I am a big fan of a blog written by Bob Hoffman called the Ad Contrarian. He has a passion for calling bullshit on bullshit. How hard can it be these days to do tha? Yet he does it well and should be applauded.
In his crosshairs often appears social media bunkum, ad agencies hyperbole, the delusions of psychologists and the utter confusions of anyone he thinks talks the bull. It really is a brilliantly written blog with loads of followers and occasionally the comments section creates a debate which makes it what all great blogs should be, a forum.
His recent post, ‘Is it Art of Science?‘ smacks about the philosophical question of whether advertising is art or science? A favourite pub debate I am sure of many a watering hole in Soho.
Science has come on leaps and bounds over the last 100 years let’s make no bones about it. It doesn’t take much to notice even in the last decade the uses of scientific discoveries in everyday technology. Although it is debatable whether some technologies have altered our daily lives for the better, a great essay here by Rebecca Solnit, lamenting the loss of the post of what the digerati call snail mail, she writes beautifully..
“I live in the heart of it, and it’s normal to walk through a crowd – on a train, or a group of young people waiting to eat in a restaurant – in which everyone is staring at the tiny screens in their hands. It seems less likely that each of the kids waiting for the table for eight has an urgent matter at hand than that this is the habitual orientation of their consciousness.
At times I feel as though I’m in a bad science fiction movie where everyone takes orders from tiny boxes that link them to alien overlords. Which is what corporations are anyway, and mobile phones decoupled from corporations are not exactly common…”
Has Art improved? I should probably tread carefully here. Err, No! Are we living in a culture with high opinions of humanity anticipating progress? Or has everything become a tad dumbed down and conservative? Good we agree.
Let’s move on… my interest in the debate is to replace advertising with sales or new business as we new call it. Art or science?
Science likes evidence, and while much of what makes a good sales person lacks evidence, the best we have I believe is wrapped up in The Challenger Sale. I am not saying there is anything ground breaking here but it does provide much needed evidence and is contrary to what many new business people do today.
It at the very very least shatters the myth with evidence that a great sales person has the gift of the gab, or focus primarily on forming relationships, is tricky, or is the hardest working person in the world.
Have you notice the mantra in new business these days, it’s all about the art of relationship or chemistry? Well you need to define what makes a good relationship or what is chemistry or the sort of chemistry you are looking for. I have heard the riposte “well we need to get on well?” And of course clients and agencies do need to get on and I reckon we have known this for a while at least since How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie first published in 1936, yet tenure rates have tumbled to an all time low, in just the last 20 years.
So despite more effort being put on the art of chemistry and forming relationships, Marketing Directors tenure has declined some say to 18 months and ad agency tenure down to just 2 and a half years according to this article here on Brand Republic. I have no way of telling the credibility of these numbers by the way in fact they seems harsh to me, even if they prove my point.
So despite much effort going on in agency land in particular to forming better relationships with clients tenure has gone down. Many agencies have looked at how to get on better with their clients I am sure, be it via NLP, Myers Briggs (it’s a bit like horoscopes but with boxes to tick – see here) and so on. Are ad folk or psychologists any closer really to understand what is it that makes us so?
Psychology still lacks the scientist foundation it so dearly desires, despite its banal experiments of human behaviour. There is a great book by the late psychologist Robyn M Dawes called The House of Cards, psychology and psychology built on myths which deals with this with over 293 pages of evidence. Dawes points out…”we have all been swayed by the “pop psych” view of the world–believing, for example, that self-esteem is an essential precursor to being a productive human being, that events in one’s childhood affect one’s fate as an adult, and that “you have to love yourself before you can love another.”
So let’s go back to some basics to see if we can build on some firm foundations.
Why does a client need an agency? Well because they need their skills to help them advertising their product so they will grow revenues and profits by selling more. Skills they don’t themselves have in-house.
So once a client has selected an agency why does it feel the need to change, ever? I think there are a few reasons and one of them is NOT because the relationship broken down, the more you stare at the idea of ‘relationships’ without definition the more you can see how vacuous that is. The phrase ‘a break down in the relationship’ which is straight out of the PR manual for spin is a symptom and not a cause of break-down.
People buy stuff for a purpose. And clients are no different. If that purpose doesn’t hold true or the problem remains then the client has to decide why? Let’s say the problem is that they are not shifting as much stuff as they thought they would. Targets not being met, can be a source for many a stressful client meeting with much head scratching and blame passing too I’m sure.
Before a client decides to send the Dear John letter or e-mail to his agency surely they would attempt to rectify the problem via a kick up the arse. This is what we all do give or take with a problem, can I fix it with what I have? Let’s not throw baby out with water.
If the kick up the arse fails then we have to ask do I fire the agency and start again? If this all happened in 2 and a half years the question has to be how far off the deliverables are agencies these days and if it is considerable, why?
Did the client buy agency services on price? Perhaps they (procurement) pushed them so low on price an agency thinking they were being canny, took the job on the premise some money is better than no money (we’ve all done it) and you never know what may happen. Although not being able to allocate resource to do the job properly failure loomed and so the agency has a client loss notched on the bed post and the Marketing Director has to start over again. Interestingly the Marketing Director and procurement may look for something even cheaper why waste money on advertising aye, it never works in his experience anyway. Repeat till fade.
Another under lying reason why the relationship failed could be that the expectation was un-realistic. Which I think is a common issue in today’s market place. Marketing starts to develop the same issue which sales traditionally has, which is chasing a target (KPIs) that has been arbitrarily set by the C – suiters.
Of course advertising is to help increase sales but also to build brand value for the future. As Mel Cruickshank CEO at Wunderman notes here – “While it is important for agencies to demonstrate transparency and effectiveness, it is also imperative that marketers are honest about their ambitions and challenges.” Similarly Steve Aldridge Creative Director at the Engine Group notes “they (clients) are looking to make a faster impact and, if that doesn’t happen immediately, then they are more inclined to switch agencies.”
The problem here I suggest is that advertising works on theory albeit a stong one, the more we advertise the more we sell, (see Ad Contrarian blog here) advertising that attracts attention works better and so on. However time frames are an issue. And so advertising is more like exercise you have to keep doing it(that was from Bob Hoffman) for it to pay dividends. Why would changing so often help and why would changing and replacing an agency generally like for like help at all. Surely the some problem just re-appears?
Unless agency B goes about the work in a completely different way the problem will just re-surface. If the client uses the same selection process i.e. the pitch, then surely they are just likely to re-hire give or take the old agency see my previous post here. Also if the client doesn’t change its purpose and targets then it will succumb to the same issues as before i.e. hiring cheap or hiring to hit what is unlikely to be achieved and so setting itself up for failure.
So with this in mind what is the role of a new business person in an agency? Could it be that rather in bringing in clients that revolve in 2 and a half years and chasing pitch lists to talking with prospective clients about alternative ways of working and to educate clients about the need for long-term relationships and longer term goals of brand building which is in their interests and not just yours?
Easier said then done, right? Faced with a Marketing Director who has a sizeable budget that would help the New Business Director hit their internal agency target, is it possible to be brave enough to push back on simply joining in the pitch process and instead discover the reason the last agency failed i.e. price or target chasing to address the real problem and not just ‘the relationship didn’t work.” If this is not done, surely the status quo remains with revolving clients putting agencies under increasing pressure of working with tight budgets and hitting arbitrary sales targets.
So rather than the relationship between client and agency being about ‘do we get on” being about equals where an agency can question in an adult manner the prospects real issues at an organisational level. So something is actually changed.
The more successful new business person as identified in the Challenger sales person instead questions the prospect and pushes back on flimsy budgets knowing their problem will re-surface if these factors are not addressed. The Challenger sales person is able to talk about alternative ways of working together and is un-afraid of some confrontation in the new business process. The very thing the relationships sellers avoids at all costs. The ubiquitous ‘relationship salesperson’ is busy trying to ‘get on with’ the prospect at some psychological level. This in no way means the challenger doesn’t know his or her manners and how to be polite.
The consequences are Relationships Sellers often find themselves busier with pitches and proposal then the Challenger. Although the challenger new business person out sales them massively in what the book calls complex sales, which advertising is.
I believe new business in this fashion is a learnable skill, art and science just confuses the issue somewhat. Most pop psychology adds little to our trade or indeed our lives with its delusional quest for constant happiness over purpose and it narcissistic focus on oneself.
What also make our trade harder is the same issues the Marketing Director has, it is the internal targets of chasing x amount of pitches and sales targets see guest post here re. targets deconstructed. So the sales person behaves in accordance with targets and not with clear purpose and quality of prospect.