It is no secret that the marketing industry has always suffered from a bad reputation; fluffy rhetoric, over-promising and under-delivering, and disappointing and intangible results have all left a deep scar, damaging the few marketing professionals who really do deliver value and measurable business results.
Integrated, planning-led marketing has been adopted by forward-thinking agencies in an attempt to restore integrity to the industry. This is now an industry-standard approach, and certainly not a differentiator. The majority of agencies simply pay lip service to it, realising it has to be part of the competitive offer, but not having the vision or skills to deliver. They say they offer ‘cross-organisational disciplines’ and that they are ‘media-neutral’ although, ironically, that expression immediately implies that media will be employed. ‘Channel independence’ would be a more appropriate approach. And their integrity is constantly challenged when, despite being ‘integrated’, their skills gaps quickly become evident, and they are not comfortable working with specialist agencies.
In the 12 years since Propaganda was established, it has been my cultural mission to put ‘the agency’ back where it belongs – at the boardroom table. If an agency wants to deliver, it must do two key things: first, understand the client’s business and industry inside-out; secondly, work at the highest level within the client organisation to achieve buy-in and shared vision. Since the brand should sit at the heart of business, the entire board of directors must appreciate the importance of the brand. Any agency which deals at an administrative level, rather than with the board, will find it very difficult to join the dots between consumer insight, brand potential and core business objectives – and, therefore, equally difficult to deliver tangible and sustainable results. In March 2005, this mission was officially applauded when Propaganda was awarded membership of the Management Consultancies Association (MCA). For those who say, ‘Does this mean that Propaganda is competing with Accenture?’ the answer is a resounding, No. The term management consultancy refers to the creation of value for businesses, through the application of knowledge, techniques and assets to improve performance. Members of the MCA are assessed against these criteria as well as the independence and integrity of their advice. Essentially, what we have done is to bring the practice of management consultancy to the ill-structured and performance-elusive marketing world.
There is a grey area between where management consultancy, in the traditional sense, stops, and where brand consultancy begins. The constant battle over how culture, change management and business transformation impact on the brand, and which party takes responsibility, continues to rage. But this is precisely where the greatest opportunities lie.
In defining and capturing the gap in the market, we must all demonstrate the ability to evangelise. And the gospel we bring is that a brand can only be fulfilled when a business is fully optimised to deliver it. This is not the sole responsibility of the marketing department. In fact, a brand cannot even be created in the marketing department. A brand is created from within the entire business, when all of the service and development aspects of a business, including manufacturing, new product and service development, sales, distribution, quality control, after-sales service, HR and communications, are aligned. If one department is out of synch, it fails the brand and blows the customer proposition out of the water. This model represents a challenge to most agencies, requiring them to operate outside of their traditional comfort zone, where the concept of influencing anything outside of the marketing department is alien.
Engaging at this level, using business vocabulary and concepts, and understanding the issues are the way to open the door to the boardroom. And it is what puts marketing and brand firmly on the table at an intellectual, not just visual, level. Fundamentally, this creates the environment and propensity not just for great thinking, but also for dramatically increasing the buy-in to consultancy and the chance for great results to be achieved.
If any marketing agency is good enough, and willing enough, to be judged by their results, that becomes an enticing proposition for the client, who is quite accustomed to judging all their other business partners this way. Such agencies are, therefore, equally worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as other types of management consultancy.
Membership of the MCA places Propaganda among a select group of just 58 globally renowned businesses, with a combined annual fee income of £5.8billion. This means that Propaganda now rubs shoulders with co-members such as McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, Deloitte & Touche and IBM. These are exciting times for the marketing industry, allowing new territory to be marked out and for the gap between agency and consultancy to be bridged. It is also a significant step for those operating outside of London, since the industry has typically only associated excellence with the capital. Whether we are pioneering new ground in an evolving sector or rediscovering the lost art of marketing, we will always try to be different – regardless of the North/South divide.
However, in bridging this gap, the focus must always remain on delivering results for clients; results driven by genuine marketing consultancy. Although creative genius is critical, that alone cannot capture this space. And herein lies the difference between consultancy and planning. True marketing and brand consultancy is more difficult to prove. While countless ‘planning-led’ agencies have pulled the wool over many clients’ eyes, delivering as a consultant is in another ballpark altogether: it requires seismic cultural change.
I firmly believe this is the new challenge for the marketing industry. It should not be driven by a grandiose attempt to continually differentiate or compete, but by the fundamental desire to be the sort of agency we ourselves would want to employ.