Tag Archives: global clients

Nick’s Thing Now.

Long awaited changes at the top of McCann. Congrats are due to Nick Brien for being at the front of the jostling queue to take over from the immutable John Dooner, who has finally announced his retirement after 40 years in the business. 


Will Nick Brien ring the changes at McCann? Undoubtedly. As Dooner is famously and irreverently quoted, ‘we don’t stab you in the back, we stab you in the front.‘ As anyone who’s been in charge of a McCann agency around the world will tell you, that’s not entirely true. There’s reportedly more metaphorical stabbing going on than in the massacre sequences from La Reine Margot, as in every large network. So there’s some pretty good armour required to get to the top and managing the disparate empires across the group will represent a real challenge. The truth is probably more simple. As with all the networks, big client losses and client cutbacks have decimated the global position. And at impending results time, sweeteners are needed to turn the lemons into lemonade. New management is a tried and tested additive, and it’s actually a positive thing to see someone from within promoted.


It’s a sound choice. Clients right now are looking for flexibility and ideas, rather than just advertising distribution, and integrating Client business requirements across P&Ls is often more expensive than necessary, something that hasn’t escaped the notice of procurement people. In Nick’s case, the accusation of ‘distance’ from Clients, often levelled at ‘global’ people wouldn’t be true. He’s made some moves to bring new senior people, and he’s made good efforts to provide ROI intelligence around media. I liked the idea of appointing Matt Freeman (formerly CEO of Adweek’s agency of the year Tribal DDB). It’s a good message – more senior people really need to understand digital consumption and communication.


It also takes time to change these agency business models pertinent to shifts in consumer behaviour. Consumers are less influenced by advertising in the buying process, preferring instead to rely on the wisdom of their own crowds, friends and connections. This explains the ‘movements’ rather than ‘ad campaigns’ so favoured in speeches by social media gurus. ‘Brand conversation’ has entered the litany, as Forrester’s technographics ladder update this week refers, and the buying points are far more complex. Online retail is continuing to grow, and increasing access to mobile web is giving more people opportunity to see impartial reviews at the point of purchase. Joining all this up is no mean feat for the marketing department, let alone for the agencies. Success in this digital world (er, the normal world) requires an ability to walk the new hard yards of creativity, media and interactivity. It’ll be interesting to see whether globalised advertising supply can deliver convincingly here, without more detailed change in purpose, structure, capability and attitude. 

Friday fun. The Client is lost as soon as it’s won. It’s just a matter of time.

We all know how hard it is to win accounts, and how easy it is to lose them.  Complacency is a disease that can attack the big networks at the core. Everything seems fine one minute, and some random project done by a tiny agency in Latvia suddenly gets dumped in your lap as the new global campaign idea. As Jerry Della Femina wrote, “The Client is lost as soon as it’s won, it’s just a matter of time.” And this doesn’t just affect the big networks; the tiniest agencies of all remain at the beck and call of outrageous fortune too.

The one thing that the smaller agencies can say truthfully though, is that it usually is down to them. In the networks, it’s easier to point the finger at others. And it frankly, often isn’t “the London Agency’s fault.” I’m sure we’ve all got hard and good experience of that, winning awards in the outposts of global marketing effort, but the client moves because the ‘global’ guys aren’t up to the mark or whatever. (I’m told that actually is the most common reason.) In the small agency, you live or die by your relationships and the value you bring on a daily basis to the Client’s business. The smaller you are, the more you tend to think about that, with no cushion of ten other global clients competing for the attention of your best people. People move, jobs change, markets change, yes, we all get that. But forgetting about what the Clients are worried about where and when it matters, usually before notice is served, remains unforgivable.

Another angle on this nutty little problem centres around where innovation comes from. A very clever marketing director told me once that in our business, innovation comes from the edges; sustainability comes from the core. Harsh, but fair. That’s why the Lithuanian mobile voting project on Twitter tends to get arguably more attention than it deserves from the CMO. And is used as a stick to beat the ‘big’ agency with. Turning ‘experimental’ work into a central platform for communication strategy is not simple to pull off, and there is bitterly argued example of this from all sorts of businesses around the world. (See lots of Cannes winners for details.)

So what’s the answer? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone the Client knew who was really good could think about the problem? Unfettered by agency P&L walls and wars, and the political machinations of control, how much fun could be had by everyone. This is what Clients (or some I’ve met recently, anyway) say they want. Paul Phillips at the AAR did a talk at the back of last year, for their relaunch, confirming that there were less and less ‘discipline specific’ agency briefs, and an increase in ‘marketing problem’ specific briefs. It’s a clue, isn’t it. Of course it still remains vital that Clients believe that you know what you’re talking about, get the space and the problems they face. They want senior people with insight and foresight. They often want things to be simpler. One agency rather than nine. And boutiques as well.

We’ll see more of this in the coming months, I’m sure, as Clients shrink their budgets and look to the agency supply chain for savings/value/people they want to stick with. At the school debating society, we used to have balloon debates, you know, where you argue who should be thrown out of the balloon as it ran out of air and descended slowly towards shark invested waters. Each debater booted extended the life of the others, until there was only one left. (A concept popularised by reality TV in more recent years). Well, balloon debates with clients are back. Big time. Make your cases sharp and quick, everyone.