Realising the potential of collaboration

The author contends that as traditional models are flipped, agencies are scrambling to justify their own existence, unwilling to put consumer interest before their own

Aug 12, 2013 02:32:00 PM | Article | Toby Southgate Share - Share to Facebook

I was listening to the great Dave Trott speak recently. You might think such an estimable ECD feels creative departments are the most important and crucial element to agency success. Who hasn’t cursed a maverick creative for being a law unto themselves?

I suppose it’s in the nature of the marketing industry. It’s much more comforting to believe it’s an art, not a science. Art belies talent and opacity, rather than definitive formulas for success. When a brilliant creative campaign launches to great acclaim, each party with a vested interest seeks disproportionate ownership. Ego takes over.

But Sir Dave is no egotist. He’s been successful because he sets aside ego, and understands that a collective should be greater than the sum of its parts. In advertising, he knows that everyone has a role – the account man, the creative, and the planner: The suit, the artist, the thinker. Meanwhile, media is supposed to cut through the BS and remind everyone that it’s all about the guy on the street.

The point is simple. On your own you might be good, but when you pool insight and pool talent, that’s when you create something worthwhile. This applies equally to the brands looking to engage with people, and the agencies helping them do it.

In a world where customer journeys are becoming more complex and less linear, it’s increasingly difficult to identify the ‘moments of truth’ when people make decisions about whether or not to engage with a brand. The desire to put channels first – media, social, technology, application - is inherently flawed. None of these work nor are effective in isolation. Agencies of all creeds and colours say this and agree. Very few act and behave as if they really believe it.

Great ideas are no longer successful through placements on ITV during Coronation Street, waiting, sitting back and seeing what 15 million people will do as a result. The landscape has changed, and consumers are now challenging brands. They’re forcing social networks to change policies on the spot; they’re forcing global brands to pull campaigns because they don’t agree with the premise. They’re voting with their feet and boycotting companies whose ethical practices fall below their expectations.

Let’s forget ‘brands’ altogether for the moment, and the industry’s preoccupation with how they choose to communicate with people. That in itself is the real antiquated approach. Our view on the world as humans is entirely shaped by the personal, positive and negative experiences we encounter throughout our lives. The more experiences we have, the broader, stronger and better informed our opinions become.

Jeremy Bullmore said "consumers build an image as birds build nests. From the scraps and straws they chance upon". Proactive outreach - let’s call it classic ATL comms - will always have value. But these birds will always find new ways to acquire scraps and straws. They’re resourceful little things. They’re agile. They’re often one step ahead of us.

Fundamental truth

The increasingly fundamental truth all marketers need to understand is that brands exist in every single moment of interaction they have with any given individual. In every product, platform, package, uniform, interface, database, architectural space, answerphone message or carefully crafted 140 characters. It’s not a gimmick to be sold as a product. It’s a fact of life. Brands can only create positive impressions if they are able to ensure that these moments are consistently engaging, surprising, compellingly human, positive and mutually beneficial.

It’s understandable that it may be difficult to know where to turn, particularly with more discipline-specific experts popping up to deftly manage a Twitter feed, build a brilliant app, or apply the principles of NLP to packaging to achieve subconscious shelf-standout. Naturally we want to know everything about the latest trends turning consumer heads too. But true marketing intelligence and success comes not only from the quest for knowledge, but from collaboration.

This principle works at every level. The social media team needs to be linked to the call centre. The creative agency developing the ATL campaign needs to be linked to the field teams and in-store staff. The CEO (a channel in his/her own right) needs to be linked to everything to ensure the strategic message isn’t compromised. Brands no longer need these specialists working in isolation. They need integrated teams to manage the brand on as broad a spectrum as appropriate, as efficiently as possible.

While it’s a simple concept, it’s not a simple task for a marketplace that thrives on competition. As traditional models are being flipped, we find countless agencies scrambling to justify their own existence, unwilling to put the consumer’s interest or experience of a brand before their own.

Today’s world offers us more chance for collaboration and partnerships than ever before. It’s possible now for us to work with people based all over the world, in real time, in perfect harmony. The onus lies on us to leave aside the self-interest and realise the true potential of collaboration, for we really are greater than the sum of our parts.

Collaboration drives new and different thinking. All agencies need to remember that the work is the client’s, and getting to the great answer is why we’re all here. How we do it is changing. It sorely needs to. Egos aside please, blinkers off, and let’s get on with making and implementing great ideas rather than protecting our own patches. 

Toby Southgate, CEO, The Brand Union, UK and Ireland

(This article first appeared on


D&AD 2014 beckons; ‘Tactical Advertising’ among 12 new categories

9 years ago| article

D&AD 2014 beckons; ‘Tactical Advertising’ among 12 new categories
Titan Industries rebrands, turns Titan Company

9 years ago| article

Titan Industries rebrands, turns Titan Company
‘The big ad ideas are amazingly disposable’: Simon Bolton

9 years ago| article

‘The big ad ideas are amazingly disposable’: Simon Bolton