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The Advertising Agency – Client Relationship

June 23, 2017 1 comment

When I was in the advertising agency business, which is not too long ago, it often was apparent that agencies valued the relationship they had with their clients far more than vice versa. Stories of many clients sending agencies on red herring projects, delayed payments, calling for needless pitches, continually beating agencies down on rates/prices were literally SOP.

Not true for all clients obviously, but for many. The paranoia of one day being put on review drove the agency to all sorts of weird behaviour as well as anxiety. Not good for morale or Quarterly projections.

This puzzled many agency people because we compared ourselves to other professionals, like lawyers, chartered accountants or doctors.

Publicly, of course, clients swore on their agency relationships.

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Then this happens:

Recently there was news of Amex moving their business from Ogilvy to McGarrybowen. A client who was with the agency for 55 years did that without a pitch, just one fine day they upped and moved.

3 years ago Johnnie Walker did a similar thing. ‘Keep walking’ a BBH created campaign widely acknowledged as the best piece of work in the spirits category was not enough for the agency to retain the business. They put the business up for a pitch and moved it to Anomaly.

Clearly something is wrong with this equation, and it doesn’t seem quite like clients value their agency as equal partners.

And then earlier this week I saw this article. Publicis decided that they were going to pull out of Cannes and other festivals to focus on internal infrastructure.

Of all the responses, this one from one of their biggest clients tell you everything about the relationship between clients and agencies:

Diageo uses Cannes to get to know agencies it is considering hiring, said Mark Sandys, who oversees Diageo’s global beer business, as well as Smirnoff and Baileys. This week the company’s agenda includes a two-hour speed dating session with a group of agencies it is targeting.”Some of the agencies I’ve met, big and small, I come away from the dinners or meetings thinking, ‘Wow those are great people to work with, we should be thinking about them next time something comes up for a pitch.’

To my mind, this paragraph says it all.

What kind of business is this, where a client says openly that he goes to Cannes to meet other agencies, all the while having a happy relationship with his agency back home?

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Should clients expect undying loyalty from their agencies till ‘death do them apart’ if the same level of commitment is missing from their end?

Clients don’t attend every lawyer convention to see what’s new out there. When you have signed on a legal firm you don’t call for pitches, or continually hold the threat of being fired. Same with CA firms. These relationships are contract bound and are usually terminated mostly for ‘malpractice’. There is value in these relationships gained over time which clients seek to leverage over the course of the relationship.

Somehow when it comes to agencies, it seems all bets are off.

And, obviously am not generalising but when you see names like Amex and Diageo in this sort of conversation, you got to wonder how wide spread this malaise really is.

Do agencies need some sort of protection mechanism against these seemingly whimsical behaviours from their trusted partners?

I don’t have Answers just Questions.

Categories: Uncategorized

What do you do when things go wrong?

June 12, 2017 1 comment

Over the weekend I was watching a cricket match. Australia vs England. Australia had finished their innings and England was batting. England got into a spot of trouble early on and the Australians were all around the batsmen hoping to make further inroads and win the match to keep them in the tournament. But things didn’t go according to plan and the two batsmen played England to victory.

Through the innings the camera kept showing the increasingly frustrated face of the Australian captain. One of the commentators said ‘ This is the problem with the team, they have no Plan B’.

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While the story has to do with sports, we find the same situation replicated in real life.

At one extreme the storied situation United Airlines was in, where they had overbooked the flight (which happens all the time) and had to get a passenger to deplane. He refused (which they didn’t anticipate). And they called in cops to physically pull him out causing injury to the passenger and to the brand. While this is probably the rarest of the rare, brands nowadays often face similar situations and how they react makes customers decide whether they want to stay on with it or not.

Amazon, of course set the bar high, early on in their business, where refunds ‘no questions asked’ were just unheard off.

My experience with amazon has always been good. They don’t always get their delivery right but their ability to fix it, I have found, is next to none.

Flipkart on the other hand is a mess. (my experience) They seem to have no idea how to handle customer issues. And I have had two issues with two orders and stopped going back to them. (With great reluctance I just bought a phone from their site last week, because only they had the model I wanted, and this is an issue too.)

Some of the newer brands have been very good. A few months ago I ordered a shirt from the Bombay Shirt Company. As I was not in a hurry for it, I put it away to wear at an appropriate occasion. Some 3 months later, I pulled out the, by then, dry cleaned shirt and alas, the sleeves were too short. Unhappy that I had lost a few thousand rupees I wrote to them about the problem. Within hours I got a call from them. They said they would replace it. And they did.

I have had similar good experiences with placesoforigin and dunzo. Swiggy and bigbasket not so much.

The born on the web brands seem to understand, though, that customer service is a key aspect of their brand proposition. They have made some investments in that space and are at varying levels of excellence.

Offline businesses moving online that have traditionally not had to pay attention to this aspect of their business model need to undertake a cultural transformation to bring this to the core of their business.

When everything is going well, no one notices. It is when things go wrong that reputations get built.13d68adfcd0859ac00269d8b8403fa70

One of my bosses, the founder of Direct Marketing, R Sridhar, published a booklet titled, Life begins after the coupons come in. I think we can safely update it to ‘Brands get built when customer service kicks in’

Categories: Uncategorized

Truth and Fairness : Is there a difference?

April 10, 2017 2 comments

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Many, many years ago when I was a school going kid, we lived in a small housing colony. About 12/15 houses so a rather tightly knit group of families.

At some point in time during our stay there one family moved out and another moved in. This family had one boy about my age.

Pretty soon we realized that the boy was more than a handful. He was naughty beyond belief. He had scratched cars, broken windows, plucked flowers from others gardens and so on. Each time something happened, one of the mothers would go across and complain to the boy’s mother. With the growing litany of complaints the tension between the mothers in the colony grew significantly with the boy’s mother finally just refusing to talk to any of the mothers. She said once ‘ you all are just ganging up against my son’. Pretty soon the colony was split into all families on one side and this family on the other. No more comings and goings to ‘that’ house.

Given the small community we all lived in this was really awkward for everyone concerned.

One day my grandmother came to stay with us for a while and after a couple of days she picked up on the colony dynamics and asked me what was going on. I dutifully relayed the situation to her. On hearing it, she shook her head in sadness and said she may have a solution.

A day later my grand mom went over to the house in question, some food in hand, and rang the bell. The boy’s mother opened the door and eyed my grand mom suspiciously. As she was old and had come to visit with a ‘gift’ she allowed her to come in. A few hours later, she emerged and we saw them parting with smiles all around. This continued for a few days.

Over time we started seeing a slow change in the ‘unhappy’ mother. She started checking her son for his behavior. Punishments were being doled out and slowly but surely the boy’s behavior started changing.

One day, over dinner, my mother asked my grand mother how she had achieved this miracle. She said that in her initial conversations with the mother she didn’t talk about the boy’s behavior at all. It was all general family stuff..then she graduated to finding things to compliment the son. He was such a hard worker. He played football well. And so on. And then once in a while she would slide in a complaint. But, because my grand mother had already established the trust this ‘complaint’ was seen as positive feedback and accepted with credibility. And hence the mother did something about it.

Now, we managers in the corporate world do this continually as part of the feedback process to our teams. Compliment the good. Give feedback on the areas for improvement and set some sort of goals for review.

I give this long background because when I look at the media coverage of Trump it seems this basic fact needs to be reinforced. There is a set of media channels that can find absolutely nothing positive to say about Trump. This means Trump’s followers find it low on credibility and brand it unfair. So all the Trump bashing has no effect on the people who voted for Trump and the polarizing continues and hardens.

Now turn to Fox News for a minute. No matter how much one may find it distasteful, or coloured in its opinions, you are very likely to find at least 1-2 articles critical of Trump. So a Trump supporter reads, say, 100 articles praising Trump and a few critical. She/he sees Fox as a credible source of news thereby raising its stickiness with that base.

If the rest of the media really wants to reach out to Trump’s America it needs to first start building bridges, like my grandmother did with that boy’s mother, and then slowly build the platform for change. Else they are just talking in their own echo chamber.

Rather than only complain about Trump’s Syria strike, for example, talk about the need to be firm and definitely punish people for using chemical weapons.

Rather than only comment about Bannon’s demotion talk about how Trump is restoring the NSC to its original intended mission.

And so on.

Slowly, and very slowly, influential news media like NYT, CNN will start being seen as credible by Trump and his millions of followers. Then, when criticism follows, more people will take it seriously.

Changing any behavior needs to first find common ground.

It is not enough to be ‘true’. It is also important to be seen as ‘fair’.

Categories: Uncategorized

Where do I work?

March 21, 2017 4 comments

Yesterday I read another article on the Work From Home debate that plagues many organisations. Like many of the debates, it was one sided. This specific article talked about managers needing to trust their employees that they will do the work expected of them and so on.

Work from home ad

Every time I read articles of this type I feel that they assume the worst of management and that forcing employees to come to work is a sign of a weak management culture.

I have a slightly more nuanced view which I want to share with a couple of analogies.

For sometime in my life, I lived in Singapore. A city with great public transport. Consequently (and the fact that I couldn’t afford a car) I relied on metros, buses and taxis. I was never really inconvenienced, except when it rained or after an event when the demand for taxis made it a challenge to get transportation. I went to restaurants, movies, plays, friends’ homes and so on. Great public transport has that benefit.

From Singapore, I went to Nairobi. A city with poor public transportation. So, I went back to getting my own car. Now I was able to drive to movies, plays, restaurants friends’ homes and so on. Same as Singapore. With a change. Freedom to explore unknown paths. It was not destination driving. If, on the way to a place, we spotted something we wanted to explore we could stop, or take a detour. Thus we saw much more of Nairobi and, looking back, we saw much less of Singapore than my friends who had cars.

While much of what we did in Singapore was achievable with public transportation, the freedom of exploration was lost.

Let me take another analogy. Education.

With the growth of home schooling and availability of education material on-line, there really is no need for anyone to go to an educational institution (unless there is a significant practical element to it). Yet, can you imagine growing up without going to school? Some of our best friends are from there. Some of our greatest memories are formed there.

And, of course, there is the learning component. We clarified doubts with class mates. We studied together at exam time and pushed each other to do better.

In the context of education, if you just want to study you can probably study at home alone. But if you want to learn from friends, make new friends, discover short cuts to remembering a formula and so on, you went to school.

I think it is the same with working.

No one doubts that an employee can do his/her work on himself/herself. The reason companies, and individuals, benefit from people coming into office is the opportunity to do more.

There is no replacement for the water cooler conversation. There is no replacement for the ad hoc getting up and walking across to talk to someone about a problem or an idea. There is no replacement to getting someone to review your work, as you are doing it. There is no substitute to bouncing ideas off your colleagues. There is no replacement for a conversation that sparks an idea.

Yes,  technology is making some progress, but we are still some distance away from that replacing the human interaction. Maybe never.

For sure there are times we need to work on one’s own. Maybe it is a big presentation that needs concentration., Perhaps the need to put together one’s thoughts that needs silence. For all those reasons one needs the mind space to do the job.

I have yet to hear of a start up birthed on a conference call by a bunch of people working from home.

My nuanced view is that everyone benefits from a collocated collaborative environment. This can be balanced by the flexibility to work in privacy when needed.

All modern corporations understand the need for this and provide the appropriate systems to enable work-life balance.

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

Creative Responsibility

January 8, 2017 3 comments

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A large portion of the guys have studied only in boys school.

In college too the guys hang out together, while the girls stick in a bunch.

The concept of sex education is alien.

The women they have interactions with are typically their mothers and sisters, who tend to live in service of the men in the family.

As the male hormones do their job, the primary source of information is the movie, or the TV screen.

And what do they learn?

Hero sees heroine

Heroine ignores hero

Hero eve- teases heroine

Heroine hates hero

A song later they fall in love.

Then parents intervene.

A few fights, and hours later, hero and heroine are united in happiness land.

That is a large percentage of movies in nearly any language.

TV shows are not particularly different. Women are always a step lower. In many TV shows women are screamed at, abused, treated shoddily and even slapped around. Through all this the hero comes through in shining colours.

To the large populace who looks at their movie hero adoringly, and will stand for hours outside the house for a darshan or rush for autographs, the distance between fiction and reality is pretty non existent.

So this generates three types of responses.

The first harmless one is imitating the hero’s clothes, hair style, walking style and so on. So you see people tying their shirt in a knot after seeing it in Deewar, or twirling their glasses because Rajni-saar does it or even wearing sunglasses on the back of the shirt because they saw it in Dabang and so on. As I said.. harmless.

The second type of response is eve teasing. Like in the movies, you will see them standing in groups of twos or threes and passing lewd comments to the women passing by. They have seen a Kapoor or a Khan or a Kumar doing it in a movie and well he does get the girl. Should be OK no?

And the last type is the kind we saw in Bangalore on Dec 31. Animal instincts taking over. Horrific incidents leaving everyone in shock and women traumatised. Anyone remember jumma chumma de de?

This has to start changing. tweets and protests are a good start but don’t reach the people who need to change.

We are a very impressionable nation and for many people if it works in a movie it will work in real life.

Those in the creative field have a tremendous opportunity to use their huge power responsibility and do their bit to drive the correct values in our society. For instance, If they decided they would only work on scripts that did not denigrate women and suggest or promote any sort of objectifying we would start to see a change. A Johar, Kashyap, Menon has more clout than he realises. We have seen with movies like Piku, Dangal or nearly any of the movies of the 60s and 70s love without lewdness is possible.

It takes a village to bring up a child and while parents teach values, we all know that kids are influenced more by their peer group than anything their parents tell them. Look at smoking for example.

So if parents did their bit by teaching the right values, supported by the vast film and advertising industry which throws millions of messages every year, we would have made a good first step.

With huge power comes huge responsibility and here is a great chance to wield that power to change the nation.

I don’t want my daughter’s hand bag to have thishc-nbcf-01-ribbon_0_0

She should be able to walk the streets of her country free without fear and not have to learn kick boxing and wonder when the next attack is going to come.

We can all do better than that and create an environment where the woman is cherished as an important part of society and an absolute equal.

After all with Creative License comes Creative Responsibility.

Categories: Uncategorized

The 5 types of e-commerce businesses

November 20, 2016 Leave a comment

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So the other day I was thinking if it was possible to categorise the various types of e-commerce businesses that exist in the world. Why? Do you ask? Well just because I can. I think. Look forward to your feedback to ensure this is complete.

OFFLINE TO ONLINE: This is the most obvious type of business. You are selling stuff in the real world and you decide to do the same on-line. Walmart, Tesco, Marks & Spencers being the obvious one. These would usually be Retailers who are using the digital medium as an alternative, or option, to what they do in the real world. Doesn’t require much change to their business model, save the need to have strong inventory management and agile customer service. These are actually true for all e-commerce businesses but is specially important to these because it requires a change in mindset.

DISINTERMEDIATION: This is the evolution from the previous model. Here brands, companies decide they can deal with end customers directly and either save money for themselves or the end customers. Usually it is the former. Airlines were the first to do this. Other high value products can, and have opted to, do this. Many IT brands like Norton, Microsoft and IBM. Car Companies are also trying this model. The challenge here of course is the potential conflict with their off-line channels.

PEER TO PEER: In this model companies are connecting supply and demand between individuals/companies and others. Yes this is where I would place Uber, Air BnB, TaoBao, ebay. etc. I would probably also classify companies like Alibaba and facebook here. As also paytm. Companies here create the platform offering connectivity between two, or more, sides. They generate the traffic that buyers and sellers can exploit. The opportunity here is to identify that niche of demand that can be fulfilled on the supply side by tapping into individuals or companies that can fulfill them.

ORGANISING THE DISORGANISED: There are a large numbers of business categories that are in various states of disarray and we have recently seen businesses emerge that are making it easier to deal with this chaos. Brands like practo, housejoy, swiggy, 99acres come to mind immediately. Google’s stated mission was to organise the world’s information. With google maps they are organising the retail space to help customers find places to spend their money. Many a travel site I would put in this category as well because they too are organising bits of information like hikes, bike trails and the like for the benefit of end customers.

WEB RETAIL: This last category is, in many ways, the simplest because these players are doing on-line what they could do off-line but didn’t. Amazon, flipkart being the two obvious players.

In recent years we have seen the greatest growth in Peer to Peer and the Organizing business!

Any e-commerce company needs the following as enablers to their business.

  1. A strong ERP engine that connects inventory to billing in real time.
  2. Logistics and delivery to ensure that the product/service being sold is actually delivered to customer expectations.
  3. A customer service culture to quickly redress any potential issues coming up due to challenges in either of the above two.

 

I am really keen to know if this makes sense and if there are categories I have missed or maybe a different, yet simple, way to map the e-commerce world.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Do airlines really not like their customers?

Last week I had the great pleasure of flying to the US and back on a middle eastern airline. One of the trips involved sitting in the middle seat in economy for 14 hours. The pain of the entire experience made me think about airline travel in general.

For starters they seduce us with ads like this.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFyVSczLCig

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But the reality is that unlike other modes of travel such as car, train or ship the airlines business has stayed the same, or even gone backwards.

Yes we have better engineered aircraft like the A380 or the Dreamliner, but as a customer it hasn’t impacted us at all. Unless you are traveling First or Business. However, given that the greater volumes lie in Economy it would not be a bad idea for them to make the lives of this wretched lot slightly better.

Given that the airport authorities and the security agencies make the starting point so bad already, this should have been a relatively low bar for an airline to cross. But they seem not to really care and go after stuffing the aircraft with as many passengers as they can fill then nickel and dime them and make life as miserable as possible for us all.

Start with the check in process. Many airlines now have kiosks or mobile check in saving time standing in line to check in. However, often if you are flying international after on-line check in, you still have to make a physical presence to check travel documents. This I get. But the proportion of counters web check in to walk in are something like 1:4. Incentivising walk ins than web check ins.  I imagine airlines would be happiest if all passengers checked in on-line saving staff time on the ground. And wait time for customers. Based on counters available this doesn’t seem to be the way they think.

Then let’s look at seat selection. Many airlines used to allow you to select seats when you booked your flight. Then Emirates changed their policy last month. You have to pay to select your seat in advance. Else take your chance at web check in time. The amount they charge is not hugely consequential so why not just bundle it into the ticket price? Why irritate the customer at another moment of truth.

And the seat itself: No one prefers to sit in the middle seats because they are uncomfortable as heck. I don’t understand why an airline would not ‘compensate’ a passenger stuck in the middle seat. Could the seats be w bit wider? Could the passenger get more loyalty points? Could the passenger be served first? Or something that makes middle seat travel a wee bit less angst filled?

My last point for this blog is my biggest bug bear. Carry on baggage. Why in the world do airlines have a policy of 7 kg carry on but not implement it. I find it odd that the same airline that charges for 1 lb excess baggage at check in allows people to carry tons of stuff in a roll on suitcase that meets physical dimensions. Of course there is limited storage space inside. This is what causes people to rush to board and often people like me who actually have just one laptop bag are left struggling to find space. There are many simple solution to this issue: Ban any roll ons or duffel bags. Charge for hand baggage for the second bag on a per pound/kg basis. Allow just one bag. And so on. Recently on an Air Alaska they prioritised boarding for passengers with no roll ons or duffel bags. And after we were in, the rest were allowed to board. And curiously the overhead locker design was such that you could keep suitcases on their side, allowing more bags to be placed there. Those that didn’t were checked in. Easy. Also made for much faster boarding.

There are many such little things that airlines could start doing that may not even cost them more and, in fact , give them an opportunity to make more money, that suggests they care for their customers.

Try and bring back some of the romance of air travel.

Else no matter what Jennifer Aniston says the dissonance for hundreds of passengers is growing with every flight.

 

Categories: Uncategorized
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