The long and the BBH of it

This started with a blog post that talks about the IPA’s The Long And The Short Of It (TLATSOI) role in the planning and strategy process of the ad industry.

Thermometer

The Long And The Short Of It Needs The Wrong And The Shit Of It. Feel free to go and have a read and come back.

TL;DR

The IPA’s original research had flaws in the methodology:

  • Focusing purely on successes brings in biases due to the research being taken out of context. Context provided by the ‘complete’ population of good, mediocre and awful campaigns rather than award winners
  • There aren’t any lessons on how not to truly mess up
TLATSOI isn’t a LinkedIn article

Its easy to throw shots over the table when someone has done a lot of work. TLATSOI isn’t an article on the ‘five morning habits of Warren Buffet’ to make you successful.

Les Binet and Peter Field analysed 996 campaigns entered in the IPA Effectiveness awards (1980 – 2010). That would have taken them a considerable amount of time to do. They then managed to write it all up and distill it down into a very slim volume on my bookshelf.

The work is an achievement and Binet & Field deserve our gratitude and respect. Secondly, other marketing disciplines don’t have their version of TLATSOI. We couldn’t critique TLATSOI if it didn’t exist.

Let’s say we want to stand on their shoulders and build something more comprehensive than TLATSOI. Just what would it take?

Working with what you have

Binet and Field worked with what they have. If you’ve ever written an award entry you’ll know pulling it together is a pain in the arse. 996 award entries represents thousands of weeks of non-billable agency time. This was also strained through their empirical experience in the business, which adds a ‘welcome’ bias.

Now imagine if that kind of rigor in terms of documentation and analysis was put into mediocre campaigns. The kind of campaign where the client logo barely makes into the agency credentials deck.

Without a major agency (nudge, nudge, wink, wink BBH) providing all their warts-and-all data, the initative won’t start.

It will be hard to get what is needed. Agency functions aren’t geared up to deliver the information. A technological solution would take a good while to put in place; and like all IT projects would have a 70% failure rate.

In an industry where careers are made and talent attracted on ‘hits’; theres a big chunk of realpolitik to address.

How would you keep a lid on the dirty laundry?

We live in a connected world. To the point that there are now likely to be four certainties. Birth, death, taxes and data breaches. Imagine a data dump, some Excel skills and what was a bit of snark would do to an agency’s reputation? The stain of an ad agency equivalent of the movie industry Gold Raspberries would likely bury careers.

What do we measure?

My friend Rob Blackie started some of the thinking on effectiveness data SLA tiers

A = Tests the objective directly using a Randomised Control Test (RCT) in a real world environment (e.g. measured at point of sale).
B = RCT tests of proximate objective (e.g. brand), direct measurement of impacts without correction for population bias or confounding factors (e.g. a sunny week drives a lot of ice cream consumption). Or case studies (independent), quality survey data on changes in behaviour, testing in an artificial environment. For instance a Nielsen Brand Lift study
C = Case studies (non-independent), data sources that may contain significant bias compared to the underlying population. For instance: Award entries.
D = Indicative data such as PR coverage, social media Likes and similar.
E = Anecdotes. Extra points for quality, and reproducibility across different suppliers / evaluators.

There are challenges capturing long-term branding factors such as advertising ‘ad stock’ or ‘carryover‘. That then takes you into fundemental questions:

How long is the minimum viable time of campaign duration to be considered for assessment?

How long should we be measuring long term branding effects? How do you measure ‘clientside’ quality issues:

  • Resourcing / budgets
  • Product
  • Ambience in the case of client-owned channels
  • Adequate quality briefs. Are the objectives written well? Are they relevant to the business
  • Mission creep or changing company agendas

All of this means that getting to the greater volume of poor campaigns as well as the best is easier said than done. The best way to kick it off would be having large agencies to work together on putting together data sets.

The biggest Public Relations agencies; stuckness and market dynamics

Untitled

The Holmes Report came out with their top 250 (biggest) PR agencies around the world in terms of billings. I decided to delve into the numbers for financial years 2014 – 2017.

Macro picture

What the numbers suggested at a macro level were three things:

    • Overall billings growth was declining year on year
    • The amount of agencies that were appointed into the top 250 (and were dropped) declined year on year. There is less market disruption

Aggregate billings growth & top 250 list churn

    • The bottom 190 agencies (by size over successive years) accounted for less than half the billings of the top 25 for financial year 2017

Bottom 190 out top 250 PR agencies billings

Top 25 out of top 250 Pr agencies

This supports a hypothesis of slowing market growth and solidifying market dynamics at a macro level. Strategic acquisitions start to make less sense compared to improving efficiences and effectiveness. But if you were going to buy an agency MC Group in Germany looked to be the stand out choice in terms of changing the fortunes of a large agency billings

We’re also seeing a likely tyranny of large numbers kicking in for the biggest agencies. Mid-sized agencies can be more agile due to less layers of management and less complex environmetns to worry about. They may be multi-market; but they’re not truly global. Which makes strategy and planning much easier.

PR agencies are people businesses. At the core they sell manpower by the hour. Bigger agencies have more people, which means a greater management overhead, not unlike Fred Brooks’ The Mythical Man-Month essays on software engineering. There are more processes, which have built up over time and greater inertia to change. Then you get office and intra-office real politik. You can try and keep this down, but it is a function of scale; the battle against it becomes ever harder and you can only focus on its worst excesses. It tends not to surface when its impact only goes downwards in the management structure.

Agency-specific hypothesis

This next part was inspired by David Brain’s post on the performance of large agencies.

PR seems to be acquired in a more tactical manner than previously. This has been happening for a number of reasons.

A decline in Full Metal Jacket syndrome in comms planning. This nonsensical quote about Vietnamese people in Full Metal Jacket makes similar false assumptions. I’ve seen similar false assumptions in past global comms campaign planning that I have seen. Usually that meant creating something in the US and then expecting it to work on a fraction of the budget elsewhere. This means that there is less international work for agency networks. This has a negative impact on inter-office best practice transfer and building relationships.

The influence of Byron Sharp. For many consumer marketers, How Brands Grow – based on years of marketing science research is the bible. When you look at Sharp’s work there are a couple of clear points when you use public relations as a tactic.

Zero-Based Budgeting

Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) has changed the marketing planning game. It pits public relations campaign efficiency and effectiveness versus other disciplines in sharp focus. In addition, some organisations have mistaken ZBB as a one-way ratchet tightening marketing spend. ZBB isn’t about continual cost-cutting, but continual optimisation – something that seems to have been lost in translation.

PR agencies haven’t taken full advantage of the opportunity afforded by digital and social for a number of reasons:

  • There is a tension. Between the focus on financial efficiency and effectiveness that the macro numbers suggest versus the investment in tools and personnel required. Where are the studios, strategists, planners and media desks?
  • There has been an expertise drain across the industry as agencies deskill; paying new people into roles less than the person who previously filled it. This means that over time there is a trench in expertise between office leaders and the rest of the team, making it harder for the office to scale and a loss of institutional knowledge. This has led to a lack of diversity in thinking amongst many PRs; let alone gender, race and age diversity. From experience I’ve found that digital natives aren’t necessarily the best digital strategists
  • Clients haven’t embraced the change. Social in particular sits elsewhere amongst the marketing team. There is a similar division with paid media. The focus (particularly in Europe) on performance marketing over brand marketing hasn’t helped. Hubspot-style content marketing is a reductive process that isn’t the friend of PR agencies; despite their expertise in content
  • The window of opportunity closes as organic reach declines. Social media marketing effectiveness requires paid media budget. Agencies have jumped in too late with insufficient confidence. Traditional senior management agency PRs have been curiously hung up on this. Yet we see: corporate communications as adverts in the FT and WSJ and consumer PRs do paid advertorials and paid product placement

More information
David Brain’s post: Why Are The Biggest Global PR Agencies Stuck? Does It Matter?
Holmes Report

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

I should have got this posted earlier but life got in the way. Things that made my day this week

I had an amazing opportunity to see the V&A exhibition The Future Starts Here as a preview

faces

The local Unilever business in Hong Kong did their own version of a Dove advertising campaign. What’s interesting is how it differs in tonality from the usual Dove work.

‘Appreciate don’t adjudicate’ is very local as Campaign Asia put it:

The campaign is “by locals, for locals” and because Cantonese is famously colloquial and fond of wordplay, the use of Cantonese lingo is expected to resonate with the audience.

Over 100 sony aibo robot dogs get their own funeral in japan – so much here on human robot interactions and a meditation on the metaphysics of quality. This contrasts with the horror that greeted demos of Google Duplex.

I am a big fan of Eno’s Oblique Strategies so this was right up my street: The Quietus | News | WATCH: Brian Eno Installations Talk

Interview with JJ Connolly, the Author of Layer Cake and Viva La Madness – YouTube – great interview with JJ Connolly of The Layer Cake. I particularly like his description of his creative process

 

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Huawei sees building alternative to Android as insurance amid US-China trade tensions | SCMP – not a big leap from an OS point of view. The big jump would be the app store since both Google and Amazon’s app stores would be out of reach if Huawei were found guilty

Someone might’ve hacked the company that can hack any iPhone – BGR – another reason why backdoors are bad

Mobile advertising represents 91% of Facebook’s ad revenue | Marketing Interactive – I suspect that there is a lot of wasted ads here. Linking through to sites that aren’t mobile friendly or things that don’t work on mobile for instance

Kraft Heinz works with JKR to introduces quirky new biscuit brand JIF JAF | Marketing Interactive – Kraft Heinz launching product in China going head to head with Mondelez; that spun out of Kraft….

British adults using Facebook less to communicate with friends | Technology | The Guardian – according to Ofcom there is also a wealth divide in how Britons use the internet, with poorer individuals more likely to rely solely on a smartphone to get online and have “lower levels of online confidence and critical understanding”.

APAC markets exceed global benchmarks for viewability, brand safety | Digital | Campaign Asia – fraud rates for campaigns that optimised against fraud remained relatively flat, showing optimisation efforts are paying off by keeping fraud rates low. Singapore and Hong Kong had higher fraud risk at 20.7% and 14.0% respectively, because ad fraudsters tend to follow where the digital spend goes and where CPMs are higher.

Can This System of Unlocking Phones Crack the Crypto War? | WIRED – this sounds dodgy AF. If the US gets access, every country gets access

Facebook beats in Q1 and boosts daily user growth to 1.45B amidst backlash | TechCrunch – basically people don’t care if Facebook invades their privacy or usurps their government. All of that is a mere bagatelle

AMD earnings confirm it’s biting into Intel’s market share | VentureBeat – it likely won’t be permanent

Addressing Recent Claims of “Manipulated” Blog Posts in the Wayback Machine | Internet Archive Blogs – interesting hack that should be in the tool bag of reputation managers

U.S. DoJ probing Huawei for possible Iran sanctions violations: WSJ – interesting that they are getting dinged for similar things to ZTE. Stopping US vendors from selling to Huawei would be a bit less impactful than on ZTE. But it would retarget the Huawei R&D budget away from innovation to replacing American component technology and engineering services currently provided by the likes of Ciena or Qualcomm. This actually fits neatly with Mr Xi’s China 2025 manufacturing initiative that is designed to free the country from relying on international suppliers.

Amazon is releasing a new Alexa gadget specifically geared toward kids – Recode – but what about the privacy settings?

Meet John Hennessy and Dave Patterson, Silicon Valley’s first disruptors | Recode – great read about when Silicon Valley actually made silicon and solved ‘hard’ innovation problems, rather than sociopathic web services. You couldn’t have your modern computer or your smartphone without Hennessy & Patterson

Nike’s Converse Loses Chief Marketer to Supreme | BoF – not that Supreme really needs marketing with its over-subscribed drops. Unless they are changing direction to become more mass affluent?

A French billionaire is being investigated for bribing African officials for lucrative contracts | Quartz – this surprised me. France has used businesses like Total and Elf with the likes of Jacques Foccart to keep a relationship and control in the Francophone. Why are they turning on Bollore now? Especially odd when you think about how China is pushing western interests out of the continent

Electric Autos – Long life – I think it’s more complex, depending on vehicle range and driving patterns will factor into demand. Of course the shit is really going to hit the fan when lithium ion technology fails to provide for transport needs like long distance heavy goods vehicles, becomes too expensive and essential materials become too rare. There is likely to be a pivot to hydrogen combustion engines or hydrogen fuel cells due to superior energy density. The economics around risk, infrastructure and other capital costs will change.

A ZFS developer’s analysis of the good and bad in Apple’s new APFS file system | Ars Technica – this is a good guide. The thing that puzzles me is this. Apple had a working implementation of ZFS running on early beta versions of OS X and then decided not to implement it. Apple adoption of ZFS would be a major boost (it is already supported on Linux and Solaris). It takes about a decade for a file system to mature sufficiently; ZFS has that maturity and is still bleeding edge tech. Apple has a good relationship with Oracle so that wouldn’t be a problem, Larry Ellison is still the shot-caller over there and he still hates Microsoft and Google. Instead they build their own version, which has nice encryption facilities but lacks the data integrity features that ZFS has. It doesn’t seem to be about squeezing the footprint of ZFS for mobile devices either. Apple just decided to go it alone.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week.

I had some meetings and discovered what a good meeting space the lobby of the Citizen M Hotel in Bankside is. The downside I managed to lose my favourite pen, that was my fault; not the hotel. Of course, that didn’t take the sting out of it.

My dream chair is an Eames lounger and I am fascinated by production processes. This video from fulfils both admirably; showing how the Eames chair is made.

This week, I went back, way back, back into time and ended up listening to this mix of Jeremy Healy at Hot To Trot. What gets me about this is diversity of the set. The slight crunchiness in the beat mixing early on adds to its charm.

This Chinese made video on privacy has more than an element of truth beneath the humour. It would give Black Mirror a good run for its money.

Last thought… 2018 Q2 Global Digital Statshot by wearesocial