by: Richard Hunt
This is a suggestion that is greeted with cynicism by clients in this country. Often the agencies have only themselves to blame, since they use the phrase without really demonstrating that they can contribute more than advertising proposals. However in Copenhagen we saw some examples. One which seemed to get everybody interested was presented by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, on behalf of their airline client SAS. They described how they had pointed out to SAS that some journeys inside Sweden are just better made by train. Why therefore spend money fighting a major competitor ( SJ -Swedish Railways), why not instead collaborate? So this is what they are now doing. The two companies sell joint tickets for certain routes, and SAS will assist customers if they are delayed by an SJ train, in the same way as if the customer had chosen to fly SAS. The agency presents this as a more ‘transparent’ approach to competiton, which implicitly strengthens SAS advertising claims in other cases, because it is building trust.
Everyone at the AdForum summit was very impressed with this. Some of the local consultants virtually begged the agency to get SAS to take the idea to Danish and Norwegian railways. Others wondered whether, if the idea is a “product” as the agency claims all its ideas are (they are an “ideas factory”) the agency is being properly rewarded for its success..
In fact I had a similar experience in the UK when the national railway company was my client at BMP DDB. One member of the team challenged the agency to help solve a product problem; the bewildering variety of cheap fares, each with their own brand names. We did it! We reduced the system to three types of fare, (Standard, Saver and Supersaver) with a simple colour coded scheme to help people recognise and remember them. We got paid an extra fee for our work, but we really wanted to do a big campaign to tell the country about it. It is instructive to tell what happened next. The marcomms team ‘bought” the campaign and it started. But British Rail was a huge and complex state owned company, under pressure to behave in a competitive way. Around the country individual managers started introducing other special fares, with their own names. Within months our scheme had broken down. Today one of the biggest criticisms of Britain’s privatised railways is the complexity of the fares system.
This tells us two things about how the ‘business partnership’ should work. First of all the agency team needs to have people at the top who are really enthusiastic about the client’s business, and are able to think in business terms rather than just about the advertising. But equally important, the client must be able to ensure that the whole company is ready to implement an idea from the agency. I have found it difficult to bring you evidence from the internet that CP+B’s big idea for SAS and SJ is actually live, and maybe they are running into the same problems we had with British Rail. Nevertheless CP&T’s portal for SAS is an interesting mixture of work the agency does (which you expect) and a news blog covering all aspects of the commercial airline industry that might affect SAS. They have similar portals for other major clients, creating the impression of an agency that is actively aware of all the pressures on a client’s business.
In the end this story comes back to the same old message. The relationship is crucial to the quality of the ideas that come from the agency. The relationship is built around individuals, the top people at an agency and the client company – and not around a nameplate on the door of the agency.