Thursday, November 26, 2009

MEDIAPOST: Process Paralysis, A Lack Of Empowerment and The Need To Act Quickly (Sounds Like Fun)

I was reading some articles and catching up over the weekend when I came across an article from the British edition of Marketing Week written by Jamie Matthews, from an agency called Initials Marketing. Jamie was writing about the shift from advertising back to marketing, which is a topic near and dear to my own heart. I tend to feel that too many people don’t know the difference between the two, but the difference has become even more pronounced with the growth and expansion of digital media. Put simply, advertising is paid exposure and marketing is the full gamut of consumer and target audience interactions, of which advertising is just one single myopic component.

What was most interesting in the article, and what I wanted to call out, was his observation that in today’s fast paced world, it is even more important for marketers to think quickly, develop ideas rapidly and implement them in an efficient, effective and economic manner so they may read the results and optimize quickly.

I couldn’t agree more with this fact.

The problem with the agency model in today’s world is that far too many agencies suffer from decades of process and it’s created process paralysis. Most agencies are unable to act quickly and shift their strategy on a dime because they have to review it in meetings and debate the merits of the shift before they ever bring these ideas to the clients. To be honest, too many agencies are muddled in self-doubt from years of being second-guessed and having their ideas shot down. Too many agencies are unwilling to go forward on a hunch, even if that hunch is based on years of experience and a rationale set of observations.

Of course the agencies are not completely to blame because the clients have almost as much at fault. Most marketers are representing public companies and companies who answer to shareholders and we’ve created a culture where mistakes are not tolerated. This is easily reflected in the average length of a CMO’s job being about 18 months; how can you effect change in 18 months and not make a mistake or two? What success can you truly see when you have no tolerance for risk and your ideas are diluted half-versions of how they were originally developed? How can you trust the hunch of your agency partners when you are not empowered to take any risk?

The agency model is going to evolve, and in many cases is already evolving, to become more nimble, more confident, and more fluidly structured around their clients business. We’re seeing it happen daily and more agencies are starting to follow suit. The best agencies are the ones where the ego is checked at the door and the objectives of the team are in lock-step with the objectives of the client. When process is reduced to the bare basics to get strong work out the door and profitability is a secondary concern to the client’s needs. Any smart business person will tell you that if you align with the client’s needs first and you achieve them, profitability will come as well. With good work comes good rewards!

But before I go too far down the rat-hole of complaining about agencies, let’s get back to the original message that Mr. Matthews was conveying which resonated with me; that everything is moving faster. Decisions need to be made faster. Ideas need to be vetted faster. Clients and agencies need to be sharing their thinking faster and the ideas that are launched need to be evaluated faster. The speed of the process behind the development of these campaigns must be faster because the world around them is faster as well. Marketing is a consumer-centric discipline, and consumers are moving at the speed of light compared to most agencies.

I agree that marketers and agencies are just as smart as they were in the past and I would probably even concede that they are potentially smarter, what with all the data they have at their fingertips, but the process for putting that intelligence into action is woefully outdated and I applaud people like Mr. Matthews for calling it out. If more agency people would awaken to this realization I think we would indeed witness the rebirth and renaissance of the agency model.

Don’t you agree?

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