Bringing back the magic
Of the many events, initiatives and programs with which I am involved at MM&M, our Leadership Exchange roundtable sessions have become a personal favorite. It is a thrill to be able to assemble a tight-knit group of empassioned, knowledgeable individuals for an illuminating discussion on a particular set of industry issues.
The first thing to note is that, for any one of these roundtable events, none of the participants really has the time to be there. But you'd never know it, because it almost always feels like there's nowhere else they'd rather be for those 90 minutes.
Second, while the purpose of these gatherings is to invite experts to explore and discuss hot topics, and to create compelling content from the dialogue, if I'm honest it also doubles as a hugely valuable education session for yours truly. And if I've done a good job in recruiting the right participants, I get to fire the starting pistol, sit back and learn.
This month's session on the agency-client relationship was one of the best I can remember. (See Partnering to Prosper for excerpts; or download the e-book from our website for the complete dialogue. ) The passion, the candor, the enthusiasm and the mutual respect across the table were second-to-none, as the group highlighted numerous areas of dysfunction that they felt adversely affect client-agency relationships.
One recurring theme, with which I'm sure many of you are familiar, was the commoditization of agency services. “It used to be that agencies were in a very safe place,” said Matt Brown, general manager, ICC Lowe. “It was about creative. That was the environment. But now the pressures of cost, and of timing, and of different dynamics, have changed the environment for creativity.”
The group noted how most agency-client endeavors now begin with a spreadsheet of costs, and that this impedes the strategic and creative process. Interestingly, at this session, it was an agency exec that brought up the P-word, Janie Rodriguez, senior manager, primary care, OAB marketing, Pfizer. “The whole pitching process is broken from the beginning in the way that it's managed,” she lambasted. “I mean, we have a person that comes from procurement and manages the process… but there's never a true dialogue of what the brand is looking for. It's this very static document that we complete—this is what we want, this is what we need—but there's no context around what we're doing.”
As a result, the group implied, the pitching process and the working relationship often suck the creative life out of the partnership. “Nothing frustrates me more than to sit at a pitch on this side of the fence now, and see nothing but safe, safe, safe,” says Kristin Patton, principal, KBP Associates, on contract at Zogenix. “You have to do a good job, you have to show your client that you heard them, that you're meeting the requisite requirements that were posted to you…but push the envelope, for God's sake. Because, as an agency, that's the only way you're going to stand out.”
Brown even suggests that “We've lost a love for the game.” (“We” referring to the industry, of course and not his agency!) Progress is progress, and things can never quite go back to how they were. That doesn't mean to say that we can't bring some of the magic back to healthcare marketing.
On that note, the first ever Cannes Lions Health Awards and festival of creativity takes place this month, and the timing couldn't be any more perfect. If you're in Cannes, you can catch Matt, myself and other stars of the industry continue the dialogue on the agency-client relationship.