If you are a marketer of a publicly-listed company, then I suggest you try this little exercise with your agency account team. Or if you manage an agency with publicly-listed clients then try this with your client management team. Ask them in conversation how they think the client’s share price is performing based on the 90-day trends? (Hint: Make sure you have checked the results yourself).
You may be surprised at how little your account and client teams know about the business performance. But why is this even important?
Every week we hear about the need for marketers to deliver financial growth to their organisations. It’s the biggest challenge facing marketers: how to meet the short-term growth objectives for the business while continuing to invest in the medium and longer-term brand equity building activities to optimise future growth.
Yet what I continue to read and hear from agencies is how their services are undervalued. A panel of industry leaders was recently reported on LinkedIn as agreeing that the value of agencies was in their creative offering, the pool of talent and their flexibility.
Call me an old school copywriter, but I am sure these are actually not value drivers, or benefits, but simply a list of agency features. Even simply entry-level attributes for any agency or marketing supplier. After all who would possibly want to run an agency that did not have and offer their clients creativity, talent and flexibility? If you still miss the point, simply take the opposite and ask yourself who would choose an agency that was uncreative, had no talent and was incredibly rigid in delivery? Got it?
It makes you wonder how advertising agencies and other marketing suppliers became so misaligned to the needs of their clients. It is as if the agencies services are an end, rather than a means to an end, and that end is solving the problems that the marketer is facing.
If creativity, talent and flexibility are the table stakes or the cost of entry into the game, then what is the winning play? It is actually delivering on the marketers’ need to be successful and famous. Successful in meeting and perhaps even exceeding the business objectives such as revenue growth, and famous for doing it in a way that gets attention and admiration of their c-suite peers, the category and the industry.
But why would a marketer trust the help of an agency that is obsessed with their own services and their own performance and not focused on the performance of the client?
The issue with building and maintaining trust, according to Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei, is that the agency needs to demonstrate and prove capability, empathy and logic in all of their interactions with the client.
Let’s consider that in regards to the way marketers and agencies often interact.
First, it would appear from the industry narrative that much of the agency conversation is based around solving a relatively small component of the marketer’s challenge and that is their communication or advertising needs, rather than the context of the larger business need of delivering growth.
How can you even be considered as a business partner if the focus of your relationship is a conversation around the services you provide rather then how this will solve the bigger issues? But until you demonstrate a capability to understand and operate in the larger business context you need to be able to prove your capability.
Knowing the client’s share price and how it is trending is a stunt, a trick, but it is the first step towards being able to frame not just the marketers’ challenges but the possible agency solutions in a significant performance metric for almost all publicly-listed companies. Understanding the complex circumstances that influences that impact that share price is a great way into understanding the client’s business and then the category and ultimately the market.
Following your client’s share price is easy, as the iPhone has come with a Stock Tracking app for years. But I know of one agency lead who also invests in the shares of publicly-listed clients so they gain access to all of the shareholder reports, company announcements and the annual report to be better informed on the client’s performance and challenges.
This goes to the second point of professor Frei’s approach to building and maintaining trust, which is demonstrating empathy. Rather than constantly solving the advertising or communication problem, you are framing it from the marketer’s perspective and that is achieving the business objectives. Often marketers will complain that agencies do not seem to listen.
The marketer explains the business problem or opportunity to the nodding heads of the agency only to get an advertising recommendation that appears misaligned or disconnected from the actual problem. This is usually because advertising is usually only a part of the solution.
Finally, there is the logic of what the agency is saying. While marketers understand that advertising and agency creativity is a powerful tool for solving their challenges, they also understand the suspicion and therefore the difficulty of explaining and selling creative solutions that for many in the organising may appear illogical.
Being able to provide a business context with a logical strategic explanation transforms the creative work of the agency from fanciful and indulgent to the powerful and logical business tool it is.
It all starts with the agency account management team taking their view off of the agency business and firmly aligning it to solving the business needs of the client. And the first step could be better monitoring the performance of your clients business.
So how many on your account team know how your share price is performing and more importantly why?
Darren Woolley is founder and global chief executive of TrinityP3.
The Drum will look at wide-ranging topics like what services and roles will agencies look to provide clients in a decade’s time at the upcoming Agency Acceleration Day APAC.