. Great advertising requires a commitment between an advertiser and their agency partners, a culture which values brand building and the vision to be able to balance that with the need to generate sales and build share today. Importantly, it requires a resource investment on the part of both client and agency and a deep level of respect between those organizations which allows for a robust, long-term relationship in which both parties can challenge and feed off of one another.
So why then has the length of Client/ Agency relationships shrunk so dramatically over the course of the last thirty-years? Why does it seem that when an advertiser changes CMO’s that an agency review is but a few short months behind? Why do so few corporate CEO’s take the time to get to know their organization’s advertising agency partners?
An advertiser’s agency network, which can number dozens of agencies across disciplines, geographies and brands, is a corporate asset which is at the heart of the organization’s ability to create near-term demand generation and long-term brand value. Thus, the agencies which comprise this network should be afforded the requisite level of respect and attention which a valued strategic partner would warrant.
Advertising agencies are not the property of, nor the sole purview of a CMO. This is not to diminish the importance of a CMO’s agency stewardship responsibilities or their contribution to deftly managing the outputs of an organization’s agency network. It is the realization that enduring, effective collaborations must be anchored in a culture that values long-term relationships.
At its low in 2006, the average time-in-position of a CMO was 23.2 months according to research conducted by executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart. The good news is that CMO tenure has climbed to 43.0 months in 2011. However, 3 ½ years is but a blink of an eye in the context of some of the Client/ Agency relationships referenced earlier.
It is a truism that “great clients, get great work” when it comes to advertising. So what makes a “great” client? It begins with an organization that respects their ad agency and the agency personnel which work on their business and values the work that is done on behalf of their brands. This is augmented by the willingness to integrate the agency into the broader marketing team and to work seamlessly as one unit, while understanding the division of roles and responsibilities. Importantly, it involves a commitment to the relationship. Agency CEO’s are much more willing to invest in adding resources, developing personnel and building infrastructure to elevate the caliber of work on a client business when they can do so with a long-term perspective and the opportunity for a return.
David Ogilvy once shared his perspective on the role of his agency and the investment required to implement his vision in a memo to his board of directors in 1978:
“I have a new metaphor. Great hospitals do two things: they look after patients, and they teach young doctors. Ogilvy & Mather does two things: we look after clients, and we teach young advertising people. Ogilvy & Mather is the teaching hospital of the advertising world. And, as such, to be respected above all other agencies.”
Needless to say there are a myriad of processes, controls and performance monitoring tools which come in to play to maintain focus and to incent all parties to engage in the proper behavior and motivate each member of the team to achieving in-market success. These include everything from a properly structured letter-of-agreement, a fair remuneration system which rewards superior performance, annual 360° relationship reviews, proper client briefing processes, independent performance assessments and access to key decision makers within both the Client and Agency organizations.
It is safe to say that with the passage of time and repetition, the ability to improve these processes and tools… and their outputs, becomes infinitely more doable than when changing agencies every few years. Perhaps Leo Burnett had it right when he intoned:
“I have learned that you can’t have good advertising without a good client, that you can’t keep a good client without good advertising, and no client will ever buy better advertising than he understands or has an appetite for.”