The Brand Manager's Series: Great client/agency partnerships and new ways of working

There are lots of examples of new kinds of client-agency relationships emerging across the marketing world. Here we look at two examples which have proved the remarkable success that true partnership can achieve.

These two examples prove the transformational roles that agencies big and small can play for their clients.What’s common across both is the agency’s deep understanding of their client’s business and objectives. But allied to that, it’s clear that the client teams have a shared belief that their business challenges can be overcome by creativity and innovation.The levels of trust and openness displayed in these two examples is what every marketing team must strive for with their agencies to achieve similarly impressive results.

Lego and We are Pi

Lego has worked with Amsterdam agency We Are Pi since the brand experience and communication agency was founded across a range of activities that have included IP development, product innovation and marketing across Lego City, Lego Chima and Lego Ninjago.The two parties, client and agency have worked in partnership, with We Are Pi working alongside the front-end innovation teams for Lego, as well as its marketing team in order to gain a deeper understanding of the business both in the present and where it is heading. Lego’s marketing teams meet regularly with the agency, with catchups arranged over the phone or in person due to the wide spread of the team across Europe. The same is true with the brand’s front end innovation teams, with several meetings scheduled through out the year to discuss product and IP innovation products that are on the cards.The collaboration began after Lego began to search for a strategy which would see it increase revenue through its own-brand play sets, having branched out to feature movies franchises such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Harry Potter. The company was looking to create its own characters and tell its own stories using the bricks that it has built its empire around in order to continue the play experience for a new generation. The result was the creation of the IP strategy for Lego Ninjago, which alongside toys would also be adapted into the creation of a boy-targeted TV series. The theme generates hundreds of millions of Euros in revenue, which led to the desire for a new strategy to be developed the following year in 2010 – Lego Chima. “Freedom of play and creativity are central to the Lego brand,“ explains Alex Bennett Grant, co-founder of We Are Pi. “We regularly spar with Lego product and marketing teams on creative process best practice. Within projects, once strategic parameters are defined, Lego encourage creativity that grows its business and relevance in culture.”Bennett Grant explains that the two parties have developed a respect and trust for one another’s skills and opinions and have successfully formed a partnership – a formula that could aid growth objectives, should other parties choose to emulate it. “Agencies that seek to embed themselves in a client’s process, first need to learn the significant differences between advertising and product development,” he added, explaining that the agency ‘lends support’ to the Lego strategic planning and creative storytelling. In describing how close collaboration needs to be between agency and client, Bennett Grant says that most relationships within the advertising sector are formed between account management and brand marketing teams. “Forging a parallel relationship between product, strategic and creative teams has enabled a stronger, more effective process between us and Lego,” he adds. However he also says that each brand/agency relationship is different and requires the need for a different approach. “Knowing more about your client’s business gives better insight into the real problems that need solving within an organisation. This insight gives you more opportunity to deliver unique and relevant solutions – what we call ideas worth doing.” And those ideas have clearly been worth doing for Lego, with the Group recording an increase in revenue of 25 per cent in 2012 to £2,549m, 25 almost three times the figure it was generating five years earlier, and has delivered annual revenue increases of over 15 per cent. Over 60 per cent of the companies sales now stems from new launches, and this year the company has high expectations for spin off Lego Legends of Chima.

Getty Images and R/GA

Away from the tactile world of children's toys and Lego play, Stock media company Getty Images recruited digital agency pioneers R/GA. R/GA would help deliver real-time content by creating an image delivery utility, The Feed. The aim was to make the brand relevant once again and help it achieve stand out in the editorial photography marketplace. The Feed was created to help Getty Images remain front of mind for media organisations and help solve a problem for these organisations and its employees. Over a period of three months, a five-man technology team would develop the product which would identify trending topics on real-time platforms, listen for specific words and phrases being used to match the right image and distribute the content to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Twitter was used to help inform through monitoring of online conversations, while images were posted in reaction to the most discussed moments about a key event as they took place. This social listening algorithm has since been patented by Getty Images. The Feed was devised to create a three-fold effect – reinforce perceptions of Getty Images as an innovator, open up new revenue streams alongside with brands hungry for relevant content, and make Getty Images’ content accessible to engage a mass audience within a channel they visit multiple times a day, such as Facebook. The clients of Getty Images also saw their social news feeds populated with the images automated by The Feed, placing it as a social content manager, reacting immediately to relevant conversations. It used Getty’s Connect API to scan Twitter trending topics and match them with metadata tags within Getty’s database, as well as flowing in the galleries of images of events as they took place. A twitter account @FeedMeGetty would also relay the most popular images of the top trending subject each hour, where a user could tweet it directly with one word and expect a relevant photograph to that word to be sent in return. Brands were given subscriptions to The Feed to allow them to automate their social publishing using media, and meant that Getty Images was able to fit into people’s everyday lives, while becoming a new source of revenue. George Prest, executive creative director at R/GA explained that the agency formed a close partnership with the marketing and internal technology teams at Gerry Images, with R/GA becoming an innovation partner in creating The Feed, rather than simply acting as an appointed agency. 27 “It was a very collaborative relationship. Sharing ideas and pushing each other all the way,” Prest commented. “This work is utterly representative of a macro shift in our business, one that R/GA is spearheading - the creation of products and services that meet human needs and improve people’s lives. It is also part of an approach to social which involves not treating it as a channel but seeking to make others’ human interactions in the space more interesting and rich. The collaborative production approach with the client ensured a sense of joint ownership and enabled a rapid, iterative way of working that we also see as key to these types of projects going forwards.” Discussing how the budget was allocated, Prest reveals that the original allocation was towards social activity, but it was then decided that the money would be better spent by attempting to innovate beyond just that. “While budget is often designated for a specific area, agencies shouldn’t be scared to think of ways of using that in an innovative way,” he explained. Following the conclusion of its work on The Feed, R/GA London found that the project was well received across social platforms and generated significant media responses across sites such as Mashable and Wired, while also formed the backbone of Getty Images work while attending SXSW, by generating super-local, socially driven imagery through large screens across the event. “Anecdotally, peers tell us how much they love the project and it has won awards at both of the shows that it has been eligible for so far – the Clios and the Digitals. In addition, it has been shortlisted for the first ever Cannes Innovation Lions,” added Prest.This piece was originally published as part of The Recommended Agency Register (RAR) Brand Manager's Book, released last year. A copy of the RAR Brand Manager's Bookis available for free online to client-side marketers. For more information on the Recommended Agency Register, see its newly launched website.

UK, Lego, Ninjago, Getty Images, The Feed, Advertising, Design, Digital, Marketing, Media, Mobile

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