‘Agencies should be held to the same things I get bonused on’ - William Hill CMO says simply liking an agency isn’t enough of a relationship

Forging a meaningful, and profitable, relationship with an agency is generally top of the ‘To Do’ list for a CMO. But, says William Hill’s chief marketing officer Kristof Fahy, while it should be viewed as a partnership it is one of “non-equals” and when the CMO is signing the cheque every month, he wants more from an agency than the likeability factor. They need to be as invested in a brand as the top level execs.

“The reality is, how well do you get on with people and how much do they care about your business?,” said Fahy on the CMO 3.0 Advertising Week Europe panel. “And if they don’t it shows pretty quickly.

“Agencies come and they say ‘yes, we know about betting’ and I ask the last time they put a bet on and they say 'The Grand National.' Well everyone does that! And then they’ll wheel someone in from the art department who turns out to be a proper punter and then it turns out he’ll not be working on the account, he was just brought in for the pitch.”

Not only is it important that the agency is knowledgeable about a brand, but they should also be as invested in its success as the CMO is.

“Your revenues have to be tied together. You both have to have skin in the game. It’s easy to get to a monthly check and say ‘oh we like each other, it’s amazing. Have a bonus’ when really what you should be asking is have our share points gone up, has our market capital gone up. If you want to be a partner come and be a partner but hold yourself to the same things that I get bonused on,” said Fahy.

The other CMOs joining him on the panel – Mathew Barwell, CMO Britvic, Peter Markey, the outgoing CMO at RSA, and Martin Riley, CMO Pernod Ricard – agreed, with Markey adding that he also wants an agency that will push the thinking of a brand.

“I don’t want the status quo where we’re all plodding along. I want a bit of edge to that relationship,” said Markey. “Things aren’t going to be the same year after year, or week after week. Where are the new ideas coming in? What are my agency bringing to the party? Bring me ideas to the table, even if I say no at least I have choice.”

Barwell added that CMOs shouldn’t be afraid of breaking agency relationships to find the best talent and aligning them with what you want to do with your brand. And once the right agency has been found the issue of procurement arises.

“You do all the lovely chatting with creative agency guys, or the account or business director and then leave it to the procurement guys to screw them into nothing so that you don’t actually get who you want on your business. Why?,” asked one member of the audience.

“That’s unfair,” said Fahy. “My view is if you pay shit you’ll get shit. I don’t mind doing the nasty stuff because you [the CMO] own the relationship so you have to be happy with what you’re getting. It’s a negotiation. If you start getting ridiculous you’re going to end up with the graduate trainees who’ve been in the business two years.”

He added that you also have to be upfront and honest from the outset about what you want and what you can offer for it. That way, you know the “area” to negotiate in, otherwise you’ll spend months dancing around figures that neither party will concede to.

Markey agreed, suggesting third party procurement agencies are a helpful tool to stop some of that happening.

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