Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Building a Premium Brand…..Ad Agency

We slave our days debating, theorising, writing charts, crafting presentations, scamping creative work again and again, re touching, presenting I could bore you and go on, but all of this to work towards making their clients the most competitive brands in their sectors. Some agencies are better than others at it. But many fail to put all that energy back into the bricks and mortar from where it’s born.

Why are agencies or advertising not regarded as premium brands or as an industry (if we want to talk about broad strokes). You take the finance industry and it’s regarded as premium, you take management consultancy and again premium. The Saatchi bros tried to add value to the way agencies operate back in the 80s, they tried to buy Midland bank which really was a PR stunt but they were also toying with the idea of adding a management consultancy branch to the famous Saatchi & Saatchi network. It didn’t work. For one thing the market drivers didn’t require ad agencies to offer differentiation at that time but also they were ahead of their time structurally speaking but weren’t clued up to how this would work alongside their core competency – creative communications. One would need to feed off the other and back then there was no to little way this would work. Furthermore adding in this commercial consultancy arm was going to be bought in, just shoved in, no cultural birth from inside the Saatchi brand at all, so again, it was bound to fail.

So there’s an example of an agency trying to elevate itself above its lowly known industry. But what now? Well, McKinsey will chuckle at us by informing the ad industry that we are considered a low ranking and low paid industry because of what we give away…for free. In particular pitching is our biggest sin. We hand over a fully fleshed strategic and creative approach to a brand’s business for the total sum of sweet fuck all before we even have their business. This can’t be helped anymore, if one agency holds back another will bend over screaming ‘over here over here’ with bells on, of course they’ll get the business.

Let’s not get bogged down in structural differentiation right now, no client gives a shit how we work, that’s really about an internal process that can produce better work. What we’re talking about is about lifting this slow and often clumsy industry off its knees and having it recognised for the actual ROI it creates, therein lies value, therein lies premiumisation.

Well, whilst we continue to give away so much we need to develop other lines of offering that aren’t as face value/obvious as creative communications. So this means agencies taking all that stuff at the top of this blog and putting it into their own revenue streams. This means agencies stepping up to brand creation level. Why can’t an agency create the intellectual property for a new brand – either to launch it themselves or to sell it to another brand? Why can’t an agency be content owners and develop TV programming ideas to sell to both networks and clients? Why can’t agencies build up quant and qual research offerings so that can provide fully justifiable segmentation studies (for example) when at pitch level and to a degree brand consultancy level. Why can’t agencies also have a NPD/packaging arm, and one that really does operate as one?

All the above can be seen in parts dotted around agencies in London, but usually these divisions have been bought in and therefore operate as separate PLCs, therefore they’re working towards their own agendas, therefore they don’t work together, therefore this will more than likely end in an in-cohesive mess. Such a way of working really needs to be born from the outset, grown internally so that agendas move together not individually. This as a way of working will of course be slow burn to see the results but it’s my reckoning that here lies value and here lies the premium brand ad agency. The account management led, political, department driven and structured agencies are moving towards a dooms day, FACT. Whilst some may say that it was never the job of large agencies to change the way the ad industry looks is pretty much hiding from their responsibility. It is of course large agency’s role to morph, adapt, grow internal new business lines and structurally shift regardless of upheaval. The apathetic who sit back and watch their shareholder’s cash fall are those who simply don’t understand how to make these changes or aren’t empowered to do so. They’ll fail. But how exciting to see some make these changes, be brave to implement them and enjoy premium status.

Anton xxx


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