Indy Ad Exec: Why ad agencies don’t collaborate
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) For centuries, humans have achieved more collectively than would have been possible individually. From running down prey in the days of the caveman to building the Egyptian pyramids, our very existence, as well as our pinnacle achievements, has largely been a result of collaboration.
Why then, in this day and age, in one of the most innovative fields of the economy, are advertising agencies averse to collaborating with their peers? And, given the right circumstances, what amazing new results could be achieved through effective partnering?
No, not you
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us acknowledge that there are indeed some ad agencies (more globally than locally) that have championed incredibly successful collaborative partnerships across brands, and sometimes even across borders.
I’m sure we’ll continue to look to you for advice on what to do and avoid any demonstrated acts of what not to do. Needless to say, you’re still ahead of the game.
Brand collaboration works
We’ve seen excellent examples of collaboration between compatible brands that have accelerated their marketability significantly.
From no-brainer brand-to-brand initiatives to brand-celebrity partnerships such as H&M’s insanely successful Stella McCartney line, there is no question that co-creation can produce more desireable outcomes. And, in the creative fields, look no further than Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk to prove that mixing genres and create fresh new sounds have grown their cachet.
So back to our question: how come advertising agencies haven’t kept pace when it comes to co-creation?
Fear at the heart
The collaboration debate comes down to a single factor: fear.
Let us not forget that agencies are largely direct competitors focused on their own growth and success. There are processes, intellectual property and cultural nuances specific to each agency that provides them their competitive advantage, and which they therefore naturally seek to protect. Given this, all too often marketers fail to appreciate the gravity of what they are asking their agencies to do when requesting collaboration.
Imagine Nike inviting adidas over to its innovation lab for a workshop on trying to produce a better running shoe? On one hand, it sounds ludicrous while, on the other, the imagination starts to flow… the results could be spectacular. But, no, we don’t expect that meeting to happen soon.
And so you may equally begin to understand why traditionally agencies, given the choice, would rather focus inwardly than open their doors to their competitors.
Marketers create the right factors
Fear aside, given a suitable set of circumstances aimed at fostering the achievement of a shared goal, one can expect better, more-cohesive thinking than through individual effort alone.
Marketers have an enormous responsibility in creating this framework, which starts with addressing the elephant in the room — who gets paid. For naturally effective collaboration, everyone should get paid. Yes, everyone.
Loss of income is the root cause of any agency hesitancy around co-creation. The rest flows naturally from this: the creation of a shared vision, support processes, role clarification, accountabilities, output expectations and so on.
Given the natural evolution of communication servicing structures, while recognising it isn’t for everyone, the majority of agencies are posed with an exceptional opportunity to break the mould and truly own collaboration. To put on a pair of big-girl pants, to take the direct approach and lead both clients and agency partners — for there are no half measures when it comes to collaboration — either you’re in or you’re out.
To my mind, it is not only an opportunity but also a responsibility, given the rapid pace of change in the industry and the continually depleting value extraction agencies are currently faced with.
Without a significant readjustment, we will more likely be victims to a predictable future than pioneers of a new age in creativity. And that is something I personally am far more fearful of.
With a decade of local and international experience in leading independent brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of independent agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of MACHINE.
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