Six weeks into a change of professional tempo and I’ve made an unexpected discovery. I have talked to a wide range of advertising industry people, and it has led to more honesty than I’ve encountered in 20 years at the sharp end of media agencies.
One senior client figure with little time to devote to any of his communications suppliers, admitted that he dreads the obligatory review sessions which see squads of eager advertising people laying siege to his office. His complaint wasn’t about under-performance – his company and its agency partners enjoy considerable success.
The problem is people – or to be precise, too many people – engaged in interlocking specialisations vital to the common cause. This client doesn’t know most of their names, or what they do, and he is uncertain who actually leads the agencies’ communications work these days.
Hardly surprising, then, that he should welcome the services of a consultant “adviser”, a third party hired to interpret the complex activity of each meeting and guide the subsequent action.
After all, it’s only human to prefer a short, simple briefing from a valued source to the reports developed by a committee of dedicated specialists. A few weeks ago, Tottenham Hotspur manager George Graham remarked how impossible it had become to sign a new player without first encountering an entourage which includes an agent, lawyer, accountant, girlfriend and hairdresser.
In time, chances are that advertisers will be faced with increasingly fragmenting disciplines, each with their own specialists who must account for themselves. The upside is a guaranteed detail of expertise. But the risk is that these disparate elements may fight against each other and erode a brand’s core values.
In media agencies the challenge of meeting exacting professional standards is formidable. The levels of investment and energy committed to achieving broader and bigger business ambitions are exceptional. What effect is this having on the strength of relationships with advertisers?
The dilemma facing media strategists is not easily resolved: they depend on a line-up of colleagues to fashion an effective proposition. The bigger the team, the greater the likelihood that, like any good rumour, what you finish up with isn’t what you set out to achieve.
It takes years of experience to master even a few of the most valuable tricks in the media industry. Rather than leaping for instant comfort to the nearest consultant, advertisers should pay closer attention to their agency people.
Identify and use only the best, pay them properly and insist that they stick around long enough to understand what you want and how you like things done. In return, their advice will become priceless and they will learn to speak your language. That is the crucial part of the process. Once that is sorted out, the technical business of buying will take care of itself.
Andy Troullides was former joint managing director of Mediacom TMB