A personal view of the Marketing Week Agency Reputation Survey

Although the catalyst for the BBC’s advertising agency review which I initiated in the spring was the integration, for the first time, of all the corporation’s public service brands, the rationale for the review was the need to articulate the precise role of agencies.

Were we looking for integrated communications, outstanding creativity, superb planning, account handlers able to deal with the BBC’s complexity, new media expertise, corporate identity capability or a combination of all of the above? Most of the agencies delivered much of these, some of the time, but in order to up the ante the BBC had to decide what its primary needs were.

The results of those deliberations are due shortly. Regarding the survey, having read the results in detail, it’s no surprise to see that at least five of the agencies shortlisted by the Beeb appear in the Marketing Week top ten, and all because the needs of the BBC and those of the clients researched for this survey are so similar. For any client, particularly a publicity-funded one, value for money is a given. Putting that to one side, however, which are the differentiators that really matter?

Over the last ten years or so I have had the privilege of working with a large number of outstanding agencies, Leagas Delaney, Fallons, JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi, Circus and Lowe Lintas to name just a few. In almost every case the account handlers and planners have been superb, the strategic thinking exemplary and the commitment to the long-term health of our brands manifest. Advertising agencies that did not deliver on all these fronts simply didn’t survive, not least because powerful strategic thinking, business nous and talented people were also to be found in media independents such as New PHD and management consultancies such as McKinsey.

Against that backdrop, to really prosper agencies had to deliver creativity. The power of a great idea, whether a single execution such as AMV’s Surfer, or campaigns with the ingenuity of JWT’s Kit Kat and the VW work from BMP, remains the holy grail for clients. It goes without saying that the most original ideas are those that can build brands and keep them contemporary by working across communication boundaries. The best ideas may not include a 30-second script, but if they do, they must be able to transcend one.

Finally, a few thoughts about saliency and stand-out. In my experience most senior clients spend very little time thinking about advertising or agencies other than their own. Attribution of campaigns to agencies is notoriously poor amongst clients. These circumstances are unlikely to change given the pressure most clients are under, so agencies need to think as hard about managing their own reputations as those of their clients. Clients look for agencies that have solved problems similar to their own. In a year that has seen BMP sweep the board at the IPA and AMV revitalise Sainsbury’s, it’s no surprise that they dominate the creative league table and the ideal shortlist. The new year should be a good one for them both!

see also “MW200011300080”

Sue Farr was formerly director of public service marketing at the BBC

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