New Zealand Marketing
GOT TO BE IN TO WIN
MATT WEST offers first-hand experience on what pitches look and feel like for agencies right now. Having been through six in the past five months, we’d say he’s well equipped to provide such insights.
Pitching is the best and worst part of this job. [At Eightyone] we’re three from six. It’s not a bad strike rate, but it’s nothing to crow about. Two of the times we chose not to pitch creative, even though we were asked to. Both times it backfired and we lost.
The other one we lost was fair cop. The better team won, although I maintain we were robbed! No, it was fair, agnostic and didn’t strain the resources of our shop.
It was for Te Pūkenga and required a 15-page — max — document and a one-hour presentation on capability. The clients were open, helpful and relaxed in the presentation. We were gutted to not get it, but okay with the outcome, mainly because it was a straight-up chemistry and capability thing, and although clients who ‘understand’ are very much out there, there are plenty who don’t, and here’s why:
• If you read any contemporary book on advertising, or speak to an advertising sage — of which there are still plenty
— you tend to hear the same thing: pitches are won and lost before the process has begun. Clients tend to know who they want to work with before the expensive and frustrating dog-and-pony show kicks off.
• This calls into question why clients simply don’t appoint who they wanted in the first place. I guess there’s a fear there may be something else out there they haven’t seen, or a methodology that’ll radically change their business. Note: they don’t exist – it’s all to do with people and smarts, not methodologies, but on the whole, they end up going with the people that they thought they would.
THE PROCESS IS BROKEN
Yep, it sure is. What other industry gives away its best thinking and core product for free for a one-in-four chance of working with the client? And when they win, it’s not exactly the land of milk and honey like in media-commission days. It’s tough graft, like it probably should be.
If I were a client, would I be tempted to put a rocket up the agency and put it out to pitch, set some innovative thinking and ideas for free and beat up the incumbent on price? Yeah, probably. Having lived on this side of the fence, I know I wouldn’t, but I can see how tempting it’d be, particularly if you didn’t understand what goes into a pitch.
AND ANOTHER THING!
If you say, “Give us a top-line concept”, you don’t really understand how this advertising thing works. You have to go to the end in order to come back to the start. You have to think through a brand platform idea so you see it three, four, five years down the track to have something that’ll solve your problem. This takes time, so asking for this depth of work, currently disguised as ‘a few ideas’, is the equivalent of asking for a someone’s hand in marriage on the first date. But if they say yes, you may not be asking — it’s like Form Two all over again.
We always ask the question: Why is it up for pitch? And the answer to this is all important. If the client isn’t happy, you’ve got a chance; if it’s part of the Government’s three-year cycle, then not so much. We need as much info as possible up front to make the right call. I often find that the process is unnecessarily secretive. To continue the dating/relationship theme, it’s like they’ve taken off their wedding ring for the date. Let’s not waste anyone’s time. If the agency is crushing, it’s best we stop bitching about pitching and invest in the ones who already love you.
On the flipside, one-off ideas may work in the short term, but the advertising that really moves markets tends to be relationships that have built over time. I have little more to back that up than my own gut feel, but I think of Spark and Colenso, Waka Kotahi and Clems, 2 Degrees and TBWA, Toyota and Saatchi’s, PAK’NSAVE and FCB, Macca’s and DDB, Powershop and Eightyone. They’re great relationships
“If you say, ‘Give us a top-line concept’, you don’t really understand how this advertising thing works. You have to go to the end in order to come back to the start. This takes time.”
in which both parties are respected and contribute.
I like to think of it like this: the best relationships are like a game of tennis. You need each other — client and agency — to have a great game. It’s a rubbish game if you hit the ball over the net and it doesn’t come back. The client needs to know what good looks like, to trust, to take a chance, to defend it internally. The agency needs to understand the client, assess their ambition correctly, push when appropriate, ease up when not.
SO WHERE TO?
One would think that a savvy client should be able to look hard at the agency’s expertise, past work, case histories, culture and a couple of conversations to make a decision.
It can’t be more than that, surely?
Other than that, if you really want to see an agency at full noise, doing what they do, pay them! It’s not that hard. Give them $20,000 or whatever and get them to give it a hundy. They’ll go well beyond the money.
Until us agencies get our act together and get united on this, I can’t really see it changing.
I have plenty of hope in Simon Lendrum though, the new head of the Communications Council. I see the Comms Council helping clients by recommending agencies based on size, capability and expertise. That may be down the road, but there’s an obvious role there for them in this. Then maybe, just maybe, pitching will go back to the exhilarating, adrenaline-filled extravaganza that it should be.
Matt West is Managing Director of Eightyone.
The evolution of the advertising industry is constant. For years now, the big multinationals have bought, merged and sold agencies like chess pieces on a chess board. At some time in our career, we’ve probably all been a benefactor or a victim of these seemingly random moves.
The latest evolution in New Zealand is from one of the ‘big boys’ of the consultancy world, Accenture, who along with KPMG and Deloitte have for some time been increasingly looking to acquisitions in their quest to move down the food chain and into the execution sandpit where agencies have traditionally played, presumably to bolster earnings and encircle their client base. The purchase of The Monkeys by Accenture in 2017 and the subsequent opening of an office in Auckland is the latest trans-tasman example of many around the world.
So what effect does this have on smaller, independent agencies like us? Well, it’s two-fold. On one hand, it exacerbates salary inflation in an already tight labour market, and on the other, it widens the gap between how a multinational agency and an independent can operate.
What do we mean by that last statement? As agencies become more corporatised, they’re at the mercy of policies made from afar. Covid-19 is the perfect example. There are many CEOS and higher-ups in our big agencies that bemoan the dictums from New York, London and Paris when the Covid effect had yet to be fully realised in New Zealand. The almighty dollar and the sacrosanct bottom line were to be respected at all costs, no matter what impact that had on employees in far-off local markets.
[Chemistry] being an independent agency, we had far more flexibility, and that allowed us to choose how we dealt with Covid’s impact. For us, it meant keeping all staff on full pay and working bloody hard to grow the business in the face of a crisis. And it worked!
During the 2020 and 2021 financial years, we grew our bottom line by 30 percent, added new clients and new staff, expanded our office and upgraded all our technology to ensure we had work flexibility when lockdowns occurred in the future.
The effect on staff was palpable. They were knocking down the door to get back in when each of the long lockdowns was over, while we saw a lot of our clients continue to work from home, either by choice or dictate.
To ensure we remain relevant in the face of an increasingly competitive marketplace, we’ve focussed on four key business pillars: creative product, evolving our business practices, nurturing staff and diversifying with complementary services. We believe this is what will continue to develop and entrench our position in the market, a position that doesn’t look to fight against the multinationals or consultancies, but instead focuses on what we can do for our clients, how we can do better as an agency and how we can grow our people.
We want to be known and respected for the quality of our work. It’s the most visible thing we have and, ultimately, we exist to join up strategic thinking and creativity
to deliver tangible business results for our clients.
We’re not doing too badly, either. Case in point: our recent Jaguar campaign, ‘Painting With Light’. Through experimentation and a team up for a challenge, we created a world-first piece of art ‘painted’ by the lights of the Jaguar ipace. The result was a true demonstration of Jaguar’s brand positioning, ‘ The Art of Performance’, and achieved nationwide media coverage.
Yet we know we can achieve more. We’ve invested heavily in our creative resources recently, so we’re well placed to take advantage of our innovative strategic thinking in partnership with our clients.
At Chemistry, we’re always keen to find better ways to do things. We see the social media space as an evolving sector that’s ready for a little disruption, making this one of the fastest-growing areas of our business.
Although there are many great social agencies and media companies in the market using social in various ways, we’ve found a methodology that unlocks the power of social to drive awareness to consideration and then into purchase. A great example of this is the work we’ve done with Leaderbrand. The use of Facebook Instant Experiences not only gives us 30 to 45 seconds of engagement (which in the social space is a hell of a long time), but also amazing click-through rates due to the creative’s innovative design. Because we can completely customise IES, we can put together engaging and beautiful video and/or imagery with clickable links just about everywhere, which really incentivises users to spend time engaging with the creative and click through frequently. Being able to add links to send users through to an e-commerce site to purchase products pretty much nails all elements of the sales funnel in one piece of creative, and our constant dynamic optimisation ensures we’re always maximising our ROI.
We all know that in an IP industry like ours, our people are our lifeblood, so protecting our business from disruption and the cost of staff churn is essential. We’ve found that the best way to do this is to ensure all staff are fully invested in the brand and relish being on the journey with us. This requires a lot of time, effort and communication.
The multinationals are bribing Kiwis with inflated salaries for, in our view, second-best careers. In the face of this monetary inflation, we’ve doubled down on our people by investing in the best and brightest straight out of tertiary education and training them ourselves. We’ve restructured client service to prioritise leadership time being spent on one-on-one training that helps to develop strategic leadership while reorganising the wider business to ensure we have our eyes firmly on creativity that works, organic client growth and business-led innovation.
People are key, but diversifying the business with complementary services has also been vital. In February 2020, we purchased Metroexp. We saw the potential to create a portfolio of brands that complement each other and allow the overall business to be more productive and grow. However, what we didn’t see coming was Covid and the effect it would have on the events business, a big part of Metroexp’s portfolio. Overnight, turnover dropped by 40 percent.
Undeterred and confident in a longerterm future, we’ve fought hard to bring Metroexp back. Focusing on its full suite of video production services, Metroexp can now turn around everything from a six-second video to a full multi-day TVC shoot cost-effectively and quickly, making them the perfect partner for Chemistry and an agency that thrives on being nimble. We’ve now seen the business grow from two to six staff, and to much stronger than pre-pandemic financials.
As independent agency owners, it’s our obligation to continue to look forward, grow and invest in our people, and look beyond the effects of Covid to a time when the world becomes a bit more like it was. Positioning Chemistry and its sister company Metroexp for that future is the job we have today.
For more on what Chemistry has achieved and where it’s headed, visit chemistry.co.nz.
“We need to be aware of industry changes and trends, but not so fixated on them that we don’t steer our own course.”