How to Be a Better Client

Bacardi CMO Shares Agency Advice From Simon Clift

To Enhance Her Company's Relationships With Shops, Silvia Lagnado Turned to Her Former Unilever Boss for Tips

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Silvia Lagnado
Silvia Lagnado

Bacardi Global Chief Marketing Officer Silvia Lagnado puts a premium on having good relationships with her agencies. Yet Ms. Lagnado, who took the post in 2010 after a lengthy career at Unilever, always sees room for improvement.

"The quality of your leadership and the quality of your relationship with the agencies makes a huge difference, and I don't think we are as good as we need to be here," she said.

To get some advice, she invited former Unilever CMO Simon Clift to talk to her team at Cannes last year. Mr. Clift, who conducts similar seminars for McDonald's marketing managers in various countries, shared his major points with Ad Age . A few are listed here, along with observations from Ms. Lagnado:

The process by which the work will be briefed, developed and judged is laid out in advance, understood and agreed by all the parties.
A client allowing senior marketing executives to swoop in at the end of a campaign's development can complicate things for the agency, Ms. Lagnado said. She empowers Bacardi's global brand managers to make all decisions. "Be clear, not just to [the] agency but internally in the business, who ... will make the call," she advised. It doesn't mean the brand leader won't consult with senior executives, she added, but "the brand manager still makes the call."

Simon Clift
Simon Clift Credit: Jason Alden

The brief is tightly focused on a single primary objective.
Ms. Lagnado encourages her agencies to "push back if the brief isn't good and take co-ownership of making it good." It is one of the main areas where agencies let her down, she said. "They accept a poor brief. They should know even better than we do, because it's their business to do creative work. And they know how much more powerful it is to do work to a great brief."

The brief targets a measurable business result based on consumer behavior change.
Good briefs can be written on just one page, including the business objective, consumer target , behavior change sought and key message, Ms. Lagnado said. "Most creative people just have no patience for anything much longer than that ," she added.

The criteria for judgment, including the specific role of qualitative and quantitative testing, are agreed upon upfront.
If an agency pushes back on testing methods or results "we listen ... but the decision is ours in the end," said Ms. Lagnado. "Part of a great [client-agency] relationship is if you can be clear why you've made the decision you've made." If the explanation is "fair and sensible, even though you might disagree, that 's OK," she said. Clients should test to learn if the work is good and "avoid testing just to sell the work internally," she added.

There is a realistic time schedule, with sufficient slack to explore, test and, if necessary, restart.
Ms. Lagnado recommends starting the briefing process 18 months before you want to be on air. When timelines get squeezed, time for the creative work gets cut more than not. "The problem is that creative development is unpredictable by nature," Ms. Lagnado said. "And you don't know when you are going to get a great idea. If you squeeze that too much, you basically don't give yourself time to try ... until you have something exciting."

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