It’s been an eventful few weeks for Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP. “Sorrell will carry torch in relay for London Olympics,” the latest headlines buzz, only a couple weeks after they reported “Sorrell claims Cannes judges could have been pressured into block voting,” which in turn was only about a week after they disclosed “Sorrell faces shareholder vote against his £6.8 million remuneration package.” If some other scandal were to break next week, I’d say we’d have a terrific telenovela on our hands.
Somehow, he has managed to score headlines on three things that matter to me: sports, advertising and money. (They’re not the only three things that matter to me, but hey, let’s be honest). All three things are capable of bringing people to wonderful highs and desperate lows. All three can do incredible good, but all three can fall victim to corruption and cause great damage.
At the end of the day, the wins should all be based on merit, right? Compensation should be commensurate with contribution and returns. Awards should be won and not coerced. The Olympics should offer a level playing field. Nothing about any of this seems very fair.
Yet at its core, advertising is all about unfairness. It is about creating unfair advantage for a brand, product or service, that in turn yields mind-share or market-share that is disproportionate to its own unaided reach. Advertising creates this unfairness to produce visibility beyond the borders and networks of the business itself, and to create relevance for the audience that may not have otherwise existed, or been considered.
Where we start to get into shaky territory is when advertising serves masters other than the brand and that brand’s audience. Healthy competition to encourage and inspire better work is good for everyone involved. But for many agencies, the unspoken point of it all is “win awards.” Our industry was exposed a little while ago for submitting scam entries, a well-known practice for years. Yet while you’re out winning awards, procurement is squeezing your agency’s margins to the point where they almost don’t matter, so do whatever you can to keep your staff costs low, but your own paycheck and perks healthy. It’s no wonder many have lost sight of what made advertising rewarding and fun to begin with.
Look, I don’t believe for one second that anyone here is in this business for true altruism. We all want to create the next famous, game-changing idea. We all want to make money. Advertising can do all this. But with all this power comes a great responsibility. I think if we shifted our focus back to the point of advertising, which is, well, advertising, then we’d see work that was richer, we’d be richer and we’d have fewer of these silly debates about awards, compensation, and gaming the system.
Because finally, the work would be worth it. Then we’d have a torch we’d be happy to pass along.
Months before the highly anticipated iPhone 4 announcement in 2010, a prototype of Apple’s newest creation was discovered in a bar in Redwood City, CA. Unintentionally left behind by one of Apple’s engineers, the top-secret device sent shockwaves around the world as images and videos were disseminated across the blogosphere. The company immediately denied the lost phone belonged to them, but the leak produced unprecedented hype and helped the iPhone 4 become Apple’s most successful product launch yet.
A “Fire-y” leak.
Fast forward a couple years to last month. Google launches a Kindle Fire competitor (the Nexus 7). Like clockwork, Amazon leaks information that they’ll be launching a comparable device within the month. Though a good intentional leak leaves no evidence that the company is involved, the timing in this case was far too coincidental to be anything but a pre-meditated act by the retail giant. The information leaked promised a quick timeline and was just enough to whet my appetite.
Amazon’s preemptive strategy worked on me. The leak infiltrated my purchase consideration and stopped me from preordering the competitor’s tablet until I could at least see what Amazon was offering. This ability to interrupt consumers during the purchase cycle and plant consideration for another product is an extremely powerful tool.
Quantifying social conversations.
Now, loving data like I do, I decided to dig into this a bit to see the quantitative impact this strategy had on buzz for both products. To do this, I used a social monitoring tool to search social networks and blogs for all public-facing mentions of both the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. After collecting the data, I compared buzz volumes for both products and even saw the amount of conversation overlap (when someone mentioned both products within the same post).
What I found was that Amazon was able to stay in the mind of consumers during Google’s announcement, evidenced by a +145% boost in Kindle Fire conversations during the Google announcement.
Moreover, Amazon effectively hijacked one out of every five Google tablet mentions with mentions of its own upgraded tablet expected to be announced within the month.
While comparisons between the two products were bound to happen, the leak acted as kindling to the fire (pun intended), allowing Amazon to influence conversations and comparisons.
Most companies are afraid of unexpected leaks. However, with Twitter and other platforms helping drive the exponential growth of the social ecosystem, this social intelligence has become a must. Amazon and countless other companies have discovered that when done right, leaks can be used as a highly effective means of reacting to, and even shaping, the ever-changing consumer electronics marketplace.
By identifying and analyzing social communities that play host to their fans and advocates, marketers can stay ahead of their competition. They can respond quickly to competitive announcements, use the rumor-mill as a “test market” before finalizing product features and, perhaps most importantly, potentially stop impulse consumers from purchasing new competing products.
While the final verdict is not yet out on how these two devices will compete in market, what is clear is that Amazon has positioned itself in an excellent spot leading up to its product announcement. That is, unless another competitor pulls the same trick one week later, once again repositioning the battlefield.
I recently attended the Mirren Business Development conference in New York to learn about new business best practices for advertising agencies. It left me thinking that marketers could use some of the very same insights to get much better results from their agency searches.
Let’s take a look at insights that might serve both marketers and agencies.
Filler or favorite?
When conducting a large agency search, many marketers and procurement departments are given an agency quota. Mirren advises agencies to avoid pitches if it’s obvious they’re a “filler” agency—an agency brought in to fulfill procurement’s quota. Bringing such “filler” agencies into the pitch process is a waste of time and resources. Clients who invite only agencies that have a real chance to win the business will be rewarded with better work to choose from and open doors to future relationships with the agencies that fall short.
When we get an RFP or assignment from a client or prospect, the real ask often isn’t spelled out. We’ve actually lost business by aligning our solutions to the RFP request. Going rogue and thinking like a litigator allows agencies to dramatize client challenges, even those not outlined in the RFP. Marketers will get more powerful insights and more targeted pitch work to review by creating more transparency regarding the nature of their needs. The more agencies know about your real business challenges, the more on point their ideation is likely to be.
Good chemistry is essential for a great working relationship. Some RFP processes don’t allow agencies to contact clients directly regarding any questions or to gain more insight into the client’s real needs and challenges. Making allowances for this early chemistry check with agencies can have huge payoffs for marketers. It helps ensure that the right agencies are involved, committed to putting resources behind the piece of business in question, and zeroed in on the client’s real needs.
New compensation models.
Advertising agencies are, by nature, creative. Ideation is our bread and butter. However, in the new business process, agencies routinely give away their ideas for free. Marketers who consider unique compensation models, including ideation stipends, could free agencies to put their best resources behind the work and give clients better work to review at the pitch.
Marketers and agencies both have a vested interest in making the RFP process more effective. We think these four approaches can help move the needle and get better work against the real challenges facing marketers today.
For more information on client best practices in agency searches, please see the ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search here.