We all know what a mess Europe has been in the last few years. The lack of central controls has resulted in some slow and often poor decision making, that has dragged the region into another recession and has cast doubt on the future of the single currency. There is a lesson in here for all those running marketing at a regional or global level. If they want to run a coordinated campaign across more than one country, they need to take control and be willing to make decisions that will be unpopular at a local level OR they need to accept that their campaigns will not be consistent. Just as the EU learned, all too late, that it needed to enforce economic controls on Greece, or risk collective failure, so CMOs need to enforce marketing controls.
The failure and success of some brands is seen when they pitch their business around the world. Some brands involve local countries but make it clear their vote will only assist in decision making, not define it. Others are overly democratic and allow local countries to veto certain agencies and thus create a ‘lowest common denominator’ decision, where the least offensive agency wins. This does nobody any favors and results in two years of misery for everyone but the chosen agency (actually even they don’t really enjoy this process).
Just as Angela Merkel realized, it’s important to show leadership on critical decisions, so must CMOs. Now it may be that the company’s internal structure (who holds the purse strings is of course the definition of internal structure) may work against a company running marketing programs across regions. If that’s the case, then efforts to have a regional or global agency are doomed before they start. Organizing the financial and human resources are the first step a CMO should take BEFORE they embark on finding the right agency partners. At the end of the day, agencies cannot make up for the inherent weaknesses of internal structures. If anything they will amplify them. If, because of politics, a CMO can’t affect the right changes here, then they should focus instead on having each country make the very best LOCAL decisions and stop worrying about the regional or global brand efforts. For the agencies involved, perhaps the advice they must all stick with is to avoid pitching business where there are a dozen decision makers spread across a region. We’ve seen how dysfunctional the EU has been lately. Businesses that employ the same basic process will fair no better.
PR agencies do more than drive news BUT they do tend to focus on the news cycle a great deal for obvious reasons. Yet PR has to recognize that the way we consume news has changed drastically in the last five years. Five years ago people had a primary news source, either via broadcast or a daily newspaper. Today they have a broad array of news sources that includes these same outlets, albeit online, but also includes bloggers, friends and people they follow on Twitter or are connected to on LinkedIn. In such a fragmented market for information it is harder for companies to control their message. This makes it far more important that companies determine the insight they want the news to create, which in will in turn drive the way they engage with the brand. Yet all too often companies are so focussed on how to best to get the news out that they spend little, if any, time on what the news means and what they expect the people who should be connected to that news to do as a result. In a world where we are drowning in information, the brand that goes the extra mile and helps us figure out how to make use of that information will win. For PR agencies this means changing the way we think about the news cycle. We need to work with our clients to make sure they understand the real and or desired implications of the news they want to promote. There’s an old saying – there’s no such thing as bad news. Perhaps PR consultants should worry less about the news and more about the insight. Insight drives behaviors and actions and without these a client may well wonder why they engaged with you in the first place.
PR agencies know the ropes. You get invited to pitch for a certain account against other firms. You then throw a ton of time and effort into it. At some point it becomes clear that you’ve been chosen by the internal team and then you are passed over to procurement to ‘dot the Is and cross the Ts.’ In most cases that process is also quite familiar. Procurement comes with a huge list of things they want agencies to give up (most of them involve some form of discount). Now most procurement departments are quite reasonable while some push things to the limit. I don’t really blame them, after all it’s their job. But what this can result in is a situation where you simply can’t accept the terms the procurement people are seeking and you have to walk away. This is frustrating for everyone concerned. Should we therefore consider negotiating the contract and financial terms before pitching? I appreciate that may mean more work for procurement as they may have to try and negotiate with all the potential vendors. However, they could also simply say these are our terms and if you accept them you can pitch. If you don’t then you should withdraw now. Such an approach would save everyone a LOT of time and money and would result in clients only getting pitches from people willing to accept their terms. As I say, I have nothing against procurement departments being aggressive. Again, it’s their job to get the best deal for their business. What is frustrating for the agency is this notion that if you win the pitch that you should then be prepared to sign up to terms that don’t work for your business. To be clear, this post doesn’t relate to a certain pitch we’ve been involved in. In truth it related to several that have taken place in the last few months. Just want to propose a better way for client and the agency to get engaged.