The marketing industry is facing an identity crisis. We have old agencies trying to stay relevant. New agencies trying to prove that their approach is no flash-in-the-pan. Big, ugly networks trying to unpick the knots that they’ve got themselves tangled up in.
I wrote recently about how – and, indeed, whether – holding companies are responding to these crises. But perhaps the real question is whether they or any other groups of agencies have really cracked the ‘client-centric’ approach that everyone likes to reference, while, in reality, seeming to be influenced more by their own internal pressures or legacy positions.
What any agency group should be asking is what do clients truly want? Starting from that position and then designing an approach around that. But it seems hard to believe this happens by merging a behemoth digital agency with a traditional creative agency, or by putting a bunch of similar agencies that have traditionally competed with each under a single, national structure with a catchy (or otherwise) name.
My conversations with clients suggests that being client-centric above all starts with providing flexibility and speed. They want access to a wide range of capabilities, but they don’t want or need all of these capabilities, all of the time. And they want teams who can respond quickly, crack complex problems and want to work together, both as agency teams and collaboratively with clients.
It is, in large part, for this reason, that we at MSQ have bucked the trend by keeping our individual agency brands alongside our growing multi-disciplinary offer (under the MSQ brand).
Solving the complex marketing problems of today, whether in digital transformation, customer experience or old-fashioned brand-building, requires specialists not generalists. By enabling individual agencies to develop deep specialisms, from branding to data, martech to content, we remain best placed to solve these problems.
(And indeed it’s often the case that in certain situations – and more than people let on – that clients ranging from P&G to new start-ups are still looking for single-discipline specialist advice. Specialists agencies are still best placed to provide this).
When the solution requires bringing different specialisms together in a joined-up fashion, the key is found in the culture and context in which these specialisms then co-exist and co-operate.
It starts with creating a culture where people across disciplines collaborate because they want and feel empowered to, not because they have to. Where you’re not just bolting agencies together and expecting them to play nice simply because they each happened to have been acquired by the same mothership.
When we ask ourselves at MSQ how best to foster collaboration, the answer is always in the people, not simply in the process.
We all get into this business because we love solving problems. Whether you do that in a collaborative way or not, is another thing. Some people naturally collaborate because they want to, some because they have to (and some don’t at all). The key is to recruit people who are individually outstanding, but who instinctively want to collaborate. That’s one of the biggest differentiators when it comes to choosing the right hire.
And then it’s a case of getting the simple things right. Ensure teams are co-located in key hubs. Make sure they spend time with each other, get to know each other and what each other does. Give them a (financial) incentive to collaborate, like shared ownership in the Group, then create a culture devoid of politics. And, finally, ensure that individuals retain that desire to solve problems and get the best solution for clients. Fight against the cynicism that we have all seen creeping into more established agencies.
All of this will help ensure you get to a solution that is truly the right answer for the client. Which, ultimately, will also always end up being the best answer for you too.
Client-centricity in action – the Electoral Commission
It’s vital for democracy that every eligible voter has the right to participate in elections. But when we started working with the Electoral Commission, a significant number of eligible voters in the UK were still unregistered.
The traditional, prevailing view was that people who hadn’t registered before avoided doing so because they were disillusioned with – or simply didn’t care about – politics.
But by bringing together a truly joined-up MSQ team (bringing together, amongst others, media, data and comms planners), we recut the available data, combining multiple data sets and using advanced data science techniques, to unearth the fallacy of this received wisdom.
Our analysis showed that across all groups, the single, almost universal unifying factor for not registering was, in fact, that the individual in question had moved residence within the past year. Because when you move house, registering to vote gets pushed down to the bottom of the list. Or it won’t get added to the list at all because, well, it’s a bit of a faff isn’t it?
We countered this by showing how easy it is to register online. ‘Got 5?’ led with a punchy message that positioned registration as a simple task that slots into mundane but relatable occasions when people have five minutes to spare – like waiting for the bus, or for a bath to run.
With the ability to run across multiple years and electoral events, it was a truly integrated campaign that challenged the initial brief and produced something genuinely worthwhile – 75 per cent of recent movers said they took action following the campaign.
It was an example of genuine collaboration in action. Specialist skillsets coming together to solve a problem, not fight their corner.
Peter Reid is the Chief Executive of MSQ Partners. MSQ Partners is a group of six creative agencies spanning advertising, public relations, direct and digital marketing, design and brand strategy and B2B.
Clients are offered the choice of working with individual agencies or with a multi-disciplinary team designed around their specific needs. Get more joined-up thinking at MSQ Partners or email Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org.