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John McGee: Agencies and clients must get creative on trust issues

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'With consumer trust in advertising at a low, adland needs to do more.'  (stock photo)

'With consumer trust in advertising at a low, adland needs to do more.' (stock photo)

'With consumer trust in advertising at a low, adland needs to do more.' (stock photo)

As most relationship or marriage guidance counsellors will tell you, very often there are two sides to every story and, in many cases, both of them are right.

It's probably fair to say, however, that most marriage guidance counsellors would struggle to understand the nature of the relationship between advertisers and the marketing communications agencies they use, given the many intricacies and changing market dynamics that have unfurled in recent years. While there's plenty of talk about the need for greater partnerships and collaboration, like any relationship, a lot of hard work, understanding and compromises are needed to make it work. And even then, it's by no means guaranteed.

So how do Irish advertisers in general feel about their relationship with the Irish agencies that create, plan and buy advertising on their behalf? And what advice do they have for them?

A recent opinion poll among some of Ireland's top advertisers which was carried out by the Association of Advertisers in Ireland (AAI) - the representative organisation for Irish advertisers - makes for interesting reading and mirrors many of the concerns expressed by advertisers internationally.

Some of the more interesting feedback revolved around the need for agencies to shake things up a bit as the whole marketing communications industry worldwide is changing rapidly. The increased power of digital platforms like Google and Facebook has had an immense impact on the market while the arrival of so-called 'cagencies' like Accenture Interactive - which acquired Rothco late last year - has also added an intriguing dimension.

Because of this, "agencies need to respond to this and define the role they play going forward", according to one Irish advertiser.

The much-debated issue of integration is also a concern for some marketers.

"I would like them to respond with one full plan/proposal, and in order to deliver on this, agencies need to be fully integrated," said another.

A key aspect of any functioning and healthy relationship has to involve a greater understanding of the advertiser's business and the many business challenges it faces. Unfortunately, not all agencies get this.

"It's so important that agencies really immerse themselves in the client's business and fully understand their targets, objectives and challenges," is the view of another advertiser. "Without doing this they can't develop the best communications and creative strategy to help support the business. I think sometimes, though not always, you find agencies focus on developing the best creative in terms of design, which is great, but if they don't fully understand your business and challenges at that time, then they might be missing the mark."

Allied to this is the need for agencies to maintain a degree of continuity in terms of the agency team servicing the account, a common complaint among many advertisers. For many, it can be frustrating having new people - some of whom may not be up to speed - joining a client service team mid-campaign.

Advertisers polled by the AAI also expressed the need for agencies to ensure they are taking a holistic view of their campaigns and not just big, costly and profitable TV campaigns.

"It is not all about TV and the big production. The idea needs to work across all media, in particular digital and VOD," was the opinion of another advertiser.

Another cited "an obsession for creatives in creating films rather than figuring out the most effective platform for connecting with consumers. Even if/when TV is the right medium, there has to be a greater understanding that it is, at best, a 30-second entertaining/educational sales pitch," said the advertiser.

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With consumer trust in advertising at a low, adland needs to do more. "Bravery in creative is required and it will need to be more challenging if it is to achieve cut-through," opined another advertiser. "Where is the quality control for our industry? Most advertising work produced is awful or at least ineffectual, so why do we expect the industry to grow and be respected? We've got to be harder on ourselves," was the opinion of another AAI member.

Some of the more perennial issues and gripes raised by members include the need for more transparency, particularly from media agencies when it comes to programmatic costs.

Creative agencies also need to come clean about what has and has not been outsourced to third-party service providers. Other advertisers also believe that many agencies are over-stating their digital capabilities and, as a result, are forced to outsource. And others say that current agency remuneration model is no longer fit for purpose.

All of this feedback suggests that a degree of trust has broken down within the relationship between clients and their agencies. This lack of trust, however, is a common theme in other markets. And while there are indeed two sides to every story, in this case, it's hard to escape the fact that he who pays the piper calls the tune.


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