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Opinion: Is collaboration between agency and marketer more key than ever?

By David Wood

December 13, 2011 | 5 min read

The majority of marketers are working within increasinly restrained terms as marketing budgets become all the more restricted due to a lack of confidence surrounding the economy and a lack of money being invested by many companies in promoting their brands. Dave Wood, founder of Iris Associations discusses the problem, and reasons why greater collaboration between client and agency is the solution for many.

Right now, brands are facing a daunting prospect. They exist in a rapidly changing marketplace, facing new pressures exerted by digital technologies and heightened consumer awareness. Add this with the whispers of a double dip looming in the background, mixed with the already fragile and fierce economic climate, and growth has not only become key for success; it’s now paramount for survival.

The marketing function plays a central role and is ideally placed to deliver the real and sustained growth needed to weather this economic storm. Organisations often focus on the tried and tested theories and practices of good management and well trodden but proven sales and marketing approaches. Yes, these are important to create and maintain the structure and framework of an organisation, but does it really create the environment needed for creativity and invention?

As budgets are being squeezed across the board, marketing directors are facing growing pressures to prove ROI and constantly justify expenditure to facilitate this. The traditional brand and agency relationship has been built around the idea of ‘the brief’ – a defined set for criteria which the agency is asked to deliver against, but while the briefing process is hugely important, does it also present a fundamental problem?. In the face of shrinking budgets and an ever evolving social landscape, how is it possible to define exactly and explicitly what you want to achieve in marketing terms, or how you trust agencies should define this?

The brief does bring its positives, I’m not denying this. It allows more accurate comparisons between agencies; it instructs and provides set expectations and objectives. However, with the introduction of procurement the brief has become a means of defining price and delivery. The need for ROI and accountability has in fact become a barrier, stifling what is key for real growth. Creativity and openness should be the ultimate business weapons, and the current process between marketing directors and agencies does not always encourage this process

What I believe is needed is a greater collaboration in the relationship between the marketing director and the agency. By creating a more open environment whereby both parties are allowed the option to search and be inspired in order to find that crucial creative spark. Co-creation through this form of collaboration has been proven to work. Threadless, the community-centred online apparel store in the US, is built around this core belief, whereby the consumers designs are submitted and the most voted are printed. This demonstrates the benefits of customer co-creation, not marketing/agency, but it shows that collaboration can play a key role in profitability. In fact, results from the most recent ISBA report have highlighted that a third of marketing directors surveyed felt that there wasn’t enough collaboration between brands and agencies, stating that the current relationship was ‘not fit for purpose’.

What is frustrating from an agency’s point of view is that we are employed to provide creative, pioneering ideas that will deliver that business advantage for our client. The concept of the brief actually stifles this creative process, with its set criteria. A good marketing director is a change-maker. The position brings with it the power and vision that can inspire creative invention, but it needs the opportunity to flourish, and this can only be achieved if we rethink this brief setting process and in fact, welcome the opportunity to work together, in this freer environment, whereby ideas can be expressed and expertises are fully combined.

We face a daunting time, but only bold innovations will deliver the success that’s needed for firstly survival, and growth. Creative invention is part of a journey, not a quick fix, tick all the boxes solution. Yet, let’s not make this journey more treacherous by discouraging the ability to work more closely with one another. The brief is a starting point, but let’s strive for greater collaboration in an environment that encourages this, where we have the ability and the opportunity to question and challenge and most importantly, explore in order to generate this significant and fruitful growth.


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