Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Is Advertising Agency Analysis Superficial?
Over the last year or so, I received several requests from readers to write this post. Much of it sprung out of a post entitled “Is Media Planning Getting Too Superficial” (see Media Realism, February 8, 2013).
Every month or so, I have received e-mails from ad agency principals, current staffers and a few very frustrated clients regarding the lack of depth of agency people in answering client requests or preparing for meetings.
To set the stage, perhaps the best definition of superficial is “comprehending only what is on the surface or obvious.”
Here are several verbatim comments from people who want and need to remain anonymous and one from me:
1) A company marketing director wrote: “I asked our agency media team to do an analysis of a major trend in TV viewing for the quarterly review meeting. When we reached that item on the agenda, the agency CEO said, ‘wait until you see the analysis that Brad (the media supervisor) did for you. It is amazing.’ Well, Brad presented a five point summary of the issue. I nearly choked. It was taken verbatim from a Wall Street Journal article published three days before the meeting. Brad changed the order of the five points but he was so damn lazy that he did not even paraphrase the text. When I probed for questions, he was completely unarmed. I doubt if his president knew what he had done, but I was annoyed that the kid would think I was so uninformed. Had he said the Journal had summed the topic up nicely, I would have been okay. He stole the piece and tried to pass it off as his own work.”
2) An agency CEO said that he liked a post I did in Media Realism reviewing Ken Auletta’s book GOOGLED (December 16, 2009 post). “I bought the book, loved it, and then purchased a dozen others for may senior staff to read. I passed them out and set a meeting two weeks later for a discussion. Before the meeting, I overheard two senior staffers talking. ‘Have you read GOOGLED yet? Of course, not. The old fool is not going to ruin my weekend. Just read the flyleaf and wait for Tom to talk. Then tell the old boy that Tom summed up your feelings as well.’ When the meeting began, I asked for opinions. Tom raised his hand and I said that I would get to him in a few minutes. There was real unease in the room. I starting going around the room and no one had read it or much of it. By now, Tom was furiously raising his hand like a kindergartner badly in need of a bathroom. He started to talk and I cut him off sharply. Finally, after it was clear that he and I were the only ones who read it, I let him speak and the two of us had an interesting back and forth.”
After the meeting, no one was contrite. A young lady on the team was overheard by my executive assistant saying ‘what right has he to ask us to read something on our own time. I have a three year old. He asks way too much.’ What can I do? Fire everyone but Tom? Some appear professional but they have no interest in the industry. They have a job but not a career. I will gradually make changes.”
3) Some years back, I worked savagely on a new business pitch. The weekend before the meeting, I sat down with three staffers and we made a list of every possible question that the prospective client could bring up in the Q&A session. I had more facts and figures at my disposal than a candidate in a presidential debate. As luck would have it, three of the painfully prepared questions came up in the meeting and the difficult prospect was impressed. We got the business. It was a nice effort from everyone so I can only take part of the credit. On the way out, the CEO said “you really made up some great stuff on your feet.” My eyes must have become fierce blue slits. “I did not make anything up,” I told him. Then I went on to describe how my team and I had spent the weekend. He showed genuine appreciation.
Several months later, the new client called a big meeting. I was not invited in an effort to save
on travel expenses but I went through a drill similar to the pitch. The number two man
in the agency was going with the creative director. By Sunday night, I had put together
twelve likely questions and e-mailed them and my team’s answers to my immediate boss. A few days after the meeting, I asked him how it went. “Not very well as far as the media and marketing activity is concerned. I guess that I should have brought you along. When I asked if the client had covered any of the questions my team and I had prepared he said, “Do you think that I bother to read the crap that you guys put together.” Sixty days later I had moved on to better things. :)
4) A friend and long ago colleague wrote the following: “I have always tried to be tight with the money of the companies I work for. We work hard for it and do not want to waste it. So when I would ask for a $1000 piece of software, I had a business case and even then it was not always approved. And that's fine. A co-worker brought in a proposal to management for a six-figure data management tool with the promise that it was needed to help run the analysis for a significant client. No detailed business case, no work-savings analysis, no comparison of vendors. It was approved in one meeting, and proved to be twice as expensive to implement as proposed due to unforeseen additional needs, and it was never effective despite the ongoing six-figure annual fees. People went to conferences, training, onsite training, etc.etc. and it just was not useful. I think that major corporations do this kind of failed project all the time, but we are not a major corporation”.
5) A former client wrote to me out of the blue recently. It had been twenty years since I had heard from him. He said, “I always thought that you beat competitive spending analyses to death. You gave us great detail and we really knew what the big guys were doing. My current agency gives me top-line data only. If I ask for more, they say that I have to pay big bucks for it. I know that they subscribe to an online system that can summarize my request in a few minutes. Even the account director does not seem interested in getting the whole picture".
6) I sent an early draft out of this post to a long time friend and enthusiastic critic of this blog. He responded as follows: “Don, everything you say is true. We are way more superficial than we used to be. Why? Today, I consider it a success if I make it to a client meeting on time. Forget adequate preparation. I run my ass ragged across the country because the young kids on my staff do not have the credibility with the clients yet. So, if I show up I can fake my way through some stuff at meetings. I feel guilty sometimes but I honestly have no choice. Why? The truth is that advertising does not attract the best people anymore. If you are far from New York, forget it. Sometimes I see a kid with that spark of interest that we had, but they do not stay with it. I cannot afford to hire the best people. A decade ago, they went to Wall Street and now they go to Silicon Valley if they are real stars. So, we do not have an A team. At best, we are a C team. There, I said it.”
Had enough? Well, many clients have and employ consultants and speciality firms to pick up the slack. If an agencies assets go up and down on the elevator every day, it appears we need many new and enthusiastic players riding with us.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org