Q:       What keeps you up at night?

A:        I worry about competition. Over the last ten years, the level and ferocity of competition has increased exponentially. It used to be that you only had to worry about competitors in your country and your category. Those were the good old days!

Nowadays competitors come out of nowhere. A great example is Skype. People used to pay phone companies for long distance calls and it used to be a very profitable business. Then one day, Skype appears and starts offering free computer to computer calls. The phone companies had no way of competing and the long distance phone call product died a very quick death. Another thing that worries me is the speed with which things happen. Speed has always been important but now it is vital. If you are too slow you will be dead.

Q:        Talk to me about your Advertising Agency.

A:        Where should I start? Agencies have always sold us that, in order to build a Brand, you need to understand who your Target is and offer them a real and compelling benefit. You need to separate yourself from your competitor and you need to hammer away at this differential benefit over time, even in difficult economic times. Otherwise you end up being a commodity and have no pricing power whatsoever. It seems pretty clear that they don’t practice what they preach.

Q:        Why do you think so?

A:        Have you ever spent a day listening to Agencies present credentials? They walk in one after the other and say exactly the same thing, in exactly the same way. They start by talking about their philosophy and their unique proprietary planning tool. They swear that no one else has anything else that is anywhere as comprehensive. Never mind that three years ago they were plugging another planning process and that in another two years or so they will be back with another one. Believe me, after you see three presentations of the same tool with a different name attached to it, you can get pretty skeptical.

Then they all move on and talk about their network. They swear that they can transfer learning from their Beijing office to their Mexican operation in the blink of an eye. They don’t seem to get that I can already get that information pretty easily through my own company. And by the way, have they never heard of Google?

There is an interesting variant on this. When you have an Agency that does not belong to a network on the pitch they will spin things this way. “We are a local Agency and we understand this market and the local consumer much better than any multinational ever could. And our decisions are made locally, not by some bean counter in New York or London”

Then they will tell us about their case studies and how they were all done using their proprietary planning process. They will show their blue chip Client list. And they will finish off talking about how the Agency is staffed by the best professionals in the market. Never mind that two years ago, these same people were at another Agency pitching my business.

Q:        You sound pretty unhappy with Agencies in general.

A:        Well, I expect a lot more from them than I am getting.

Q:        Can you give me specifics?

A:        Well, this may be because I am getting older but it seems to me that most Agencies are staffed by kids. Account Management people try hard but it is not very often that they can provide any interesting points of view on the business. And a lot of the Creatives I have to deal with remind me of my teenage son. The only person who seems to have something worthwhile to add is the Managing Director but I only get to see him once in a while or whenever there is a major problem on the Account.

Q:        What do you think of Creative Awards?

A:        I am not a big fan. I think it is all incredibly inwardly focused. It is Agency people talking to themselves. And I also believe that sham ads do huge damage to the Industry. When I see so many of them winning awards, or when my Agency asks me for permission to air a sham ad once at 2am in an unimportant market, just so they can send it to Cannes, I really have to believe that the Agency is focusing more on Awards than in making my Brand grow.

Q:        Does winning Creative Awards influence your choice of Agencies?

A:        Not one bit. But if they spend too much time talking about Awards I tend to get suspicious and that is not good for them.

Q:        Changing the subject, how do you feel about small Agencies?

A:        They have several clear advantages. They are fast, they tend to charge less, and the owners are usually involved in the Client’s business. The quality of the Ideas is still a little hit or miss but they are doing a lot of other things well.

Q:        What would be one bit of advice you would give large Agencies?

A:        Learn from the small Agencies. If you can combine great business building ideas with the involvement, speed and costs of a small Agency, you will have a winning combination.

Q:        Thank you very much for your feedback.

A:        Thank you.

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