Why Clients Need To Be Their Own Creative Agencies

With the way digital and new technology has brought us into an age of consumer engagement, the time is probably right time for clients to start thinking of creative advertising and communications as an integral activity within the brand and product development cycle. For so long the task of creative ad agencies, should clients consider taking back this role; embedding them tightly with the rest of the business, brand and product strategy development?

Actually, taking it back in again. Advertising and marketing, for the past three decades or so have been relegated to the back burner. The last leg. A task to deliver the last mile.

On the upside, there are many successes in the past decade, of products that had involved the creative storytelling (the advertising) during the conceptualisation or creation.

Most of these are products that is based on or integrating technology in some way or another. For examples Nike+, Apple Macs, Google and practically almost all dotcoms.

When such a technology based product has to use advertising to advertise, it is an almost certainty that the consumer-centred thinking (also the domain of creative agencies) was not factored in during conceptualisation. This just sets the product and the advertising up for failure. Compare successful brands, products and campaigns against the not-so-successful ones. In every successful brand or product story, marketing or the creative storytelling is a key essence during the product conceptualisation.

Also (and I’m probably going to get shot for this), agency creatives are much less concerned about working for clients work and more concerned about awards work. For agency creatives, advertising creativity for clients is a job. It’s work clients want because marketing is a requirement, not a benefit. The real creativity thus is set aside for portfolio or the awards work. Agencies try to cover this up but it’s still a fact nonetheless. That’s ad creativity for you.

As a client you’ll never really get the best work out of the agency. Not because agencies don’t try their best. But because nowadays they don’t really play that much of a partner role, to advise if whether what they are trying to help sell will actually create a natural desire for consumers to want. The agency’s task today is to sell the sales pitch creatively, if at all. Actually most times the work is not even creative. They’re mostly pictures with a headline and a few call-to-action starbursts.

And then there’s the agency client leads, the accounts people. Really hard pressed to deliver the numbers. To achieve this, they’d agree to do just about anything and everything a client would ask. Doesn’t matter right or wrong for the campaign. It’s requested, do it. By tomorrow. Goodness knows why. Someone asks for them, maybe. Accounts people are supposed to the agency’s brand representative but most times they’ve become coordinators. Stuck in the middle. Deliver what the business wants while managing the work of the creatives. Maybe many people have forgotten that the true clients are the brands that they are supposed to help grow. Maybe they’re pressured for higher targets and margins (from the agency) whilst representing the ones who asks for as much as possible and wanting to pay nothing if they can get away with it (the clients).

I think, the only people who actually thinks truly for and on behalf of the client are the strategic planners. And even then, these poor planners some times (most times actually) get it wrong. Again how do they plan to tell the story of a product that they do not much background to? The client brief hardly works. And what’s a ‘brief’ nowadays anyway?

Products today are much more complex, media mix even more difficult to explain and an engagement (not exposure mind you) matrix that will take a scientist to decipher. It’s really way too big of a task for the agency planner to come in at the end stage and be expected to deliver a comprehensive strategic plan. And have them done in 3 days.

All those aside, agencies will never be able to understand fully the client side of the equation. Just in case nobody knows yet, there are many units within the client organisation that have a stake in the product. Yet the agency will never meet or partner with them, apart from working through brand and marketing. These units have their own KPIs. Business challenges, goals, targets, what the stakeholders want, consumer feedback, procurement, product lifecycle, etc etc. And here’s an even bigger secret – having been a client for 2 years in my career; even most of these units cannot achieve these without working with the another. Yet still, they don’t work with each other. They’ll be in meetings together, but that’s kind of as far as it goes. One unit will wait for another and nothing gets done until very very late in the launch phase. There is no aggregation of the thinking. Marketing doesn’t do it because they aren’t called in. Strategy unit sets the direction but not who delivers them. PMO wait for the orders. Product management wants product features featured forgetting the storytelling aspects. There are just too many business units that do not speak to one another much alone understand each other’s need. And these are the client side.

Thankfully agencies do these. Aggregate and re-articulate everyone’s need. To discover the back stories and reasons from the collective and then craft out the best stories to be told to the audience. Or they try to. It becomes an impossible task when agencies meet only with the marketing division and almost never the others.

To make agencies work even more difficult now, we’re at an age where creative is a commodity. It’s a given. Every type of agency can do the creative never mind the quality. Where it used to be that executing the creatives were the creative agencies’ domain, it no longer is now. Creative agencies, advertising agencies, media agencies, social media, media owners, publishers, design collectives, brand agencies, freelance consultants, the list goes on. Name one that does not do the creative.

Once in our history, ad agencies used to call the shots. All the thinking and the work must go through that one agency. Now it’s very unusual to have a client with a one agency roster. A three-agency roster nowadays is common, not including the digital, media, social media etc etc agencies. So in total that makes it several to ten agencies that a client will have on assignment. Each probably reporting to different clients in the structure. It becomes disparate and goals are misaligned. Creativity and the creative process have been decentralised. Democratized. No agency leads anything any more. We’d like to think we do, but we don’t. We try though. Not to say that we don’t.

So how can clients create and manage a uniform creative strategy, direction, look and feel if not from in-house embedded way early on the concept stages? Client must lead the adverting strategy, thinking, objectives, creativity, and planning. From an in-house unit set up like an advertising consultancy. And leave the execution and implementation to the assigned agencies.

In this new hyper-connected hyper-development world where new innovations spawn and get adopted very quickly, it only makes sense to bring in-house the creative advertising process. To embed it early on into the product concept and design stages, to create better more compelling stories and increase consumer desire.

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