Tag: agency

think differently this christmas.

Although this blog isn’t a reviewing website, it’s been a while since I haven’t posted something and what’s better than the Christmas spirit to celebrate (and rant) on what Adland has to offer this year.


Last year saw a burst of newcomers and as there’s always so much you can say about Christmas, most brands ended up saying the same thing, to the point that Currys and Harvey Nichols shared voice for giftface. That’s probably why everyone is taking on a subversive message for this year’s Holidays. Let’s start with the very Harvey Nichols who clearly didn’t want to risk being imitated this year with this original – if not questionable – execution “Britalia”. In an era of data-driven clients, I’ve read that the retailer recorded a peak in sales of Italian products… Buon natale then! But Harvey Nichs isn’t the only one to have taken an original approach, it’s hats off to the never-disappointing W+K and their latest spot for TK Maxx that brought a brilliant Christmas twist to their new brand promise.

And how can we forget the ball opener that was Burberry’s trailer-like short about the life of Thomas Burberry? Unfortunately for them and as with all things successful, they seem to be on for unveiling the full feature…

In the mean time, Currys stayed within the reasonable with a humorous take on gifting and House of Fraser built on last year’s musical success. One will note my deliberate move to omit John Lewis’ effort which will, by no doubt given their choice of director, be another tear-jerker that you’ll either love or hate.

Merry Christmas Adland, and keep thinking differently for more than just the Holidays!

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that extra inch.

It’s not every day that a client asks his agency to develop a judging criteria for assessing work. When our lead client recently gave us that task, we felt blessed with the opportunity to educate them and ensure we would all be on the same page when reviewing work. Mind you though, we quickly realised it was easier said than done.

Throughout the process, our planner thought he would establish a parallel between our world and the world of sport. After all, athletes are like work. They happen through a long process that see them constantly try to overachieve themselves, learning through failure and building on success to reach the highest level. A lot fail early on, some manage to break through and only a handful become legends. If you can’t apply this when thinking about work then there might be something wrong in your agency culture.

But if there is one thing you need to take from all this, it’s that we’re all playing a game of inches. I remember Chris Hirst (Grey London‘s ex-CEO) giving a speech about pitching and the fine line between winning and losing. He – conveniently – used a sport metaphor and talked about the results of the final of an Olympics bobsleigh race (disclaimer: it might have been a different sport). The gap between the first and the 10th was probably of less than a second and yet no one remembered anyone past the podium despite of the fact that they were all probably pretty good athletes…

So how can we use this? Going back to pitching, how many times were you asked to completely change the pitch presentation the night before the meeting, because of a change of heart from your ECD? In a game of inches, every little inch will make the difference. 180 has got a smart belief, not being afraid to take a U-turn at any point in the process, instead of forcing itself towards conventional wisdom. And I’m probably not the first one who have had to brief amends on a website design or UX the week before it went live.

So make sure you always go for that extra inch, right up to the last second before the final whistle.

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what’s your mantra?

In an Industry where everyone is relentlessly trying to stand out, my fellow admen will be aware that most agencies in town are using a mantra to differentiate themselves from their competition. So here we are, working on “Real World Communications“, for the “connected age“, with “brave ideas beautifully executed“. These mantras usually shout about an approach, a POV or a methodology. In most agencies they reflect a culture, something that will be applied to everything they do, right from their recruitment policy to the delivery of work.

But really, to what extent do they differentiate from one another? If everyone is trying to say something different then surely no one will end up breaking through that clutter of would-be punchy lines?

Let’s get this straight. Most of them are so obvious they are almost insulting to any sound marketer out there. Who would go to R/GA expecting work that isn’t “for the connected age“? Who would knock at AMV‘s door and wouldn’t expect them to “help solve business challenges with creative ideas that change the competitive landscape“?

Don’t get me wrong, some of them do matter and make you listen. They do when they connect an agency’s strategic approach with its vision. They do when they are remembered over time and have a true purpose. They are defined through the circle of truth. They answer why we do things, why do consumers care about our work and why would a client want to partner with us.

Perhaps another approach would simply be not to have one and define yourself through what eventually matters the most. Your work. Something to think about.

And to wrap your week, here’s a nice little something challenging you to match a mantra to its agency.

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Ad agencies love being the bearer of new trends. It makes us look smarter and more creative, which is eventually what our clients pay us for. So here we all are, inventing never-seen-before advertising techniques such as booking a whole TV ad break, inventing new job titles such as “Junior Senior Account Executive” (meaning they’re running out of excuses not to promote you but that you’re almost there so hang on to it), and even new words such as “Meritocracy”. Ah, that “Meritocracy” word you’ve been hearing at job interviews, during your appraisals, and at your agency’s local pub, while talking about your career with your boss.

The funny thing is that Meritocracy is an existing word that has been introduced by a British Politician. It is defined as:

“A system of government wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon their “merits”, namely intelligence, credentials and education, determined through evaluations or examinations.”


So Meritocracy was first used to refer to governments and agencies decided to extend it to their Industry. It makes sense. After all, an ad agency – like any business entity – works like a government: people at the top taking decisions, people at the bottom actionning (yet another verb invented by ad agencies) theses decisions, with the people at the top rewarding the best – or the ones with most merit – to join them at that top. I have witnessed – directly or through some peers – fair and misleading use of this Meritocracy. For instance, some agencies, with a very blurred and inconsistent appraisals policy, will end up not rewarding their people’s merit as they should. I hear you saying that the reward should not systematically happen after an appraisal – correct, so comes another example. I have countless recollections of people who have been performing above expectations, bringing a true added value to their agency and clients alike but who haven’t been rewarded accordingly. Agencies arguments usually revolve around budget constraints. The funny thing is that, in most cases, these people were eventually being given that reward (promotion or pay rise) when the employee threaten to give their notice.

Budget constraints, client pressure… I think it would be fair to introduce yet another new word: “Clientocracy”. Unfortunately that word also already exists and is also informally used in the world of Politics. Irish 2007 elections candidate Parlon defined the term as:

“Where the select friends of influential parliamentarians get to reap the benefits.”

We could also very well make this definition more relevant to our Industry.

A business entity victim of an unbalanced agency/ client relationship, resulting in making most of its key decisions based on their direct and indirect outcome on that very client.

Yes an agency should always bear its clients in mind when making key decisions, but should it do it to the extent of its people’s careers? In our business, a client is usually paying a yearly fee for a pre-accounted amount of campaigns, that will be provided by a certain amount of people, each at a pre-defined level of seniority and expertise. Therefore, and apart from budget constraints, I don’t see how this would restrain an agency to reward one of its employees’ merit. And even if budget constraints were the issue, then how would you explain that a simple threat of leave would change things? And it works both ways, with another example of an employee being promoted very early (or without merit), because of that same client needs and budget constraints: promoting someone – whether or not he is ready – can be less expensive than hiring a new person at that level. Here again, the client indirectly dictated the promotion, at the expense of that employee’s healthy career (and financial) development.

Just like a true democracy shouldn’t have to yell the fact that it is one, a true agency should be proud of its business and therefore maintain healthy and balanced relationships with its clients for better productivity. It is just against ethic rules to have a client making over 80% of an agency turnover, therefore indirectly dictating each of its business decisions (they may as well acquire and run that agency). Serve your client, but don’t be his slave. And if Clientocracy is definitely a no go, Meritocracy seems to be more used as an excuse to hide the former rather than really rewarding people on their merit. It’s just another utopia – like any word ending up in “cratie”, really.


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