Q Are Agencies Different and Should They Be?

I enjoyed Matt Thornhill’s “Wild Pitch” [A&C, May 6], and he’s right—agencies are bad at differentiation. We see that here at Agency.com, having read and activated more than 29,000 online agency essays and case histories. But maybe it’s asking the impossible. With more than 30,000 U.S. agencies and 16,300 public relations firms, can we expect each of them to be unique, and should they be?

We find differentiation shows up in the style of work agencies produce, their strategy of production, team personality and location. There’s little need to put spin on any of that. As long as each agency can articulate these attributes, clients will see the difference.

Kaille Padgett
Manager, agency relations
New York

A New Plan for Account Planning

A s I read Mark Thompson’s perspective in his article “Disappearing Act” [April 8], it was easy to see why leading agencies may downsize their planning staff and planning offering. Agencies that offer only veiled insights and tout proprietary processes as justification for planning will never see a healthy return on their investment, nor should they. Which is why we have transitioned traditional planning into a profitable discipline.

An “insight”-driven approach will render attitudinal-based communications. In today’s economic environment, where clients are being held more accountable for the dollars they spend, this will not suffice. A dual objective of building brands and impacting the bottom line is common, so it becomes harder to justify the cost and sell planning to management if measurement of results (and return on investment) is based solely on awareness and perception-based methods. Agencies must not only have the will to move the needle, they must prove the movement, and this is where planning plays a major role.

The answer: integrate planning into the overall communications strategy applied to a client’s brand. As the environment has changed around us, we have a responsibility to change how we manage communications. Planning needs to be done holistically. It needs to consider all the disciplines and execute in a media-neutral environment where advertising creative is not the only consideration (or benefactor).

When planning is part of the fabric of the client’s entire brand, it then can combine the attitudinal (qualitative) and the behavioral (quantitative) parts of a consumer’s relationship with a brand. Done at this level, the planning process will generate bigger strategic ideas that build relationships with customers and have bigger market impact.

That is when planning pays for itself and when planning is at the center of all communications—advertising, public relations, promotions, direct response, interactive, etc. This is how we are successfully using planning, and why our clients are asking for it and are willing to pay for it.

Planning isn’t dead, it just needs to catch up with the changes in how consumers are digesting communications and the way in which communication needs to evolve. We as communicators have to shed the old industry models and reinvent to leverage the most valuable parts of our communications process. Planning is still one of those.

Stacey Paynter
Publicis Dialog
San Francisco

Blurring the Line Between Advertising and Content

I read Neilan Tyree’s article on advertiser content and product placement [April 8] twice, thinking I missed something in its glib text. I didn’t.

What is becoming clear to me is that no one is really thinking about the “content and advertiser” relationship correctly. This is less about media and advertising and more about messaging.

Advertising guys are trying to equate placement with impressions, promotions people are evaluating the retail component, and sponsorship folks are thinking about brand image. All three are separate and distinct and are managed accordingly. Moreover, each discipline employs desperate metric models to measure success. However, when it comes to product placement, there is a fuzzy overlap that is blurring almost everyone’s vision.

The links connecting these disciplines, driven in part by technology, consumer multitasking acceptance and the fusion of media, is a function of being able to accept the fact that a brand is the measure of its message. In today’s consumer-centric world, advertising has lost its authority to be the messenger. Moreover, its attempts to do so are becoming less reliable, less affordable and less intrusive. Pushing has been replaced by consumers pulling out of culture and media what they want to hear, see and read.

Entertainment content, not advertising, has become the authority to set not just an American identity for a brand culture, but a global cultural agenda. It’s time for Madison Avenue to reinvent its function and access its place in the convergence of content and communication by learning to cross-process all of these disciplines.

Ken Markman
KKM Enterprises
Global Brand Strategies

Los Angeles