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Best New Thinking Winner 2010


The client’s brow was furrowed. All this talk of giving our customers content is all very well but it sounds very expensive. We haven’t got anything at the moment that we could provide. There was a long silence in the room. All I could hear was the sound of the agency execs salivating…

And why not? Agencies manufacture content. Now that we’ve been beaten back on the commission front its what we get paid to do. Only there’s a few issues.

Firstly the amount of content a client needs to provide their customers has gone through the roof. Time was when you had a sleepy customer service department who typed bespoke letters which offered condolences but explained it wasn’t really the client’s fault. Now every pack carries at least a telephone number and a helpline. The website needs to be updated daily and the multiplication of communication channels has meant that just to maintain a presence the client’s PR function is in perpetual overdrive.

Secondly the kind of content most agencies manufacture is strictly one-off. Agency takes a brief – a brace of account handlers massage the client, an account planner rationalises the communication strategy, pair of creatives think about it, the aforementioned account handlers massage it in, then an army of people make it, a small platoon of media people place it a few times. AND THEN IT GETS THROWN AWAY. Faberge eat your heart out. Not even the most conspicuous consumers of luxury brands would dream of disposing of the trophies they have paid a fortune for. In fact there’s a healthy resale market. Of course the wonderful thing about integration is that the client pays extra for a matching set. It usually doesn’t mean that the content gets used for any longer period of time. At present the whole remuneration system is designed to make agencies fool their clients into making stuff that has almost immediately to be thrown away.

Thirdly partly as a consequence of point one, clients already have quite a lot of content kicking around their organisation. Only the marketing function doesn’t often produce it themselves and doesn’t know where it is. Federal Express got a strategic advantage when somebody worked out that their internal system of tracking packages was quite useful to their customers – so useful in fact that they would stop ringing up every 5 minutes and asking where their packages had got to. This wasn’t just good customer service – though of course it was very good service. It was content information if you will kicking around the organisation which the customer wanted.

In the last 12 months I have found a 4×4 car marque with an owners club which was begging to be given to a TV producer to some reality TV with – so capable of delivering hours of programming. In the light of which why was it that the agency kept on banging on about making ads? I remember a babyfood brand whose single customer care adviser loved her job so much that when she left the office at the end of the day she went home and wrote booklets about childcare. Books which the company never paid her for and which they never really marketed. They were too busy trying to work out how to fund the advertising…

So dear punters 3 action points for you:

Firstly don’t think ads or mailpacks think content. Your client needs more of it than you can possible make.

Secondly make content that is reusable – copy that can be used on the website, a mailing leaflet you can adapt for point of sale. My good friend the creative Chas Bayfield has written a Ladybird book in his time – for the client – the BBC who wanted to promote understanding of the internet. Don’t please don’t let the creatives get away with all those awful hack ideas for TV scripts. Brief them to come up with a TV programme. A series even. I saw a promo for digital radio last week for RAB which points out that it is possible for a client to virtually own a digital radio station. Or a cable channel. Help them do it.

Thirdly become a content hunter – get good at sniffing it out from inside the client organisation. There’s an awful lot of it but most of it is awful. The biggest issue is that there is so much duplication. 4-5 different sets of writers and designers have commissioned artwork – written some purple passages – do your clients a favour and write them a content origination strategy and charge them for it.

All of which leads on to my last point. You have to get the client to stop paying you for one offs and start paying for how the content is used and what difference it makes. Ad agencies used to make a small fortune mass marketing for their clients using the wonderful mechanic of the commission system. Agencies are being reduced to (well I won’t call it poverty but it is pitiful by comparison with the glorydays) blagging their way into making promotional materials, trying to dispose of them as fast as possible then blagging their way into making some more. We’ve been rumbled! If you make content that is resuable then you are saving your client money. If you create content that is consumed tens of thousands of times and measurably makes your client money then you are entitled to be paid for it. I predict that the agencies that master content will begin once again to make their fortune. Adboys beware.






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