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Öppet brev till alla som köper eller säljer reklam

Gästinlägg av Johan Östlund

I novembernumret av Campaign Asia-Pacific fanns en mycket viktig och intressant artikel om kund-byrå-relationen. Under titeln A Promiscuous Relationship (PDF) belyser den reklambranschens sätt att arbeta, vilket också Micco belyst bl.a. i inlägget Reklam, nej tack!, och innehåller en handfull intervjuer med tungviktare i branschen.

På flera marknader här i Asien finns en tydlig trend mot extremt kortsiktiga, transaktionsbaserade relationer mellan reklambyrå och uppdragsgivare. Det pitchas hejdlöst, utan egentlig eftertanke på vilka konsekvenser det här arbetssättet har för uppdragsgivarens varumärke och affär. Genomsnittsrelationen är t.ex. endast 3,6 år i Indien och 2,5 år i Kina, att jämföras med 6,8 år i Europa och USA.

Efter att ha fört en dialog med redaktionen för Campaign ombads jag att författa en kommentar till artikeln. Den bad jag DDB’s regionledning att läsa innan publicering.

DDB uttryckte önskemålet att mitt svar inte skulle publiceras i tidningen, och framför allt ville de att ett helt stycke skulle strykas. Därmed försvann dessvärre spänningen i min kommentar. Det jag skrev, i korta ordalag, var att reklambranschens extrema fokusering på belöning av den egna produkten kan vara kontraproduktiv för uppdragsgivarens affär, samt att byråer och deras anställda frestas att se uppdragsgivaren främst som ett verktyg för sin egen publicitet.

Men efter att ha fört en längre disskussion med Micco upplever vi att mitt resterande resonemang trots allt kan vara av intresse. Därför väljer vi att publicera svaret här, med förtydligandet att inlägget är mina personliga åsikter och speglar på intet sätt DDB’s officiella hållning.

Håll till godo.

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It benefits neither the client nor the agency to have a short-term transactional view on the relationship. I neither agree nor understand that a changing environment and increasing pressures for speed, efficiency and effectiveness should mean that relationships should be more short-term and transactional in nature. And the notion that one can validate a “long-term marriage with a one-night stand” is absurd. 

The main reason, both for the client and the agency, to aim for long-term relationships is the classic experience curve. The longer you work with something, the better you get at doing it. It accumulates over time. And it flows in both ways. The natural consequence is added speed, efficiency and effectiveness.

Speed and efficiency come from how client and agency work together (operations and process) and effectiveness from the agencies degree of understanding of the clients’ ongoing business situation and hence their capability in advising the best solutions, which drives market results.

One good example actually comes from my native Sweden, between McDonald’s and DDB, which renegotiates the contract on an annual basis. McDonald’s involved DDB in the most critical business issues and invited the agency to work closely with them from day one. Thus, the learning curve dramatically improved over time.

The result? McDonald’s have been able to push for lower fees while DDB have been able to spend fewer hours for doing the same work. Simultaneously, DDB transformed McDonald’s into the most creatively awarded client in Sweden at the time and, above all, achieving record sales. This is value-for-money.

Of course DDB was not solely responsible for the record sales but it shows that in-depth involvement benefits both parties from multiple perspectives. Their relationship is now entering the 7th consecutive year on the Swedish market.

The above implies that ideally the client should open up and invite the agency to share the most sensitive business data. I’m aware that this is not the standard practice. But it should be. The more the agency understands about the critical business drivers – and has direct access to data – the better it is in creating effective advertising, which is the only way an agency can actively drive the business together with a client.

Unfortunately, this leads me to a point that might explain why too many advertising agencies are perceived to be disposable. They are simply not seen as strategically (i.e. long-term) important to many clients.

Why is that?

Firstly: One could argue that advertising agencies ironically need to be significantly more interested in driving the clients business regardless if this happens with advertising or not. This view might be controversial. But if advertising agencies are to deserve the long-term relationship with a client, they have to care about, be forever curious and understand the clients’ business situation better than the clients do themselves. There is a tendency to assume that the task of the advertising agency is to develop communication solutions – irrespective what the problem is behind the business problem. This is flawed and dangerous for the advertising industry.

Secondly: The problem might be that too many agencies are not fundamentally interested in solving the client’s problems unless this will happen with (creative) communication per se. Or to put it differently; maybe it is more important to sell the advertising product – regardless if it is relevant for the situation or not. Let’s for the sake of the argument assume that the actual problem behind the problem should be tackled in the short-term with a change in the call-center operations, the product line-up or with an improved distribution strategy, and not with communications. The advertising agency that identifies this as the real problem, and advices against a classic communication solution, will probably be seen as a genuine long-term strategic partner to the client – simply because the agency proves it understands the nature of the clients’ business. How many agencies are able and are willing to do that?

Thirdly: I am a passionate advocate in the belief that creativity is the most powerful force in business (e.g. IPA recently published a report that merged the Gunn Report with the IPA Effectiveness Awards and that overwhelmingly vindicates this belief). Any agency needs to be able to deliver at the basic request of creative ideas. But many agencies can deliver creative ideas in the field of advertising. So, ironically, creativity in advertising will not be differentiating for agencies. Differentiation follows, and the long-term relationship as a result, when an agency elevate the core competence of solving business problems (which it should fully understand better than the client) through creativity – in a way that sometimes even goes beyond advertising.

Finally, unfortunately the times have gone when the advertising agency was the natural strategic lead consultant for demand generation. Advertising is no longer always the natural answer on how demand is created and sustained in our complex world (but creativity always is). Hence, the structure from which the long-term relationship between the client and the agency is based upon will evolve accordingly.

If it does, the relationship will strengthen over time, which puts both parties at the winning end of the table.

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Johan Östlund är Planning Director på DDB i Tokyo. Dessförinnan var han Regional Planning Director för McDonald’s på DDB i Hong Kong. Han har också hunnit med att arbeta på DDB i London och Stockholm, samt på SEB Kort och Nordic Brand Academy. Johan har en både bred och djup erfarenhet av konsumentvarumärken, och ser kombinationen av å ena sidan sin analysförmåga och å andra sidan sin kreativa syn på affärsutveckling som sin starkaste professionella tillgång.

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