Getting the agencies to work together is a massive people management job and the only way to ensure it runs smoothly is to encourage frequent meetings with all involved. So we have client and joint agency meetings every two weeks or at the very least once a month.
We also promote meetings between the agencies without the client to discuss our projects. It cuts down on the chance of misunderstandings arising, which can happen when there are various groups involved on one project. One party may believe another said something, they go off and work on it for ages and then discover, weeks later, that it's not part of the brief.
It's also important to ensure that what is discussed at the meetings is properly communicated to the rest of the team back at the different agencies. You can't bring in everyone and have a meeting of 50 people once a month so that needs to be considered.
Our policy is one of finding the experts and bringing them together, rather than choosing a network and then finding the people. Too often, the larger groups are no more integrated than different agencies.
Once we have found the right agency and people, we stick with them, building up a relationship of trust and understanding over a long time. For example, we have worked with HHCL for more than a decade and with
Triangle for a few years.
With long-term relationships and frequent meetings you can build strong ties between the different people in the different agencies so that they work well together and are fully aware of the overall strategy. If there is a problem, they can get together to discuss it. It's also easier to share information if there is long-term commitment.
Some of our best people don't even work for us, but they are involved in our projects from inception and contribute strategically. It's effectively like having a think tank around the brand. But it takes years to build this sort of relationship and you can't be half-hearted about it. It may take time, but it brings results.
The first thing is to have a common understanding of what the client is trying to achieve because some agencies might be dealing with projects which cross-cut over the customer base.
So from the customer's perspective, you have to make sure they are getting consistent messages. To do this, all the agencies must understand the core purpose and it is up to us, the client, to ensure there is a forum that can allow information to pass around. But, at the end of the day, the client is the only one in a position to drive that consistency forward.
When I was at NatWest, we had six to eight agencies working for us and they all had to share thinking. We encouraged communication by having regular meetings with all of us sitting down together. It is different at COI because everything has to go through the tender process. It means there can be new agencies for new campaigns, so there isn't always an option of building relationships over time.
But that doesn't mean there is a problem. Agencies change because they are run by people and if they leave, things alter. It does mean we have to work on consistency with each agency. However, we generally tend to have a lead agency that will make the brand consistent and which understands the brand thoroughly. The lead agency needs to have a long-term perspective. From there, we draw in the other agencies early on and get them in to meet each other.
I admit we tend to encourage creative tension and as long as it is channelled into the product, it is healthy. You have to be like a parent that encourages, but at the same time, keep them on their toes.
There are four media specialists in the BT media team. We have each spent the majority of our careers in media agencies and our combined experience covers all of the primary above-the-line marketplace disciplines. We are, therefore, better able to understand what agencies need to perform at their best, what is motivating for them and what is bullshit!
We also have a policy of "best-of-breed" agency rostering. While we are aware of the procurement benefits of ploughing all media arrangements through a single point, we firmly believe that there is not a single-agency solution to our media requirements.
This is not simply a question of our scale, but reflects a better understanding of the marketplace - there is generally only so much room for the more gifted media practitioners within any single agency. These people tend to be entrepreneurial and gravitate away from each other.
We believe that our current roster reflects the best available agencies by discipline in the UK, per our requirements. Each agency respects the others' unique role and capabilities. We manage our agencies very closely - media is significantly further upstream as a marketing discipline within BT than for many other advertisers, especially for the media strategy agency.
There is a consultative role that the media agencies provide which is hugely motivating for them as they share in the shaping of our strategy. The lines between modern communications and media are converging dramatically - content and entertainment are essential areas.
We also believe no one has the monopoly on ideas. Good creative agencies are very accommodating of the benefits from cross-fertilization of ideas between themselves and media agencies. In fact, if media agencies are not helping to shape creative output then they are not doing their jobs properly.
This also applies between media agencies - there is no reason why a strong idea for TV from an online agency should be suppressed, if every agency is
confident in its role and relationship with the client - and the common good is the objective.
We have found getting the teams together in less formal gatherings has worked for Citroën and has led to closer working ties. We took the opportunity when we launched the C5 to bring in the key agencies for a special day. We called it the supplier day. It enabled them to see how we went about launching a new car to the public and how we developed the product. It also gave them an opportunity to try out the new car.
We also invited our key agencies to our dealer conference so that they could see how the lines of communication through the sales divisions work. We also wanted them to take part in the celebrations following the company's 50% increase in sales in 2001. It was a way of saying thanks to all the different agencies for their contribution to these increases.
For some of the agencies - those which tend to be out on the periphery - attending the supplier day and the dealer conference was an eye-opener for them. They got to see much more closely how the car industry operates and it gave them more of an insight into the product.
Following the success of the C5 supplier day, we invited the agencies along to the launch to our fleet customers, those that buy cars in bulk. It allowed the agencies the opportunity to have a sneak preview of the new vehicle well in advance and gave their creative people something to play with rather than a vehicle on paper.
Meeting together at functions like this has helped cement relations between the different agencies, but it hasn't lessened tension or competition. In a way, I try to encourage differences. Everyone has their own opinion and it is good to encourage everyone to air those views. It can lead to a positive synergy.
It's not really a problem for us because we have consolidated our business in each country under two buying and planning specialists - MindShare and
Initiative Media. All Unilever's media in the UK goes via Initiative. They work with the creative agencies so we don't tend to get into tensions. The only time we can face tension is when we are doing global or regional planning and the agencies cross over.
For example, MindShare might be involved in a European campaign that it will direct from Italy, but then may have to work across the other network in the other countries. But, having said that, we are all pretty grown up about it. They realize there is no benefit to anyone if there is tension between the groups and it would just make them look bad.
It also helps that we work with only five or six agencies and that they are part of the larger holding companies. On the creative side, we tend to use Ogilvy & Mather or J Walter Thompson, which are both owned by WPP, or Lowe and McCann Erickson, both owned by IPG. MindShare is WPP's media company, while Initiative is part of Interpublic.
There is obviously an element of competition within the holding companies, and we often have Ogilvy & Mather pitching against Thompson for one of our brands, yet there is always an understanding that it has to work.
We encourage team spirit through our internal network. In each country there is a media manager to oversee the brand, so we have an internal network in place to help the external network work together.
We have a planning season in the autumn when we work through our campaigns for the following year. We talk strategy with each of the agencies, concentrating on their individual specialities and then we bring everyone together.
Some of our agencies are based in Manchester, where Cussons, too, is based, and others are in London, so there is often travelling involved. But it isn't too difficult, so we do meet regularly.
The client has to be the final arbiter in the process, but we do listen to the views of our agencies. We've been working with the same agencies for many years now and have built strong relationships. It also means that the agencies have built strong ties with one another and will often work on issues independently and simply come to us with the final solution. For instance, the PR people will talk to the sales promotion people to tackle an issue before bringing it in front of us.
Bringing in new agencies could upset the mix, but it hasn't happened yet. The newest company we brought in was Outrider to work on our internet and website presence, but, as that is part of Mediaedge:CIA, who we have worked with for years, it was relatively easy. There was already a relationship there.
Larger networks can be beneficial because you have a relationship already established. But, at the end of the day, it's the personnel that are important. They have the knowledge and working with each other is less complicated.
We measure our agencies' performance on a regular basis through formal reviews covering key elements such as planning, creative ideas, innovation and integration. We don't leave it to chance. It is planned and managed and everyone involved understands that from the beginning. And if they excel, then they get more work.
There is also an education process for any new agencies that join the roster so they understand the brand, the tone of voice and the execution.
For added motivation we also have our brand awards, focusing on creativity and execution. All agencies like to win awards and those that excel receive recognition for their contribution.
In-house, we have an experienced communication team that understands the subject thoroughly and will make decisions on what sort of media would be useful in each campaign, so we often approach our agencies with ideas in place. But we aren't prescriptive.
We do listen to what they have to say and we get them involved right at the beginning so they are involved in the planning process as well. And for new launches we will sit down with all our agencies to formulate a joint solution and use their creative input.
During the planning process we always focus on business objectives as well as the media objectives and we expect everyone to treat it in that context rather than a personal context. If someone is being self-seeking they will get found out.
Once the planning is done, we send out a combined brief to everyone, rather than individual briefs, and then we bring everyone in for a joint meeting to
discuss creative. The result is an integrated solution with no haggling.