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Client Interview

By The Drum, Administrator

February 1, 2006 | 9 min read

Here at Adline we like people with issues, and Theresa Lindsay’s got more than most. For someone that scooped the accolade of Marketing Services Director of the Year in the last magazine, you’d expect the Yorkshire Forward supremo to be basking in the self-satisfied glow of industry acclaim; happy with her lot (of champagne) and probably pondering how to blow that concomitant pay rise.

But if we were anticipating this follow-up profile turning into a rather straightforward lap of honour, we’re delighted to acknowledge our ignorance and say that we were very, very wrong. Rather than simply soaking up the plaudits Lindsay seemed far more concerned with wheel spinning off for a white-knuckle ride of forthright industry opinion, turning the whole interview into somewhat of a crowd pleaser.

For the sake of scene setting, and to build up an appropriate sense of dramatic tension, it’s worth donning the deerstalker to investigate the environment that Lindsay inhabits, and the pressures that inhabit her, on a daily basis.

In her role at YF our interviewee is charged with attracting people, pounds and prestige into England’s largest county. She and her team of ten marketers are therefore responsible for the wealth and well being of an ‘organisation’ that comprises over 5million individuals and 270,000 separate businesses. In the last year alone they helped the Regional Development Agency (or RDA if we’re being hip) create and safeguard over 27,000 jobs, encouraged 1,179 new businesses to flourish and attracted private sector finance to the tune of one third of a billion pounds.

It goes without saying then that she doesn’t have the time to suffer fools. Although she did very kindly give this Adline journalist an hour out of a typically demanding day.

We started on a subject that she was bound to respond positively to – the need for RDA’s to use marketing services agencies from within their own geographical catchment area. Is this something that she feels pressured to adhere to?

\"Yes I have come under pressure in the past,\" she responded, at first rather coolly, before warming up with the addition of; \"in fact I seem to recall being criticised in Adline on that very issue.\"

Fully expecting the tones of a scraping chair and suddenly deceased phone line, it was a relief when Lindsay continued through the sound of a smile.

\"About 3 years ago we ran the Britain’s Biggest Break campaign, a multi-million pound tourist push in the wake of foot and mouth. I came under a volley of criticism from within the region for appointing a firm called Senior King.

\"In that scenario we were tasked with getting visitors into the region quickly to overcome the loss in GDP that we suffered from foot and mouth. That was my primary focus and I needed the best agency for the job, which just happened to be a London agency. I still stand by that decision.

\"We brought in £18m pounds from the campaign in a year and once it ran no one criticised it, because they saw what it was achieving. Its success has led to it being used as a test case for all the other tourism work we do.\"

It’s difficult to argue with results, but surely it’s also difficult to argue with the need for a government-funded RDA to be seen to support its own region by looking internally for its supplier needs. If it doesn’t, then what sort of message does that send out about the standard of Yorkshire-based businesses?

A phlegmatic Lindsay wasn’t to be swayed.

\"It would be stupid of us just to select a roster of agencies on the basis of parochialism,\" she retorted. \"Why would we do that? We’re not just working in terms of sustaining what’s already here, we’re working across the board to spread the message, get people to invest and view Yorkshire as a global destination. We are competing to survive in a global economy and the future of the whole region is at stake. To safeguard that we need the very best people for the job – end of story.\"

Thankfully these days it’s harder for Lindsay to be criticised in these pages, or any others, for her selection of agencies, as six out of seven of her preferred partners hail from Yorkshire. Only ad agency Souk resides outside the region, which, with her avowed ‘only the best will do’ philosophy, says something very positive about Brahm, Thompson, Redwall, Ralph (formerly DS Emotion), Words and Pictures and Geronimo – all of whom were appointed to the roster early last year.

\"When we went out to tender I was specifically looking for companies who were experts in their own marketing field,\" she explained, \"That’s the only way you can achieve a real ‘integrated marketing’ approach. It’s a term that’s bandied about everywhere these days and I think it’s being done wrongly with little understanding of what it actually means.\"

Now this is our kind of interviewee – someone that’s loaded with opinions and isn’t scared to let loose with a barrel or two. See if you think she’s on target: \"I’ve found that there are so few companies out there who can genuinely claim to be experts in their field and even fewer that are truly integrated.

\"We had about sixty potentially strong responses to our tendering process from companies all across the UK, and some from Europe, and a lot of those responses were incredibly poor. Often these were from very big agencies, the majority of which are in London, and they’d tout themselves as fully integrated, meaning they’d say ‘yeah we do marketing, we do PR, we do event management and oh yeah, we’ll buy the media for you.’ Well, I’ve yet to meet one agency that does that properly.

\"I believe integrated marketing means you employ experts in their respective fields and get them to work as extensions of your team. They become integrated into your marketing process and gain a far greater understanding of what you’re trying to achieve. With the responses we saw to the tender most agencies were selling their own ‘integrated approaches’ while showing no knowledge of our target markets, how to reach them and how to meet our objectives.\"

Lindsay’s not exactly enthusiastic about the account handling abilities on show at these operations either: \"The one thing I think about agencies trying to be all things to all people is that some have lost the plot in terms of what constitutes good account handling. We’re lucky that our agencies are incredibly good at it, but there’s a lot we’ve worked with, both within the region and from London, that are incredibly poor. By that I mean they don’t take the time to really understand the business and its objectives and if they lose sight of that then all they are is bag handlers.

\"It’s not enough to rely on creativity,\" she insisted, powering on. \"A lot of agencies think they can sell you creative and that should justify their existence. Well it doesn’t. If they can’t utilise those ideas to provide cut-through and fit in seamlessly with the business and its objectives then it’s pointless. Agencies have to work on account handling (having enjoyed a five year agency tenure she’s a qualified commentator) and those that do will win, and certainly retain, a lot more business.\"

If you’re getting the opinion from this piece that Lindsay is somewhat ‘pissed off’ with the whole agency/supplier scene then, to an extent, we’ve been misleading you. She is in fact delighted with her current crop of agencies – of which Brahm and Thompson are currently putting the finishing touches to this year’s £900,000 regional branding push – and although critical of certain industry elements she remains resolutely upbeat and optimistic about plying her trade.

From the detached perspective of interviewer it simply seems like here we have an operator who is professionalism personified and can’t abide those who are either just along for the ride, or determined to dip their grubby mitts into client ‘pots of gold’ at any given opportunity. It’s an impression galvanised by her response to the torrent of agency cold callers she wades through:

\"I get a lot of calls from people now the business has actually been awarded. I think that maybe they assume we have an endless pot of gold and we’ll always be looking for new agencies to work on new projects. That’s simply not the case.\"

She continued: \"As in the private sector there’s immense pressure on the budgets and a need to demonstrate ROI. We have strict evaluation criteria and I have to report to the board on a monthly basis. As a team we have to generate 40,000 unique visitors to our website a month, 100,000 people have to attend our events every year, of which 90 per cent have to feed back that it was a good experience or at least above average, and our team of three press officers create well over £2million of positive PR coverage.

\"At the end of the day we’re a professional, tightly organised and run operation and we expect exactly the same thing from our marketing services suppliers.\"

Something that we don’t think anyone will be able to take issue with.


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