Here's Why CMOs Hate Agencies That Are Lion-Obsessed

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The CMO of a large CPG company kindly addressed our agency about the needs and wants of clients today, and how we, as advertising and marketing professionals, could better serve them. His speech was hard-hitting. The below is paraphrased.

"You agency guys come to see us and tell us what you can do. You introduce so-and-so who has 'won a ton of Cannes Lions.' Then there's also this guy and that gal and those guys and these gals who have all 'won a ton of Cannes Lions.' Then the creative director shows the reel of all the Cannes Lions and tells us if we hire them we can 'win a ton of Cannes Lions.'" He then paused dramatically for effect.

"And this is why we hate you."

His tenor became more emphatic. "I'm a CMO of a company that is losing sales, bleeding to death slowly. I need solutions for growth. You know why? Because we have an accountability to our investors, shareholders and board to grow. I need people who can help me achieve this, not win Cannes Lions. And here you guys are talking about little contests that mean absolutely nothing to helping my brand." Before anyone could say anything, he added, "and don't try and sell me any bull about how Cannes Lions equal sales."

As a former Cannes judge and winner of 10 Cannes Lions at previous agencies, this hit me hard.

This CMO next elaborated on the real human conditions of our clients that agencies sometimes forget about. "I have kids in school, a mortgage, and a job that's hard to replace. I need to grow my brand to keep my job and my family's interests alive. And you guys have the nerve to come in here and talk to me about some little contest I could care less about? This is why your industry is in huge trouble."

This is why they hate us.

How we got lost

Essentially, he told us the whole awards show circuit was childish and off-target. We're supposed to use creativity to aid business, gain awareness and build brands. Somehow, we become navel-gazers, laser focused on the novelty of our belly buttons while blind to the real needs of clients -- real people with real, tangible, economic needs.

This is why they hate us.

The encounter reminded me of a childhood incident. One day, without being asked, I made my bed, put my clothes away, and did all my chores. Afterwards, I told my Dad what I did, hoping for high praise. He looked at me, unimpressed. "So you did what you were supposed to do? Why do you expect some kind of trophy?"

Why do grown professionals expect trophies for doing what we're paid to do? We're supposed to use creativity to help clients solve problems and move business. When did we decide businesses didn't need to grow as long as we deemed the work we do to be "creative"? Why are half-done jobs judged to be jobs extremely well done?

As you read this, some of you are likely on a terrace in Cannes, sipping rosé, getting congratulated by your client while your Lion sits glistening on the table between you. You, your client, and your award are all enjoying an amazing day in the sun. Remember, though, that a shadow hangs over all three of you. If the award-winning idea doesn't work, one or two of you will not be in Cannes next year -- you may be out looking for a new job.

Unemployment. Now that's something we can all agree we hate.

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