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Creative Development Post-Pandemic

31 Jul

Creative IdeasFew would debate that creative development services are one of the most critical skill sets provided to advertisers by their agency partners. Thus, as agencies the world over adjust to their employees working remotely it is natural to wonder how this dynamic will reshape creativity?

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” ~ Theodore Levitt

How, for example, will working remotely impact the gathering and imparting of knowledge, insights and inspiration between advertiser and agency? Between creative directors and their teams? Between agencies and their production resources?

The answers to these questions, and others, require multi-disciplinary inputs that will necessarily impact creative workflows and timelines. Whether in the context of the creative briefing and approval processes, creative asset management or the trafficking of finished work, advertisers and agencies alike will need to rethink the procedures that guide this process from end-to-end.

Once creative processes have been reviewed, mapped and guidelines issued, stakeholders must shift their attention to “execution,” which is central to successful innovation (doing new things right).

The first item to be addressed is the creative brief. Relationships in which advertisers and their agency partners had implemented and honed a solid briefing process, pre-COVID, will find themselves ahead of the game. Evolving the tools and procedures related to both the joint and internal agency briefing process is infinitely easier than creating them from scratch.

During the creative ideation phase, a remote working environment presents a unique set of challenges, the least of which is the collaborative process between creative leadership, art director, copywriter, content producer, etc. To this end, in a London Business School article by Richard Hynter the author mused about what the pandemic can teach us about creativity. This included his belief that practitioners will need to focus their orientation and efforts on three components of creativity; expertise, thinking skills and motivation. How agency creative management adapts its approach to address these areas will greatly aid and abet its creative development process… and outputs.

For most of us, it is likely that over the course of the last several months, we’ve logged more time on web-conferences, Zoom meetings and conference calls than one would care to. Welcome to the “new normal.” Along the way, we have experienced the subtleties of presenting data, proposals and yes, creative using these tools. While not ideal, being able to hone one’s skills to embellish the presentation of creative concepts is essential to secure client buy-in to an agency’s creative recommendations. How these presentations are staged, who attends and how feedback is shared will be critical to the creative approval process and, in turn, the development timetable.

Wash, rinse and repeat…

With client sign-off secured, ad agency creative personnel must set about briefing third-party vendors (i.e. production houses, illustrators, animators, digital video editors, etc.) to solicit proposals, begin work and to coordinate the ad production process. Managing the production workflow across multiple organizations, with employees working remotely will require adept project management and creative asset management skills along with a robust technology platform(s) to facilitate. Having a centralized creative file management system, will greatly assist the creative development, review, approval, tagging, delivery and tracking phases of the process, whether work is completed at the office or remotely.

Based upon casual observations of the creative that has been produced and placed since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, agencies and advertisers have done an excellent job adapting to the new environment. Continuing to refine the processes already employed and implementing new tools and guidelines to assist a remote workforce will only help drive creativity on a post-pandemic basis.

Keys for Optimizing Agency/ Client Relationships

29 Jul

Abstract concept, fingers are touching padlock symbol, With protThe Agency/ Client relationship has been under duress for a couple of decades. The “Procurement Phenomenon” at the dawn of the new millennium has morphed squarely into the Procurement Era for Marketing Services adding stress to these important relationships. This has been further compounded by the erosion of trust resulting from media rebate and transparency issues that have beset the industry, and even more so as a result of the current socio-economic turmoil.

Join J. Francisco Escobar, a leading industry “marriage counselor” and Procurement consultant for a webinar that will cover current trends, compensation practices, a Procurement primer, and negotiation tips that will guide agencies and advertisers in optimizing their relationships. Key takeaways include the followingView Webinar

  • Key trends impacting ALL Marketing Communications Services
  • Top 10 ways to Demonstrate Value to Procurement
  • Practical negotiating  tips and best practices
  • Actionable keys to optimizing Client relationship

Why Are Media Agencies Forgoing Objectivity?

24 Jul

dreamstime_m_35343815Consumer media consumption behavior is ever evolving. And advertisers must select from an expansive array of content venue choices to communicate their messaging. Balancing these two dynamics is the key to optimizing media investment decisions.

Time was when agencies based their media resource allocation recommendations on insights gained from an exhaustive, objective review of media performance and audience delivery data. 

In traditional principal-agent relationships, agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of their clients. This includes providing advertisers with informed recommendations, free of bias or conflicts of interest, that are advantageous to the advertiser. Most advertisers understand that in the twenty-first century, unless the principal-agent relationship is firmly established in the Client/ Agency agreement, all bets are off when it comes to their agency being bound to adhere to principal-agent guidelines.

Over the course of the last decade or so, practices such as “principal-based media buys” and ABVs (rebates) came into vogue. This is where an agency takes ownership of the media inventory and resells that inventory to the advertiser at a non-disclosed mark-up, making a profit on the spread and or receives an incentive based upon its total spend with a media seller. Good Client/ Agency agreements require the agency to secure the client’s written authorization before employing these type of practice and in the case of rebates to remit the advertisers pro-rata share of such rebates.  

Fair enough. Buyer beware. Trust but verify. Got it.

There is another practice that seems to be gathering steam between media sellers and media buyers that raises questions about the objectivity of an agency’s media planning and buying recommendations. Simply stated, media owners, seeking to lock-in a revenue stream from a given agency holding company, are offering to reserve inventory in bulk for that agency to allocate to its client base at some point in the future.

One recent example of this is Omnicom Media Group’s (OMG) commitment earlier this month to spend $20 million of its clients’ media funds to advertise in podcasts distributed by Spotify. Given the nature of the advertisers represented by OMG (McDonalds, AT&T, P&G, PepsiCo, etc.), their total media spend and the fact that 2020 media plans have been completed and buying commitments presumably made perhaps there is little risk of such a deal influencing whether or not an advertiser should commit dollars to Spotify podcasts.

Separately, it was recently reported by Digiday that TV networks and agencies, in an effort to jump-start the annual upfront marketplace, were considering share of spend deals to “address advertiser commitment issues.”  In this scenario, an agency holding company would commit to spend a percentage of its clients’ aggregate upfront budgets with select network groups. However, client budgets are in flux and there are multiple questions surrounding the traditional upfront marketplace. Thus, the commitments being made by agencies are being done in advance of any client media authorization process. It would be natural for one to ask; “What incentives are being offered by the network groups to facilitate such deals? And How are such benefits distributed to an agency’s clients?”

The primary concern with this type of approach is the potential for these buying commitments to bias an agencies recommendations to its client base. As the author of the Digiday article points out if aggregate spend projections come up short, the holding company may find itself in a position where it may “need to push clients to spend their money” with a given network group.

Practices such as these are fraught with risks. When an agency has already committed to a pool of inventory on a network group based upon hypothetical aggregate spend levels across its client base objectivity is lost.

We are simply not fans of this practice, believing that agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to make media recommendations, based upon an unbiased fact base, that are in the best interest of the advertiser.

 

 

The Cost of Feedback is Nominal, the Value Significant.

30 Jun

do advertisers get what they pay for“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” ~ Elon Musk

Chances are, most will agree with Mr. Musk’s sentiments regarding feedback and its link to driving improvements.

What organization wouldn’t aspire to successes achieved by one of the 21st century’s most prolific thinkers? Consider the fact that Tesla, with a market cap of $160 billion, is larger than GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler combined. Or that his fledgling SpaceX organization has been valued at $36 billion after its first successful manned space flight.

As such, it was somewhat of a surprise to read the results of a recent World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) study. Conducted by Decideware, the study surveyed 60 global agency leaders on client-agency performance evaluation practices. Below are some key findings:

  • 7 out of 10 advertisers provide their agencies with feedback on at least an annual basis
  • Only 4 out of 10 advertisers allow for agency feedback as part of the evaluation process
  • 3 out of 10 clients conduct face-to-face meetings to discuss evaluation results
  • Agencies aren’t comfortable providing “honest feedback”
  • 43% cited the lack of honest feedback as the “biggest barrier” to effective evaluations

That so few marketers would invite their ad agencies to provide formal feedback on topics dealing with team performance, workflow, process and the overall relationship is a bit of a mystery; particularly given that anecdotally it has long been believed that strong client-agency relationships yield superior performance.

In our experience, we have found numerous examples of successful marketers that believe in and are utilizing a 360-degree evaluation process with their agency partners. Importantly, that process  incorporates candid, two-way dialog, which serves as a fundamental building block for their agency relationship management efforts.

It would be helpful to understand “why” some marketers have chosen not to invite agency feedback or to review performance evaluation results in face-to-face meetings. Are they simply not interested in what their agencies have to say? Are they too understaffed and time strapped to invest in a robust evaluation process? Are they of the belief that if their agency partners had a point-of-view that they would share their insights, without prompting?

Regardless of the reasons for eschewing this fundamental practice, there are compelling benefits to be gained for marketers by course correcting in this area by implementing two-way evaluation frameworks. At a minimum, eliciting agency feedback on day-to-day workflows, briefings and approval processes, in market results and client-agency relationship management can yield efficiencies that are beneficial to stakeholders on both sides.

Beyond near-term improvements in operations and performance, established communications programs, that encourage ongoing candid feedback, help to build trust and strengthen relationships. It is incumbent upon CMOs and agency CEOs to collaborate on putting the appropriate protocols in place to encourage, understand and act upon the perspective each party generates throughout the year.

 

Compliance Programs Can Transform Marketing

24 Jun

compliance-rulesCompliance is a cost of doing business, and companies invest appropriately in compliance and risk management programs and policies. Many have even been successful at elevating compliance to “cultural ethic” status.

That said, few organizations have risk-management frameworks in place for their marketing and advertising spend. Why?

Consider that the marketing and advertising expenses are material to the financial statements. Further, marketing represents a critical link to building brands and driving revenue. If not managed properly, dollars invested are lost to fraud and non-transparent advertising supply-chain practices, lowering working dollars and leading to declines in marketing efficiency. These factors help to underscore the necessity for compliance risk mitigation coverage in this area.

Allaying risks aside, we have been fortunate enough to witness the transformative power of compliance audit work and financial management oversight programs for advertisers. Benefits have included financial recoveries, cost reductions, improved efficiencies and enhanced revenue generation.

Best of all, technology advancements combined with sound compliance frameworks and proven audit work processes afford organizations the opportunity to efficiently conduct comprehensive, periodic reviews of their marketing services agency network. In our experience this is readily achieved without disruption to client-agency workflows or performance.

Aside from the financial benefits, a structured marketing and advertising compliance program can instill a sense of confidence among all stakeholders that advertising related risks are being monitored and continuously mitigated. Additionally, concerns, questions and the unknown regarding a marketer’s ad agency network, are replaced with a sense of trust and confidence. This is a compelling outcome given the important role that an advertiser’s agency partners play.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, marketers will face a myriad of challenges in meeting their organization’s performance expectations. The combination of an uncertain future regarding the consumers’ return to “normal” consumption patterns and behaviors and budget reductions will require a disciplined approach to planning and resource allocation efforts… not to mention the need for flawless execution.

Embracing compliance and extending enterprise initiatives in this area to include marketing and advertising will mitigate risks and boost the return on marketing investment. In the words of former U.S. Navy Seal and NY Times bestselling author, Brandon Webb:

“Being a Navy SEAL and sniper taught me all about risk management. Take away all the risk variables under your control and reduce it to an acceptable level. The same fundamentals apply in business.”

 

Bots Don’t Buy Products or Services. People Do.

22 Jun

digital media fraudIs human viewing of your ad message important to you? Then, whether as an advertiser and or their agent, investing in programmatic digital media is deserving of a renewed level of scrutiny. Why? Because as Dr. Fou contends in the following article, purported efficiencies and low CPMs are meaningless if bots represent the source of a marketer’s ad trafficRead More

Budget Reductions Create Opportunity to Fine-Tune Agency Network

28 May

 

Advertising concept: Ad Agency on digital background

For marketers seeking to generate efficiency gains, looking internally to rethink the processes used to manage planning and creative development workflows can yield significant benefit.

As importantly, looking externally at “how” and “where” work is being performed across an organization’s network of marketing services agencies is extremely important. This involves an objective assessment of the current network of agency partners, their resource offerings, capabilities, performance, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to each.

Without periodic assessment, agency networks can become bloated beyond a marketing team’s ability to effectively manage these vital resources. This risk can be compounded in companies where marketing positions are vacant or have been eliminated as a result of a budget reduction decisions – leaving fewer client-side personnel to manage dispersed agency activities.

Reviewing and creating an inventory of roster agency capabilities and the roles assigned is never a bad thing when it comes to identifying unnecessary expenses or opportunities to consolidate resources and protect against redundancy. Amongst other benefits, since the work necessitates a review of each agency agreement and remuneration program tenets, output should include a comparison of agreement terms, conditions, requirements, and bill rates to ensure consistency (where applicable) and reasonableness of agency bill rates and other costs.

This practice is even more apt when marketing budgets are being cut and agency scopes of work reduced. Such assessments form the objective basis for eliminating duplicative activities and or resources, paring specialty agencies that are not being fully utilized, and eliminating unnecessary fees that are putting downward pressure on working dollars.

Consider; How many agencies do you have that are managing influencers? Involved with social media or content production? How many different agencies are being utilized for studio services or broadcast production? How many agency trading desks are being utilized for the placement of programmatic media? Are you utilizing specialist firms that may no longer be required based on changes to the marketing budget (e.g. event management)? It is highly likely that there are opportunities to consolidate work among fewer partners to simplify workflows, improve communications and reduce costs.

If you are utilizing a “lead” agency to coordinate activities, briefings, production and trafficking across your agency network, it may be worthwhile to solicit their input on potential agency roster moves. Further, once a plan is formulated, collaborating with the lead agency’s account team to affect transitions can be critical to the success of consolidations and the reshuffling of assignments. If you do not employ a lead agency model, the time may be right to consider this approach.

Streamlining external agency networks will improve communication between marketer and agency, enhance business alignment and instill clarity on success metrics. In the wake of current crisis driven budgetary adjustments and uncertainty, companies may want to give serious consideration to such an approach.

“Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater.”

                                                                                                                   ~ Tony Blair

4 Quick Steps to Boost Marketing Efficiency… Now

21 May

EfficiencyDriving performance, improving efficiency and boosting working dollars are three primary focus areas of marketers the world over. COVID-19 and the related budgetary pressures aside, this has been a focus of marketers and will continue to be, well into the future.

The quickest and often simplest path to attaining these objectives relates directly to process improvements that are well within a Chief Marketing Officer’s sphere of influence.

Below is an overview of the four key process steps that marketers can and should consider evaluating for potential improvement opportunities:

  1. Review the creative development and media planning briefing process with the goal of enhancing the efficacy of this essential practice and applying it appropriately to the ongoing client-agency workflow. A poorly conceived or ambiguous brief drives project costs, causes delays and can result in lackluster outputs.
  2. Streamline the review and approval process to cut down on delays and agency re-work. Minimize unnecessary rounds of review at the ideation and planning stages to mitigate the risk of excess agency staff time or excess costs creeping into the project.
  3. Extend current campaigns and or repurpose proven work rather than undertake the risk and expense of creating new content for select brands and or promotions. For many marketers, brand support and promotional events are often repeated annually / seasonally, allowing them the opportunity to modify and reapply existing plans, approaches and content rather than investing in the development of new approaches.
  4. Encourage the agencies to close and reconcile jobs and campaigns in a concise and timely manner to account for and return unspent funds. Nothing good happens when approved, often pre-paid dollars are left unreconciled for extended periods of time. Marketers should require their agency partners to close jobs quickly, once completed, and true-up actual costs immediately following job closure.

The above areas, if not applied and managed properly, are the source of significant inefficiency which limits a marketers return on investment. As American businessman and author, John Rampton once said:

Make no mistake about it. Bad habits are called ‘bad’ for a reason. They kill productivity and creativity. They slow us down. They hold us back from achieving our goals. And they’re detrimental to our health.”

 

 

 

 

Adjusting Marketing Budgets is Multi-Dimensional

5 May

budget cutAs we began 2020 no one could have predicted the level of upheaval the economy would experience as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes forced on businesses as a result of government mandated shelter in-place policies, while critical for curtailing the spread of the virus, have been devastating. According to consulting firm, Brand Finance “America’s Top 500 Brands could lose up to $400 billion” due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy.  

Organizations have sprung into action, many slashing advertising spend, along with other expenses as they seek to offset dramatic reductions in revenue and to deal with mounting cash flow challenges.

As marketers approach the mid-point of the second quarter it is clear that the changes to their fiscal budgets will be significant and potentially lasting. In a recent poll of marketing and advertising executives, by Advertiser Perceptions, 77% of those surveyed expect ad spend to be soft through the first-quarter of 2021.

Thus far, many companies have taken a wait and see attitude with some of their advertising and marketing commitments as they rightly weigh options related to modifying, rescheduling or cancelling advertising commitments. Moving forward, decisive action will be required to safeguard and recall funds pre-paid to agencies, production resources, events management companies and media sellers for creative that will never come to fruition, media that will never run and sponsorships that will be postponed or cancelled.

Equally as important is the need to review and likely revise annual agency scopes of work, staffing plans and remuneration programs that have been impacted by the reduction in marketing spend.

These can be challenging and complex conversations to have with your agency partners and in turn, with third-party vendors, particularly because their organizations are dealing with comparable business and financial issues. For the purposes of this article, we want to focus on the client/ agency portion of the ledger, rather than external commitment and resource reallocation reviews that are likely currently underway.

A disciplined approach, focused on contractual terms and current financial facts, will yield the greatest return as you seek to right size your marketing budget in a fair, responsible and expeditious manner. This approach also recognizes that in addition to the goal of reducing costs, companies are seeking to improve financial flexibility and limit risks and exposures. Stephen Covey wisely suggested, it is best to; “Begin with the end in mind.” Same applies now, it is best to begin with a review of current governing documents between advertiser and agency, and any year to date agency financial reporting, in order to answer this handful of straightforward questions:

  1. Does the Agency Agreement afford you the right to modify your Scope of Work and or retainer fee? If so, what is the notification requirement in your agreement?
  2. What Scope deliverables have been completed to date?
  3. Where is the Agency on their Staffing Plan commitments?
  4. What P.O.s have been issued to the agency? For open P.O.’s what is the open balance on each P.O.?
  5. Do you have a detailed Job History Report, that provides financial details for all jobs, open or closed? Can you identify which jobs have been completed? Of those that remain open what are your options to postpone, modify or cancel any of them?

Answers to questions such as these will assist in facilitating productive interactions with all stakeholders, across multiple fronts ranging from informing budget reduction and reallocation decisions to the potential impact of internal or agency-side staff reductions on financial management processes and controls and the corresponding risks.

One area that must be addressed is agency remuneration. Reductions in overall spend, scaled back Scopes of Work and revised agency Staffing Plans necessarily impact agency compensation, whether commission or fee based.

For their part, agencies have rightly taken steps to address the impact of client ad spend reductions. To date, each of the major holding companies have announced plans to reduce expenses. These reductions include; employees being furloughed or laid-off, involuntary salary reductions, the waiver of bonuses and 401k contributions, executive management taking massive pay reductions and a freeze on non-billable expenses… all designed to lower their cost base.

If your agency is on a direct labor-based remuneration program, the reduction in the agency’s direct labor and overhead costs means that the fees which you pay should be reduced accordingly. With this compensation schema, even a modest change in an agency’s cost structure can have a meaningful impact on the fee calculation.

It should be noted that the goal of the compensation review is not to wring out savings at the expense of the agency, but to adjust the fees to reflect the reality of the revised 2020 marketing and advertising budget and corresponding changes to the Scope of Work.

Marketers have a fiduciary obligation to their organizations to account for, safeguard and recall funds targeted for reduction. This can best be done working in collaboration with their agency partners, while affording those partners a high level of respect and empathy. Once the budget right sizing process has been successfully completed, all stakeholders can refocus their attention on the future, perhaps drawing motivation from retired 4-star U.S. Army General, Colin Powell who once said: “Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.” 

 

 

Optimizing Client Relationships: Collaborating Effectively with Procurement

30 Apr

procurementThe “Procurement Phenomenon” at the dawn of the new millennium has morphed squarely into the Procurement Era for Marketing and Communications Services. Agency executives can no longer ignore this new marketplace reality and must now embrace, educate, and in some instances, emulate this very influential Client stakeholder.

Join J. Francisco Escobar, President & Founder of JFE International Consultants for an engaging, complimentary webinar that will take you through the evolution, definition, current trends, and best practices that will guide you and your team in optimizing relationships with client procurement teamsClick Here

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