Here are the results of the latest assignment from A[P]SOTW – Advertising [Planning] School On The Web.
This initiative is run by a team of senior planners from across the world. They post challenges for up-and-coming planners and marketers – or, in fact, anyone with an interest in smart ideas and communications – and have the entries judged by a heavyweight group of marketers and strategy experts.
Now here's Rob with the general feedback, followed by the winning entry by Rob Martyn-Wilde:
Without doubt, this assignment was way, way more difficult than many initially thought.
Not just because of the challenge, but because of the limitation that was given to you in terms of number of words or video duration.
Some general comments…
Many of you felt that a Marketing Director's key concern will be their 'communications'. Marketing is so much more than that and to imply otherwise shows a bit of naivety.
Some of you felt it was fine to almost slag off the predecessor. You might be trying to play to their ego, but you just end up looking like a two-faced, petty, untrustworthy fuck.
Some of you have watched too much Mad Men and think some beautiful prose will convince someone to change their mind. Maybe [and it's a big maybe] that is the case when you meet them in person. As a letter? Never.
A lot of you inadvertently positioned yourself as a supplier rather than a knowledgeable and valuable partner.
Hardly any of you talked about solving their business problems.
As I said, this is a very difficult brief but what struck me most was how 'nice' everyone was being.
I get you want the client to feel 'important and valued', but all I ended up feeling was you were relinquishing control of the relationship over to them – which means you are relinquishing the opportunity to either save the account or maintain its profitability.
Maybe I'm naïve, but I would have maybe approached it in a very different way.
If I believe the client is going to change the account for personal prejudice reasons rather than professional reasons, and the result will be hundreds – if not thousands – of people's jobs being lost, millions of dollars of revenue disappearing and shareholder value being diminished without any chance of being able to get some immediate business in to reverse this situation, I would have executed what I call 'the bridge strategy'.
The 'bridge strategy' is an approach where your goal is to extend the relationship for a further 12 months at the same terms, so that you can spend the time nurturing the replacement client.
Now you might ask how I would execute this.
Well, acknowledging this is all 'in theory' rather than 'in practice', I would have pointed out to the client that all WPP's companies around the World use FedEx which means they are a top-tier global client.
I would then say that if they move agencies, we would have no other course of action than to stop working with them immediately and work with their main competitor.
Of course, I would convey this in a professional, non-threatening way [even though it's a blatant threat] but that fact is, while it's a super harsh and super dangerous approach … I have nothing to lose.
It's a strategy you can only do once – and it has to be for the reasons I listed above rather than just being a bad loser – this approach would, in theory, buy WPP a year to identify and win over a replacement client, while maintaining revenue and profitability, then I think this is exactly the time you would action it.
Not to mention the fact it immediately positions you as equals, not master and servant … which I felt some of the entries were doing.
So as I said, this was a hard assignment.
It is also an assignment where there is no way to determine 'a winner' because everything is ultimately very subjective.
In terms of judging a winner, we decided that we would ignore the 'tone' of the letter [even though some were the antithesis of how WPP's CEO would speak] and just focus on what is being said.
After evaluating all the entries the overall opinion is none of the communication would stop the inevitable 'sacking'.
Some would definitely get a meeting with the CMO but some may actually reaffirm why he would want to change agencies.
Now of course the reality is no letter – or single meeting – is likely to change someone's attitude 180 degrees, but that's not what this assignment was really about.
The point of this assignment was to test your decisiveness.
The tragedy of strategy is that it seems to have morphed into being about appeasing the masses rather than sacrificing the superfluous to enable you to address directly the people who matter with a message they care about … which is why, in my opinion, a lot of strategy isn't a strategy at all.
That's why this assignment was developed.
It was designed to see who had the courage to be decisive as well as remind people they should always embrace it.
Some may say this approach is not liked by clients.
I'd say it's simply not liked by bad clients.
What I've found is that when you are dealing with people at the very top, they want answers to their problems – not platitudes to their seniority – and while you always have to be respectful, truth and clarity go a long, long way.
It's for these reasons that we have determined Rob Martyn-Wilde is the winner. See Rob Campbell's blog post for full feedback on each entry.
By Rob Martyn-Wilde, Strategic Planner at JWT in Melbourne
Dear Federico Exola,
Your recent promotion to Director of Marketing at FedEx is testament to your business nous, skill and hard work. To achieve what you have at such a young age is recognition well deserved of both your potential and achievements to date.
As you're no doubt aware, our two companies have been partners for many years. Yet, our potential is so much greater than what we have achieved today. As an advertising agency, we are tasked with making a rational product like logistics appeal to people's emotions. Specifically, we make FedEx's offering more enticing than the competition, even if you can't compete on price or indeed on service.
However, we haven't been able to achieve this without an intimate understanding of your business from the ground up. Indeed, we've been your partner through periods of great growth, new product launches, as well as successive Marketing Directors. Our relationship was particularly close with your predecessor, Donald Hassel Lieber and his resignation was a particular blow to us as well as your business.
Since his move from FedEx to DHL, it's crucial that we hold firm, work closely and button down for what will be an all assault by DHL as they look to steal our market share. A time like this is not one to change creative agencies. I can offer you unique insights into your newest rival, tell you what he likes and doesn't like and what I imagine he will do at DHL. You now need us, just as much as we need you.
To be perfectly frank, who else is there? Your competitors are bedded-down with advertising agencies, some of the largest in the world. They're producing work of a high standard and they appear to be happy with what they have. FedEx cannot afford to test out a smaller agency. They need an agency with gravitas, global connections and the ability to dedicate entire teams to ensure work gets out on time.
Simply from a cost perspective, switching makes little sense. We use, as a network of over 3000 offices in 100 countries, FedEx for all our logistics needs. We spend many millions of dollars per year with you. If you appreciate the cost of your retainer, this is a business relationship for you of great value.
As a new Marketing Director, I can appreciate how little time you have to get across the magnitude of work now resting on your shoulders. The time it would take to run a pitch, select an agency and manage hand-overs could prove costly. You can't afford to build up a new relationship with another agency, run them through the intricacies of how you do business globally, nor explain to them the complex world of logistics and transportation. We need to create new work that reaffirms our position and we need to do it now.
We offer FedEx consistency - a quality product, run by a team of communications specialists who share a commitment to producing the best quality work possible. We do this because we value what FedEx means to us. Yes, you're one of our biggest clients, and losing your business would be a blow. But to us, it's more than that. We value the inherent meaning behind long-lasting business relationships. They show that what we are doing, we're doing well and that we're effecting real business change.
What I'd like to offer you, is a promise. It's not easy being in a new role, especially when your previous experience was as an accountant, rather than a marketing specialist. I want to offer you my expertise and my advice, as the head of the World's largest advertising agency network. I promise you can have that, whenever you need it. You deserve to do well, and I want to see you being respected the way I am.
I won't beg you to keep the business with us. Rather… I'd ask you to think about what you're really putting out to pitch. Is it simply a B2B relationship between service provider and customer, or is it a real partnership where both parties are invested in the mutual success of the business?
Judges' feedback on Rob's entry:
So your submission caused quite a bit of debate between the judges.
Everyone felt it was well written and treated the client as an equal.
It also felt like you were 'putting your cards on the table' which immediately makes the recipient feel he is working with someone who wants to make things better. Together. Now.
That's good stuff.
Where the debate started to come was when you started to talk about "you need us as much as we need you".
While you can argue there is logic in that statement – especially with an old CMO who is now at a competitor fixated on taking market share – the reality is it is a blatant threat.
Now cards on the table, a lot of judges didn't like this.
However, if you read how I would tackle the problem at the start of this post, you'd know I don't necessarily share their view.
Personally, I like how you wrote this letter because you made a blatant threat sound much more palatable … though personally, you would never do it via a letter, always face-to-face.
But that aside, there is no doubt the CMO would know what you were actually saying, and you did it in a way that had – at least to me – the quiet menace of a person who knows he holds a lot more cards than the other person initially thought.
That said, I think you could have discussed the [scary] implications of both companies parting ways. No new CMO wants to be associated with a huge client loss and the early day are when you make or break your reputation. Especially if you have never been a CMO before.
As I said, I liked this. Many judges didn't.
There were some areas where the judges were united and that was – unfortunately for you – where you made some silly mistakes.
Saying "I want to see you respected the way I am" might help Mr Sorrell feel above the new CMO, but it's also likely to make him fucking hate him.
And saying that it was 'a blow to WPP' that the previous marketing director left seems weird.
That said, the energy and pace of the letter was great and while the strategy might have caused division, it would certainly make any CMO stop and think.
Even if it cemented their desire to get rid of their agency at the earliest opportunity.