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  • David Meikle

The Campaign A-List FFS

Earlier this month I enjoyed thumbing through the new Campaign A-List as much as the next person, I’m sure, but did anybody else enjoy the perfect juxtaposition of points of view in the F section? Renowned marketing procurement hired gun Tina Fegent, was sat on the page right next to BBH Chief Executive Officer Ben Fennell; and, to my mild amusement, they didn’t sit entirely comfortably with one another. Fegent’s optimistic front page fantasy headline for Campaign was:

“Thank goodness for procurement – the saviour of the marketing universe.”

Fennel’s was:

“Conflict, procurement and speculative pitching all gone for good.”

Neither would be unwise enough to hold their breath waiting for their fantasy to come true, but these conflicting views highlight that there is still a very long way to go to define a role that procurement should play in marketing with anything close to universal agreement. But to my mind they’re both right and they’re both wrong, because – as is ever the case – it depends.

I suspect that in Tina’s mind (and I hope you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, Tina) is a future when marketing procurement all buy for value over cost, always differentiate between costs and investments, and give agencies control over their resources and processes consistent with their accountability for their output. In Ben’s mind (same applies, Ben) I suspect was a weariness of the more prevalent savings-driven procurement modus operandi, with the subsequently constant battles over agency resources, production values, and agency profits that seems to make up the majority of the agency experience.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that rarely do procurement and agencies - or marketing for that matter - have a clear shared interest that would negate any such conflict.

Somewhat obsessively I admit, I have spent the last ten years dedicating my working life to resolving these problems between marketing, procurement and agencies. One of the overriding observations I have made is this: creative agencies generally believe that breakthrough creativity is the answer (whatever the question) and procurement generally believes that savings can always be made (and are incentivised to do so).

There are fundamental problems with both, and until we embrace the inherent complexity of variable needs of clients according to: their business circumstances, their competitive set, the categories they are in, the markets they’re in, the resources they have, the responsiveness of their customers to advertising, and perhaps most importantly, the company’s appetite for risk (breath) – until we embrace this inherent complexity these three – marketing, procurement and agencies, will always to greater or lesser degrees remain at odds with one another.

This unholy trinity of marketing, procurement and agencies (thanks to Giles Lury of the Value Engineers for coining that phrase), constantly fails to recognize that some companies have to cut their marketing budgets, but some ought to increase them; some companies have to be bold with their creative work to avoid otherwise certain death by the hands of their competitors, others don’t have the corporate culture for the risk that bold creative work represents. But marketing, procurement and agencies all seem to have their standard ideas of “best practice” according to the kind of brands they want, and not necessarily designed according to the brands they have and needs and objectives of those brands.

It would be similar to a cardiologist, a brain surgeon and an oncologist all treating a patient their way without realizing the patient hasn’t been diagnosed yet and might have a broken leg.

That’s why I spent ten years as an uber-nerd thinking about little else than this problem, and that’s why I wrote up my solution in a my book called How to Buy a Gorilla, though, it could yet be more widely read.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

... wrote H.L. Mencken - and how right he was. The answer is that each member of this unholy trinity is right sometimes, like the fabled stopped clock, but they are rarely right together. To achieve harmony from this unholiest of collaborations we need to change our individual interests and ways of working according to the brand’s specific business needs, rather than to hope our business needs will be satisfied by our individual and usually conflicted ideas of best practice. Because, as they say, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.

So, for Fegent’s sake, for Fennel’s sake and FFS, let’s all start at the very beginning with what we’re trying to achieve and then change what we do and how we do it accordingly; because the brands that do are usually the ones that are winning.

David Meikle

Author and founder, How to Buy a Gorilla

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