If marketing was a company, it'd be one of the most dysfunctional companies out there

Think of our industry as one company, and you'd find one of the most dysfunctional companies out there, writes Ruben Schreurs. Marketing Inc. is in trouble and needs fixing.

The first edition of the ANA Trust Summit took place at Reed Smith’s offices in NYC on 15 May. The summit was the forum for the public launch of the newly initiated Trust Consortium, led by the ANA and partners from across the industry including brands, consultants, agencies and anyone that can play a serious part in restoring trust in the industry.

The summit was kicked off with a strong presentation by Bob Liodice, ANA’s chief executive, in which the analogy was coined that would prove to be a recurring theme throughout most of the panel discussions that would follow: our industry imagined as Marketing Inc. Let me paraphrase Bob’s narrative to set the tone:

“You have all of these business units, and you assess how it all works together, and you find one of the most dysfunctional companies out there. The one thing that everyone wants, business performance growth, is not prioritised. We are not making winners out of everyone, but find our teams working together ineffectively and frankly, in a real business, everyone should be fired.

"What we are all charged with is to drive business outcomes, and we as an industry are failing collectively. This has got to change, and the way to do this is to work towards a single priority.

"If you follow through on the analogy of our industry as a company, you know that if our bread and butter – the brands that control the marketing budgets – succeed, the rest of the company will succeed as well.

"There is no way to manage this company if we don’t trust each other, so we need to start breaking down barriers together no matter what part of the industry you’re from. In order to do this, we need to figure out where these barriers sit and how we can optimise the decision-making capability."

Douglas Wood, general counsel of the ANA and partner at Reed Smith, followed in Bob’s footsteps and addressed the fact that a cross-industry collaborative effort had been initiated a few years back in partnership with the 4A’s but ended in a TKO on both sides. That was round 1, it’s time to enter round 2 and see if we can make this work.

The reason I am excited about this initiative is that the consortium’s founding members put their money where their mouth is and made sure that the delegates and discussions at the summit were not one sided. The day consisted of back to back panel discussions with panelists from nearly all sides of the industry; the only key "Marketing Inc. team" missing were the media owners, which will be involved going forward.

The 4A’s took the stage, represented by Thomas Finneran, but also Facebook, Google, WhiteOps, TAG, senior brand and agency leaders, numerous media consultancies, auditors and others. They discussed myriad issues that seem to impact industry trust.

The content of the panels and candour of the panelists was remarkable, diving deep into issues and – besides a few exceptions – everyone followed the unwritten rule of leaving out sales of their services completely.

Thea Winarsky, executive vice president, global legal and business affairs at IPG, and Reed Smith partner Keri Bruce made an excellent point about the need for a clear breakdown of the actual issues that damage trust, so that we can pragmatically address and aim to solve each of them individually.

Achieving true results with the consortium will only be possible if the initiative evolves beyond a bunch of talks at summits and actually creates and agrees on tangible actions. A sensible next step might be to work on a charter that breaks down the issues that can be tackled by relevant members of the consortium.

It was clear that ‘trust’ is an incredibly broad term as the nine panels of the day encompassed issues about contracts, audit rights, supply-chain transparency, ownership, ad fraud, remuneration and much more – all covered in individual panels by relevant specialists.

What we should be realistic about to make this work, in my opinion, is that Marketing Inc is unlikely to ever really happen. Nearly all industry entities have their own P&L and are there to make money, which means that many issues are a zero-sum game that will require us all to aim for middle ground and be prepared to give and take.

I am optimistic – and arguably slightly naive – about this and think the timing works out for this to succeed. As long as we as an industry challenge ourselves to pursue true value, as addressed multiple times throughout the day by Tony Pace, former chairman of the ANA and Subway’s CMO, we should be able to align on a central priority and get things done.

Ruben Schreurs is chief executive officer at Digital Decisions, a Trust Consortium member