Over my career I must have been exposed to more agency credentials presentations than can be entirely healthy. All three integrated agencies I worked for were rather keen on reinventing themselves every 18 months, complete with a new positioning to go with their new identity. And I’ve latterly had reason to look over more than half dozen agency creds in the name of New Business Planning Support as a freelance.
For businesses that sell brand positioning, it’s scary how few of these were properly differentiating or otherwise persuasive. Agency XYZ is integrated, puts insight at the heart of everything they do and treats every brand as an individual / applies their special planning tool to every brand [delete as appropriate]. Sigh.
It’s Marketing 101, but you need a something to talk about. An agency might be really good at a particular sub-sector (say, B2B SME consultancy or shopper marketing in grocery) or spend a fortune on cutting edge data analysis to improve the measurability of marketing spend. They might have a trophy cabinet overflowing with IPA awards (we create work that is demonstrably effective) or own more yellow pencils than the average primary school (we create work that is demonstrably creative).
A positioning needs to own a position – and it’s no good if your positioning, decided upon after much internal soul-searching, is near-identical to every other mid-sized agency out there. How are clients supposed to know if you might be right for them?
Agencies seem to be missing out a crucial stage when they revise their positioning – competitor analysis. And if agencies genuinely do believe that what they do is so close to what everyone else is claiming to do, they’d better have a fundamental re-think of their business asap, or they might not have an agency to position in the future.
This is Campaign’s Ad Of The Day today (Thursday):
By AIS London for Harrison’s Fund (the Dad in question is a friend of the agency according to The Drum), it might well help fundraise for a less well-known and very serious illness, but I don’t imagine it will make the parents whose children are currently suffering from cancer (or have even been killed by it) feel terribly good.
The (however unintentional) insensitivity of it reminded me of this campaign from last year, which coming from a family not so much touched as thumped by breast cancer made me wince:
It was a ‘statement pose’ by ex Spice Girl Mel B and some other female celebs in a 2012 Cosmo feature supporting breast cancer charity CoppaFeel (yes, really…), but a near identical ad ran over ten years ago as a pro bono project by an agency I later worked at – and no-one there ever discussed it as anything other than a good ad that raised some good publicity.
Making breast cancer related fundraising efforts sexy, pink or fun can feel downright insulting to many sufferers, with unhappiness around the corporate ‘pinkification’ of breast cancer fundraising continuing to be raised by sufferers and survivors both here and across the pond.
Cancer isn’t pink, or sparkly, or pretty, or sexy, or about perfect breasts and many sufferers seem to be getting a bit sick of also being told that it’s a Fight. Someone I know who is in recovery from cancer recently tweeted something along the lines of ‘I keep seeing stuff telling me to Stand Up To Cancer. I’m bloody trying!’
The big question when fundraising for medical charities must be how far do you go? How do you balance the need for funds with the emotional needs of the people suffering from the disease you are fundraising for (or denigrating as in the ad at the top)? I’ve sat in meetings with senior charity fundraisers and been amazed to hear them talk about switching fundraising spend from other charities as if they were Anchor chasing market share from Flora.
I suppose the real question is who are medically-related charities run for the benefit of? Those currently suffering, future sufferers who might benefit from investment in medical research, or the CV of the fundraisers themselves or their agency’s showreels? Sometimes I wonder whether one of the latter two come out on top more often than not.
You may have already deduced from the lack of posts from me recently that I’ve just surfaced from spending a month immersed in a major pitch (*crosses fingers, waits for phone call*).
unpublished creative work-in-progress for The Pitch by Empire Design taken from AMC’s website
Does your agency pitch, or do you make a point of never doing so? Do you seek out pitches or actively avoid them? Hate them or love them?
I love them – when else do you get a chance to take a flyer and move something quickly from brief to insight to almost-execution, without having to wait for endless sign-offs and with no helpful ‘tweaks’ from the client’s assistant’s secretary? There’s no time to second-guess yourself, you have to have the courage of your convictions. And it’s probably the only time you’ll see the agency directors binding presentations or getting the pizza order in.
I don’t think AgencyLand will ever break free entirely from pitches as a format for selecting a new agency. It’s a Big Deal and a decision that could make or break a marketing director’s career (or even their employer’s entire business) is too big a question to leave to a chemistry meeting, a list of industry awards and a showreel.
In today’s mixed up, fast-moving world, having the right people and the right resources on your brand’s side is more important than ever. And sometimes a pitch is the only way for a client to truly see how a team works on a Big Thing. It’s all very well giving an agency a little project by way of a test, but you’ll never really see how their creative and planning teams can fly based on a small-scale DM piece.
So I think (or hope) that pitches are here to stay. They do cost a fortune and it’d be nice if clients coughed up a bit towards the cost of participating, but their very format encourages the production of some really good work.
Have you had a play with the BBC’s new class calculator yet?
Looking at the categories, most of the Planners I’ve met would slot neatly into the Technical Middle Class box:
But when I tried with my own data, I came out as Established Middle Class, probably because thanks to my horsey friends I could tick almost every box on the ‘do you know people who work in these jobs’ question:
So then I put my Dad’s data through it and HE came out as Technical Middle Class, even though he’s the least emerging culture, social media type person I’ve know.
In light of this, I think I can surmise that this still isn’t a perfect classification system – and I don’t think briefing a recruiter to head off into a supermarket with a clipboard to find me some Technical Middle Class mums aged 25-45 would go down that well…
I went on a bit of a Retail Safari round Leeds yesterday morning:
We’ve heard of Pound Shops, but how about the Pound Bakery? They’ve over 30 stores, mostly in the North.
picture from a RidingsFm promo event because I didn’t think to take pics, doh
M&S have taken a stall at Leeds Market (where the original M&S first launched as open-air stall in 1884) selling souvenirs and PRing their new museum (yes, really) which exhibits stuff from the company archive and has just opened at the other end of town.
photo by the lovely LeedsGrub
There’s a pop-up One Direction store, which I kept getting asked for directions to by harassed looking Mums.
photo from the YEP
And that 1D store is in the newly opened Trinity Leeds. I first saw the plans for it in 1998ish (my old agency had a lot of property development clients) and it was sold to us as a way of connecting disparate shopping offers, rather than as a new development. It’s obviously been re-positioned since then because from all the hoo-ha round here you’d think it was the biggest thing to happen to retail since Bluewater.
photo by the gang at Leeds retail agency Gratterpalm
In reality, they’ve put a funky glass cover (note not a weatherproof roof, you can see the gaps at the edges in the photo above) over several different buildings that already had shops in them, connected them up, created walkways to access upper floors more easily and added some extra square footage by taking advantage of awkward corners and so on. It’s only half-open at the moment and freezing cold because not only is the roof more of a roughly fitted awning than something capable of stopping hot air getting out, the entrances are all ten foot wind tunnels with no doors that simply serve to bring the cold air in. It was so cold when I visited that people were wearing gloves inside and one Spanish restaurant had abandoned their al fresco terrace and stuck this sign up:
I thought there would be enough interesting stuff around Trinity to keep me going for a few hours of nosing about. In reality, I gave up and went on a hunt for some new jeans, finding them in a store outside the development. Where it struck me that the one thing Trinity has changed is the shape of the shopping hub for Leeds. It used to be T shaped (Briggate and Albion Place) and now with Trinity’s main entrance on Briggate and stores from Albion relocating into it, it’s become a one street town center. Which can’t be a good thing.
I’ve been working on a couple of projects recently where I’ve discovered that one or more customer touchpoints are letting the brand (and therefore customer) experience down. I’m not talking about a poor quality DM pack or a hard to navigate website, but about the real ‘voice of the brand’ – customer facing employees.
In every case it hasn’t been that staff were deliberately letting the side down, but that they didn’t know what they needed to do in order to deliver a good, consistent customer experience and hadn’t been trained in how to deliver it.
another gem from marketoonist Tom Fishburne (CC applies)
I’ve noticed similar issues in my day-to-day life, whether it’s a supplier who answers the phone “Hello, XYZAcme” without saying who has answered, leaving me to guess (inevitably wrongly) which of my four contacts it might be, or the furniture retailer’s admin lady who creates the impression that her company are graciously allowing me to give them business, rather than the other way round.
It all comes down to a lack of understanding of what their brand is about, what the customer expects and how to deliver it – consistently. It’s all very well for us Planners and Strategic types to create lovely powerpoint presentations full of brand pyramids/personifications/onions/icebergs and so on, but if this isn’t understood and implemented by everyone involved in any instance where a customer or prospective customer might engage with the brand then we’re missing a massive opportunity.
We’ve all read about massive Social Media Fails over the last couple of years when whoever was left in charge of a brand’s facebook or twitter account clearly hadn’t got the message about delivering a consistent brand experience., but I think that brand contact over the telephone and face-to-face is the original Fail that we’re still overlooking to a large extent.
So next time you’re doing a 12 month plan, brand communication consistency review or similar, don’t forget the most important Channel or Touchpoint of all – person to person.
CSL sofas have just launched a new campaign by TBWA:
It’s beautifully shot, stands out in the category and will certainly do something for CSL’s awareness, but…
I’ve done quite a lot of work in the furniture retail sector over the last few years and I know how hard brands have to work to get their store onto a sofa shopper’s ‘to visit in person’ list. So I’m not sure that this campaign (at least in the initial execution) says enough about why you should visit CSL in preference to any of the other three lettered sofa retailers that fill up retail parks.
Lovely ad, I’m just not sure how effective it’ll be.