Can marketers ever do better than only occasionally obtaining highly effective advertising for brands that are critical to their success? And is there a role for consultants to play in fostering the development of exceptional adver- tising? My answers are resoundingly yes and yes!
Yes, serious advertisers can obtain highly effective advertising on an ongoing basis instead of living with the advertising development crapshoot that is the norm. And yes, there is a highly significant role a particular kind of consultant can play in solving the long-running problem that is the source of so much client and corporate management frustration.
I call this individual the strategic creative consultant. This consultant is not one most clients and agencies currently are familiar with. It is not the consultant that plays a win/lose game based upon diminishing the agency in some way in order to demonstrate the consultant's value to the client. Nor is it the consultant that understands strategy and positioning but not how exceptional communication is actually developed.
The strategic creative consultant is one capable of aiding and abetting the development of highly effective advertising on a consistent basis, one that fully understands and is comfortable in both the realms of strategy/positioning development and creative development. He or she moves equally well in the cultures both of clients and agencies and can facilitate successful collaboration at the highest level.
When clients introduced consultants to the advertising arena, their initial impact was in agency search and compensation. Subsequently, clients asked strategic business consultants to expand their sphere of influence into branding, partly in the hope that better strategic thinking would ultimately lead to more effective output from their agencies.
While these brand strategists now make meaningful contributions on positioning, those efforts have not led to any noticeable increase in exceptionally effective advertising.
The strategic creative consultant exists to ensure that brand strategy and positioning the client strongly believes have great potential translate into advertising that lives up to that potential -- every time out and not just occasionally.
Why do clients need to make use of such expertise? Because corporate impatience and competitive pressures make getting the advertising right the first time more important than ever. Because developing advertising that not only gets attention but motivates people to act -- in this, the noisiest communications environment in history -- is harder than ever. And because guiding advertising agencies to deliver a successful product with certainty, as opposed to the hit or miss nature most marketers now live with, is a highly complex and time-consuming task. It requires a unique, refined blend of skills and a great deal of experience.
It could be argued this is the role of the head of marketing. That would be correct if it could be assumed client marketing chiefs had both the particular set of skills (you can find successful senior marketers without them) and the time to be hands-on shepherding advertising from briefing to filming. Few do, however.
That means the job of managing the advertising development process generally falls to less seasoned people who shouldn't be expected to lead such a high-stakes undertaking successfully. But agencies need experienced, empowered client-side guides with vision. The lack of such guides is one key reason effective advertising remains the exception rather then the rule.
USING A SPECIALIST
For many clients at critical times, it makes sense to use a specialist that has the skills needed to guide development of strategically driven creative work. It is virtually impossible for a client to maintain this level of expertise on staff.
The strategic creative consultant does not usurp the job of a client's senior marketing executive. He or she enhances it by giving senior marketers the ability to deploy, at key times, someone with a proven track record in navigating one of marketing's most complex tasks -- the translation of high-potential strategy into brilliant advertising. In doing so, a strategic creative consultant ensures the likelihood that top marketing executives will, themselves, succeed.
Many ad agency leaders would like clients to delegate positioning responsibility to agencies -- and get everyone else out of the way. But this is, and must be, a client responsibility, as former Coca-Cola Co. marketing chief Sergio Zyman, now a consultant, has emphatically -- and correctly -- pointed out. Clients own the brands, and they equally need to own what their brands stand for.
Can ad agencies benefit from the involvement of a strategic creative consultant? You bet. First, the client is empowering a consultant that understands his or her work will not be judged as successful unless the agency's output is exceptional. In other words, this consultant shares the agency's most ambitious communications goals -- and gets paid accordingly.
Secondly, and of at least equal importance, a client who chooses a strategic creative consultant wisely provides the agency a senior client representative who understands and can manipulate the critical variables that determine if exceptional advertising is the final result of the time and energy all parties pour into creative development. These variables include:
* Turning the strategic insights of the client into truly usable inputs for agency creative teams (as opposed to the limited value they get from most client briefings).
* Keeping the "executional leaps" inherent in creative development grounded in strategy.
* Supporting the creative passion of the agency while keeping it focused.
* Shaping a common vision of the problem and the path forward as well as a common language so client and agency become an effective team.
* Developing the confidence and trust of the creative people so that the client's vision can constructively influence creative development rather than being rejected.
* Helping decide ahead of time realistic criteria by which the creative work will be evaluated.
When a client invests in a consultant who brings those kinds of skills to the equation, it is a clear message to agency management that the client is committed to achieving the most ambitious kind of advertising success.
The few individuals truly qualified to function as strategic creative consultants can do the job because they themselves are mature problem solvers. They move in the world of clients and agencies and command the respect of both. More importantly, they appreciate and can nourish everything that makes a collaboration actually work at the highest levels.
Of course, most agencies will be paranoid over this new character on the marketing stage. Clients might have the same reaction. "Isn't that my job?" some will ask. Anyone who simply watches TV, however, can tell that right now neither party is particularly successful and that all the participants are suffering. Clients are not getting sufficient value for their advertising investments. Agencies are being hired and fired from major pieces of business at an alarming rate. Consumers are turned off by the unimaginative fluff that passes for persuasive advertising.
Exceptionally effective advertising can be produced on a regular basis once a "win-win" environment is created and nurtured between clients and their agencies -- and the variables that produce so much failure are controlled.
Certain consultants can be essential in bringing about situations that produce consistent and noteworthy advertising by leveraging and focusing the best in each party: the creative passion inherent in the agency and the strategic skill inherent to the client. This is the mission of strategic creative consultants. They are a rare breed. Frankly, I look forward to seeing more of them.
Mr. Markowitz, president of Michael Markowitz & Associates, Santa Fe, N.M., a marketing and advertising development consultancy, was an advertiser and agency executive for more than 20 years before founding his consultancy eight years ago.