I don’t know if you saw last week’s Campaign supplement that had some of the IPA Excellence Diploma essays in it.
I bet you were too busy to read them, right ?
I remember when I was working full-time as a CD, and I didn’t have time to go to the toilet. It was half-hour meeting followed by half-hour meeting, and the commode got emptied every 2 hours. Some days I got so busy I’d answer my phone with the words of Samuel Beckett “I must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
But that’s Samuel Beckett for you – always going on about something.
However, you really should try to read them. Those essays – and a lot of the others which weren’t published - were amazing. I’m slowly making my way through meeting the authors, because I was knocked out by them.
These are 19 of the brightest people in the industry, who’ve been picked by their agencies to be tutored intensively for a year. These are people who have read all the books their bosses haven’t had time to read. These are people who are reading all the blogs their bosses don’t know how to read.
Let’s not beat about the bush – these are people who are quite probably a damn sight smarter than their bosses.
And they’ve put their thoughts down into finely-crafted and meticulously researched 7,000 word essays.
Their conclusions were massively varied. (Although not one of them said “it’s fine as it is, let’s just keep going” – which, I would argue, is the message quite often being put out by their bosses.)
One of the things which fascinated me was what happened in the face-to-face judging on one of the panels.
When Stephen Woodford lost it completely and rammed a water jug up Moray MacLennan’s … No, I’m joking.
Either that, or hallucinating.
No, what happened was that the judges who worked in agencies (some of the brightest people you’ll ever put in a single room) were very positive and loved the essays. To take some examples at random, they got very excited by thoughts such as how you could exploit data much more imaginatively, how it was more cost-effective to build loyalty programmes than to seek acquisition relentlessly, and how massively important the in-store environment was.
(75% of purchase decisions are made in-store. Think about that for a second, then tell me how many great in-store campaigns you’ve been involved with yourself.)
But the single client on the jury was rather less impressed. This was all stuff that he was doing already, and had been thinking about for ages.
Clients get all this. Or the better ones do, anyway.
But most agencies are still hanging onto a very narrow range of conventional solutions.
One argument has it that conventional agencies have vested interests in keeping conventional solutions going. Put it simply, they’ve got TV departments, so why wouldn’t they sell TV ads ?
Of course the same argument is true of so-called digital agencies. They’ve got web-designers on staff, so why wouldn’t they recommend a website re-design ?
You could argue that, as soon as you staff up like this, you limit the answers you may want to give the client. But the answer, for a client, can lie almost anywhere.
Take Starbucks, for example. I don’t know if they’ve ever done any conventional marketing. I know what they do is spend a lot of money on staff training. So – even though I’m a coffee junkie, and even though I prefer the coffee in Cafe Nero – I love going into Starbucks.
Their staff will recognize you if you go in a few times and remember what you ordered. So they create a great environment.
Staff training could be absolutely the right way to spend your marketing budget.
So could encouraging your staff to blog, or using the budget to improve the environment.
The answer could be a new pack design or a 90-minute feature film.
As Richard Hytner said to me a few months ago, there’s a hidden danger in all this. I.e. in agencies not opening up to offer a wider selection of solutions to clients.
The obvious danger is that clients think even less highly of agencies than they seem to do already, and take their business elsewhere.
The hidden danger is that all those incredibly bright people who wrote the IPA essays, who know all this, and who want to change our industry - are told to get back in their box.
And then they get frustrated and leave the industry.
If any of them are thinking of doing that, I hope they decide instead to start new agencies.