NEW YORK General Electric's Judy Hu knows that cutbacks at roster agencies mean "fewer people, which generally speaking means fewer ideas." But her company's needs haven't changed. GE still demands breakthrough work at breakneck speed.
"We're driving [roster shops] a lot harder," acknowledged Hu, global executive director of advertising and branding, during a client panel discussion at the recent Mirren New Business Conference in New York. "Faster, leaner, meaner. We used to have 10 weeks for [creative] development. This time, we gave a week and a half."
So how, exactly, are agencies keeping up? Beyond working longer hours, they're traveling to fewer meetings, sending fewer, more senior executives to such meetings, teleconferencing when appropriate and generally embracing new ways of operating, according to industry leaders.
"At times like this, what you have to do with your clients is reassess what the priorities are," said Andrew Robertson, worldwide CEO of BBDO, GE's lead creative shop. "What are the things that add greatest value for the client? ... Agree on those."
Some agencies, for example, no longer provide overviews on the advertising and media tactics of a client's competitors or, at least, do them less frequently. Many clients already have research on such topics in-house, explained Steve Harty, chairman of Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York.
And to avoid mistakes in the current fast-paced environment, some shops have turned to project management to better track and facilitate workflow from brief to execution, said Nancy Hill, CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
Still, the stress and strain of a longer, more work-intensive day-often without an increase in the agency fee-creates a "tough situation on both sides," said TBWA worldwide CEO Tom Carroll. "You want to give your clients as much service as possible. ... You want to be as reliable as you've always been. But then there are the realities that you have to pay people and there are only so many hours in the day."
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