You’re taking snaps of your car to sell it. Perhaps you’ll get the kids to help you upload them to an app. Maybe you’ll try an ad in your local newspaper … if it still exists.
Suddenly a shiny convertible screeches to a halt. The driver leans out and says he can do that for you. He’s in the trade. When you hesitate, he says he knows people in the market for a car like yours and asks if you’d like to meet them.
The answer, of course, is no. And you’d be right. You didn’t ask him to stop. You have no relationship with him. Put simply, you don’t trust him.
Worryingly, there’s increasing evidence to suggest this is how some brands feel about agencies they hire.
In an increasingly complex digital world, with business models evolving constantly, they’re not sure how their money is being spent.
They don’t feel they are getting value. They want more transparency. Put simply, clients see some marketers as the bloke in the soft top … all smoke and wing mirrors.
A few things haven’t helped recently. Agencies gave a collective shudder when The Times revealed advertisements for large companies, universities and charities had appeared on X-rated websites and extremists’ YouTube videos.
Organisations affected included Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover, Waitrose and Marie Curie. Google told The Times they removed videos that broke the rules and programmatic advertising and intermediaries were blamed.
But last year, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard called out the “non-transparent media supply chain”. And Stephan Loerke, CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers, said the “levels of abdication of ownership of the digital space by some clients is shocking”.
There are industry-wide initiatives aimed at tackling the problem of brand safety, fraudulent traffic and viewer verification, with groups set up to define best practice.
And they are needed. A recent Guardian investigation found that when it tried to spend £1 on digital advertising on its own site, by the time it had been through all the systems it delivered just 30p in ad space!
Meanwhile, Pritchard’s Procter & Gamble announced at the beginning of the year that it would halve its agency roster by the end of 2018.
It’s part of a process that saw it “open sourcing” creative needs in 2016.
As brands move to eliminate waste across channels, their message is clear. They are more likely to end relationships with agencies because of “lack of value” rather than fees or cost overruns.
It’s not about how much they pay but how much they get in return.
All of the above paints a challenging picture but agency life has always been about adapting and there are steps they can take to demonstrate trust in them is not misplaced.
Traditionally they’ve been good at measuring hours, budgets and ROI – but have left trust to intuition.
A more structured approach could help improve relationships.
Perhaps that features formal “trust reviews” where pitfalls, such as “differing visions” or “stale relationship” are identified, labelled and measured.
Maybe it’s time for agencies to appoint “trust guardians” to monitor and manage these areas.
It could be worth the investment.
As new pressures weigh on brands, the need for high-return, innovative marketing increases.
Successful partnerships will be those where both sides stretch each other to make thoughtful, compelling and sometimes even daring work.
And trust enables partners to make those bold decisions quickly. Trust creates efficiency while lack of trust has been likened to an additional business tax.
It’s a challenge for those agencies used to measuring more tangible KPIs and they may need a culture shift to prosper.
The currency of trust is invaluable in a world of real-time marketing.
By pouring energy into a project rather than wasting it eyeing each other warily across a conference table, both sides will maximise ROI. The team at JJ feels nuanced, peer-to-peer conversations between partners are the best way to meet brands’ ever more complex requirements.
They believe sclerotic marketers who like to set the agenda without “interference”, will struggle.
Agencies will need to prove they have certain skill sets within their teams and can be a cultural fit with other companies.
And they will need to be transparent about data.
Transparency will make them shine.
One thing a good agency can offer is balance.
When companies bring their marketing in-house there’s a danger projects can suffer from group think. This was an accusation levelled at Pepsi last year. Its Kendall Jenner ad based on social protests was labelled tone deaf.
JJ believes full funnel marketing best suits buyer behaviour in a modern world.
Good funnel marketing gives a brand the opportunity to show consumers what it believes, what it values and how it can help them.
In a world choked with digital exhaust it should be a rich, personalised experience that helps a client prove it understands its customers’ passions – and pain points – and can provide a solution for them.
The internet has changed the marketplace for ever but, at heart, we all still crave a little bit of the shopkeeper leaning over the counter. Someone who knows us.
As for the guy in the soft top … he can jog on.
Paul Hudson is a journalist with many years’ experience in the automotive sector. Here at JJ, we can only agree with what Paul writes. We always offer transparency in client relationships. It’s only natural you’ll want to know how every pound is spent, and, more importantly, the impact this has on business performance. We don’t mark-up media spend, we always make our clients aware of our targeting plans and the platforms we use, keeping a close eye on how they use our client’s data. We understand that transparency is a key part of the evaluation process when appointing an agency – and we continue to keep the lines of communication open between ourselves and our clients.