CMOs advise on how to deal with agencies that ‘lie’

Advertising Week Europe 2014: The CMOs of William Hill, Britvic, RSA and Pernod Ricard shared their tips today (3 April) on how marketers should best handle the “partnership of non-equals” they have with agencies.

Ad Week Europe CMO 3.0 Marketing Week
(L-R) William Hill CMO Kristof Fahy, RSA CMO Pete Markey, Pernod Ricard CMO Martin Riley, Britvic CMO Matt Barwell and Marketing Week editor Ruth Mortimer.

Speaking at Marketing Week’s “CMO 3.0” session at Advertising Week Europe, panellists discussed their ideal agency relationships and how to set boundaries on procurement to stop contract negotiations turning into a “car crash”.

William Hill CMO Kristof Fahy said while it is easy to describe the best agency relationships as those that are “really embedded within the business”, “shared objectives” and other niceties people can “put on a Power Point”, the first thing marketers must consider when choosing an agency is whether they get along with the people.

He added: “Ask yourself ‘do they care about your business’. Because if not, it shows really quickly. We’ve gone through a few agencies in the last few years and it’s because people lie.”

He explained that many agency suitors have tried to impress the bookmaker by telling tales of making regular bets, only for the brand to find later down the line that they only do a once-a-year punt on the Grand National. Eventually they “wheel someone in from the hardware lab” that enjoys gambling, only for the client to find out he is not going to be working on the account.

Fahy also said that for the relationship to truly work, both the client and agency must have the same financial goals as they need to both have their “skin in the game”.

“Your revenue targets must be tied together. It’s easy to have a monthly check [and say everything is going well], but you should be saying ‘have we hit our targets, has my share price gone up, market cap, market share?’.

Pete Markey, CMO of insurer RSA and soon-to-be CMO at The Post Office, said he looks for agencies to be as passionate about the brand as the people who work for it. But he added that he also looks for a challenge.

“If we’re both equals, then who is pushing who forward? I want that bit of edge to the relationship,” he added.

Matt Barwell, Britvic CMO agreed, saying he looks for a bit of “tension to the relationship” – a relationship that should not be considered a life-long partnership.

He added: “Sometimes it’s right to change. It comes down to people and accessing the best talent and the best places.”

A more contrarian view came from Martin Riley, Pernod Ricard’s CMO, who said while it is important to maintain freshness, he looks for “continuity” in agency partnerships. This is particularly important from Pernod Ricard, he said, because some of its brands are more than 300 years old.

The panel took a question from Google’s managing director of agency sales for North and Central Europe Mark Howe, who asked whether brand procurement departments are kickstarting a “race to the bottom” in terms of low agency fees.

Fahy said: “If you pay shit, you get shit back”. He also recalled that when his brand’s procurement team got too involved in marketing “it was a car crash”.

“It’s a partnership, a negotiation. You start with your figure in your head, they have one and you meet in the middle. If you get ridiculous you get graduate trainees – a great name above your door – but not the best people.

“Start early by putting your numbers on the table and if you can’t make that work, step away.”

Markey agreed that marketing should lead the agency appointment discussion rather than procurement and advised marketers to look to third party help in the form of match maker intermediaries who can help brands get the right types of specialists “without going rogue”.

The panel session also touched upon the importance marketers should place on content marketing, a timely and clear buzzword often repeated on the stages at Advertising Week Europe this year.

Fahy said the term content marketing was “driving [him] nuts” and that every brand worth its salt – from BA to the butcher who serves him sausages on a Saturday – is in the business of content marketing because it’s their job to serve their customers. He told marketers to “calm down and focus on what [they should be doing]: driving sales”.

Riley said it is important for the industry, rather than hyping up the hubris of content, to define what the terms branded content, branded conversations or branded experiences actually mean and how they fit together.

He added: “We just need to be confident that anything the brand says is of value to the consumer. [Marketers and agencies] are using the terms but I’m not always sure about the context in which they are using them.”

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