by Gillian Rightford (@grightford) I’ve had a number of requests in the past year from global and local CMOs asking the same thing: “Now that we know we need great creative because it works better, how do we get it?” It’s a question every CEO should be asking, and every CMO answering.

Strategic framework

I’m sure you’re familiar with the strategic framework of defining Where to Play, How to Win, and what capabilities are needed to execute the strategy. Perhaps the other really important question that marketers need to ask is: “How do we play together to win?” In other words, how do we optimise the client-agency relationship so the combined partnership ‘plays’ in a way that generates the best quality commercial creativity?

For recent local and global projects, I’ve been briefed to look at optimising client-agency relationships and applying this to the client’s full eco-system of different agency types, scopes and services, specifically in order to improve the quality of creative output.

When a marketer has a complex ecosystem of agencies with different scopes of work and different deliverables, across different categories and brands and, in some cases, different markets, it’s important to clearly map the ecosystem and how it fits together to make the whole. Not only does this help the flow of work, but it helps in three other areas:

  1. It helps in collaboration — if the other agencies across the eco-system know who’s responsible for other things, it’s easier to work together
  2. It helps define the guardrails and where accountability lies.
  3. It also helps in pitch governance: when and why does anyone on the brand side need to brief or pitch outside of the ecosystem? (Clue: mostly they don’t.)

Need for clarity

Once that’s done, a Ways of Working may be mapped, so everyone clearly understands who does what and when, and who needs to be included when and where. RACSIs may be defined to ensure that the process is clear and that the correct decision-makers are ‘in the room’ at the right time. One of the things that becomes apparent is the need to clarify terminology across the organisation and across agencies (so many terms we bandy about sort of mean the same thing but crystal-sharp clarity is needed for consistency). Most important is the definition and explanation of the “why” and the “what good output of that phase” looks. What the process needs is for the marketing practitioners in the business to buy in to the effectiveness of better work, and clear communication of the ambition, from top leadership, to ensure that the business achieves better creative outputs.

In order to achieve this goal, the key inflection points in the Ways of Working process must be identified: ie those activities that have a material impact on the next steps and the quality of the output. At each of those inflection points, best practice examples and templates, accepted guidelines and, most importantly, the “how-tos” with links to training courses, templates and tools, have to be clarified and communicated.

Briefs are a critical inflection point. Creative evaluation skills and understanding what the business is aiming for, in terms of creative quality, are equally critical. In a large organisation, where many people make these decisions on a daily basis, what criteria are they using to approve or reject creative work? If there’s a research company in the mix, what are its criteria? Is there common ground? Process issues, such as uploading files in the right format for reapplication, may be a small thing but may have enormous knock-on effects in inefficiency, cost control and quality.

Need for consistency

After the need for clarity comes the need for consistency. What’s standing in the way of the consistent application of any agreed Ways of Working? Very often, it’s simply a lack of communication. So many organisations have poor systems for the dissemination of training and institutional knowledge, with years of clever processes and templates and methodologies sitting in people’s hard drives, at best inaccessible when needed and at worst completely forgotten when people leave the organisation. (I was once briefed to develop a X Marketing Way training academy from scratch, when I’d been involved in the building of the same company’s marketing academy a few years before. The new team didn’t even know where to look for the old academy material. What a waste.)

Another reason for inconsistency is a degree of inexperience that leads to non-compliance. Inexperience may be absolute (coming into marketing from another function) but it may also be corporate or category inexperience, so relying on tools and ways of doing things from previous companies or categories. This results in a methodology mishmash: In one company I worked with, every brand and marketing manager had a different briefing template, mostly given to them at some stage by an agency. There was nothing inherently wrong with any of them — they just led to differing inputs that aren’t necessarily the best at inspiring, and getting, great creative work.

The big hairy challenge is how to build compliance in a positive way. Rather than make this a tick-box approach, realise that compliance is aligned to culture, so try to build an understanding through the organisation of why creative work is the goal, why it’s important (again, in case you still don’t believe me, because it’s more effective).

Lean into compliance

The aim is to get people to lean into compliance, rather than be forced into it. Creativity needs air to breathe. In research conducted by Peter Field, he showed a strong correlation between companies awarded Cannes Lions Advertiser of the Year and significantly higher-than-average share price growth in the same period. Why? Because the companies were in a period of innovation across their whole business (source: The Case for Creativity, James Hurman).

Having said that, there are risks and financial implications for non-compliance; for certain key steps, you need a governance and evaluation/measurement system that makes it clear what the metrics are and where the boundaries lie.

Once all of this has been mapped out, the system needs to be constantly communicated and updated. My preference is for a shared portal of some sort that aims to both be a source of tools and methodology, as well as a source for inspiration. It should be living, breathing and frequently accessed, plus refreshed through the sharing and rewarding of great work, great briefs and great case studies from within the company and without. This virtual centre of excellence becomes a place where the agency and client can easily access best practice guidelines but also add to and build expertise across functional lines.


Ultimately, the success of the process, of how the client and agency play together, will be in the success of better work in the market. The win will be if the organisation follows the process, if the process unlocks greater collaboration and better quality creativity, and if that delivers greater results in the marketplace.

It’s hard to see how it can’t win. Mediocrity thrives in chaos. What an exercise like this aims to do is to take inconsistency, lack of clarity, lack of accountability and lack of ambition out of the picture and build in a clear picture of what the process is aiming for.

In times like we’re in and entering into, the relationship and the Ways of Working need to be slick, empowering and delivering greater value in terms of creativity than ever before.


Gillian RightfordIn 2007, Gillian Rightford (@grightford) found Adtherapy to help marketers and agencies produce more-effective commercial creativity through better skills, strategy, processes and relationships. She also builds in-house marketing academies, works with SoloUnion to build strong strategic creative platforms, and lectures at various tertiary institutions.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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