What does your choice of marketing agency say about your brand?
When I started my business 7 years ago, I wanted to work with companies who cared about the same things that I did. I wanted to take the creative and intellectual rigour I had internalized working on some of the world’s biggest brand accounts and unleash them on effective campaigns for the brands and organizations that wanted to make a positive difference in the world. I wanted to do it without the limitations of a foreign holding company and I wanted to invest in Canada, a market that both my business partner and I returned to because we believed in the idea of this country and hoped Canadian clients would step up to support Canadian business initiatives.
But, in those early days, ‘purpose’ wasn’t necessarily relevant and profit won the day. I’m glad to say that the times, they are a-changing, and marketers are now thinking more critically about what they stand for and how that reads to the public.
If there’s anything that the first half of 2020 has proven to us, it is that there is a massive shift afoot; it’s economic, it’s social, it’s environmental. As a society that has just faced down a global pandemic, a revolution around the social contract and is rapidly moving toward the very real disaster of the climate crisis, we are clear on one thing; what we’ve been doing so far hasn’t quite lived up to its promise.
Now, more than ever before, we, as consumers, are rethinking how and what we consume. We expect our values to be reflected by the brands with whom we interact and we expect transparency and integrity to reign supreme. We are emboldened and enlightened and want to understand how our decisions impact the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit). We are increasingly fixated on understanding the repercussions of our consumption decisions; wanting to know how people are treated, how the environment is impacted and how corporations support local economies.
None of this is new; as long as marketing has existed we’ve been certifying and qualifying things to create shortcuts that help consumers recognize the values of the brands they buy from. Think ‘Made in USA’ to ‘Rainforest Certified’, we’ve all seen the stickers. But today, transparency goes far deeper and consumers are far savvier. Technology empowers people to know more and go deeper than ever before; to think that at the click of the button we can see just how brands and celebrities react to major world events including BLM and COVID-19 would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.
Empowered with knowledge, consumers are driving major changes in the way that brands behave. To be very clear, we are here for it; it’s about time. Integrity is and will continue to be, a major driving force of our economy and in the age of transparency, where word of mouth and social currency drive an increasing percentage of decisions, being good and choosing partners well will become increasingly important.
The thing is, though, that even as major brands have increased scrutiny around all types of procurement decisions, they haven’t necessarily applied that scrutiny to the supply chain decision around creative and agency partners. Certainly, brands are taking more action than they had previously and we’ve been loving things like the Stop Hate for Profit campaign to defund Facebook, led by one of our early clients, Patagonia. It is heartening to see other big brands get involved but more needs to be done.
Maybe big brands haven’t done much to consider the marketing portion of their supply chain because historically, advertising agencies have remained at arm's length, working ‘behind the scenes’, or on consultative contracts that kept them as relatively impermanent partners. Ad agencies often appeared to be part of a local or national economy but were (and still are), in fact, controlled by foreign headquarters, further diluting any hope for a client to have truly shared values with their advertising vendors of record. Or, perhaps it is because creative work is considered differently and might not succumb to the same rigour of judgement as other procurement decisions. But, regardless of the reason, we’d like to suggest that it’s time for brands who really care to take a closer look at this supply chain decision, and think about who they’re working with, and whose salaries they are paying.
Consulting partners of any type matter, especially when it comes to ways in which your brand is manifest.
Here are three reasons why you should look a little more closely under the hood next time you go to forge a new relationship with an agency (or any vendor):
1. Diversity + Inclusivity Matter
In the wake of Black Lives Matters, there is no room to ignore diversity or simply to pay it lip service. And diversity isn’t just about gender or race, it also includes sexuality, disability and other characteristics like weight and age. Certainly, brands will be addressing how they stack up in terms of diversity, but what about their agency partners? How does their agency team stack up to their target audience? Are there diverse people in leadership roles? How does leadership promote and elevate the ideal of inclusivity? Organizations like Free the Work are doing great work to highlight and champion diverse businesses and individuals working in the creative sector. Working with an agency that values diversity highlights a commitment to inclusion. Sounds like a good place to start, right?
2. Globalisation Simply Costs More
Working with agencies who have international holding companies costs more. It’s as simple as that. Corporate holding companies requires a mark-up on every job to assure adequate cash flow to maintain major corporate incomes. These profit-driven models squeeze creativity, reduces local profits and require inflated workflows. Working with smaller, local agencies increase competition, result in better prices (savings that can be passed on to the consumer) and improved levels of service. Plus, it keeps your brand’s money working hard in the communities that matter to you. We’re going to guess that buying Canadian will become more important than ever, as our country and businesses likely face a rocky few years ahead.
3. Conflict of Interests Are Going to Cost You
Consumers have been ‘voting’ with their dollars for years and they want brands to do the same thing.
It’s never made sense to us to see dedicated ENGOs working with advertising agencies who also work with big carbon players or non-profits focussed on food security working with agencies with huge contracts for Big Ag. It is disingenuous, disconnected and it lacks integrity.
We are now seeing large investment firms restructure their portfolios based on climate and environmental considerations. Where the money moves, changes will follow and so, brands, just like consumers have to start asking the hard questions about who they are connecting with and what their affiliations are. If you’re a brand who really cares about something, does it make sense to work with partners who act against your biggest concerns? Probably not and with the transparency now implicit in our digital reality, you’re not going to be able to get away with it much longer.
So, where to from here?
Well, we’d encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your partnerships. Who are the people you work with? What do they really stand for? Who else do they take money from and what else do they spend their time thinking about? Is it virtuous? Does it reflect the values and intentions of your brand? Ask these questions and then consider increasing your investment in partners who are more closely aligned with your brand.
At Dot Dot Dash we have always been graced with clients who are creatively confident and who choose to work with us because they value original thinking, creativity, and an approach that lives outside the traditional status quo. We continue to say ‘no thank you’ to clients that we wouldn’t feel right supporting, in the hope that we can be part of a supply chain and system that creates a better, more equitable and transparent world.