There’s an interview in The Drum this week with AMV BBDO’s Ian Pearman in which he highlights some of the core issues facing an agency in today’s world of very complex integrated strategies. This struck a chord because many years ago my Full Effect Marketing was prompted by my own thoughts on this subject.

In the early days I was focussing on marketing communications stimulated by work I had been involved in at Saatchi & Saatchi and the problems and opportunities I had identified and experienced there. It made sense to me that if all your communications were pulling in the same direction and focused on a simple, clearly defined message you would get a better return on your investment, but it quickly became clear to me that “communications” embraced a whole lot of things that rarely came into the sight-line of an advertising agency. Consequently my work started to expand to where today Full Effect Marketing recognises that the term embraces pretty well everything that an organisation does and drives strategies that go far deeper into the functions of the organisation. However, while I may be tackling hiring and training policy, designing a product or developing a process for billing customers, in this new, enlightened world it’s all now part of marketing.

The realisation that communications include behaviour outside of the direct organisation/customer relationship poses problems for clients and agencies alike. While Full Effect Marketing provides the methodology for strategising, as we all know, most failures happen in implementation.

An integrated strategy is necessarily complex and involves many disciplines, many of which would, in a traditional business be siloed. Full Effect Marketing seeks to overcome the negativity of silos by creating universal project teams, but finding and financing the expertise you require is challenging for many businesses.

Having, in response to this realisation, spent a few years playing around with the idea of employing a Marketing Director with the brief to produce strategy and expecting that person to assemble a team of internal and external specialists to affect the delivery, the indications are that clients are now largely looking for a single all-purpose agency again.  It makes sense for them. Its cheaper and more responsive, but it does rather abdicate responsibility and places the emphasis on the agency to come up with a solution to the resourcing issue.

Along with my direct clients I’ve advised many agencies over the years on their own business strategy and development and I’ve always pointed out to them that agencies that can develop and “own” their clients’ strategy earn the biggest opportunity. I felt vindicated when in 2005 Jim Taylor revealed in his book Space Race, that, at that point, the businesses that had benefitted most from the growth in integrated thinking were business consultancies and not advertising agencies. His rationale for this was that business consultants were already acknowledged as having the hard business and strategic awareness and agencies were seen as arty-farty, implementational and self-interested.

I agreed with Jim on that score, but didn’t believe that agencies should be rolling over and leaving the “good stuff” to the guys in suits and ties. Not only do clients value strategy more highly than implementation (which has been on the slippery commodity slope for decades) and are consequently ready to pay for it, whoever devises the strategy, is in the ideal position to cherry-pick the execution.

However, as I have already pointed out, modern integrated strategies involve more disciplines than any agency can expect to resource. To my mind this has always made the proposition of 360 degree delivery, one-stop-shop or through-the-line agency proof perfect that any agency referring to itself in those terms doesn’t understand the principle of integration, but what kind of model does work?

My agency clients all had inherent implementation skills and I have never proposed that these were ignored. In fact in most instances the approach to creativity, as one example, is a key differentiator between agencies. Likewise an agency with its feet in a specific area of implementation, such as promotions, DM, events or any of the digital specialities will come at strategy from a particular perspective, which may not always be the best thing, but certainly makes an interesting and educational experience for any client calling a pitch.

I have tended to encourage my agencies to distill what they are best at and focus on developing it to a point where they are a centre of excellence in that discipline while prioritising the development of their strategic capability. However there still remains the matter of resourcing all the other disciplines that you may require to implement a strategy. My view has been that the strategic lead agency should manage the entire strategy, not just those elements that they are delivering themselves, so I have encouraged the agencies I have worked with to seek strategic alliances with centres of excellence in the widest possible range of specialist skills. Relationships that my agency clients have entered into with other agencies range from strategic partnerships or trading groups to acquisition, shares exchanges and buy-ins.

Those of you who are familiar my Full Effect Company will acknowledge that I am at least consistent, as this is how we operate – a strategic core with an extended band of specialist partners, who undertake the implementation within an agreed code of practice and methodology.

Ian Pearman AMV BBDO editThis all leads me back to Ian Pearman’s comments in The Drum. Apart from giving voice to another pet subject of mine – the use or not of the term “digital” and the distraction this represents from what we are actually trying to do – Ian points to the trend among agencies toward a model such as I have described. I’ve always liked AMV BBDO and the fact that they picked up my old client Dixons in January gives me hope that the retailer will finally get its message together and out there. As long as the agency sticks with the thinking we seem to share I am sure they’ll continue to produce all the good stuff we know them for, but see what you think. Read the article.

Phil Darby
March 25, 2014

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