Monday, February 22, 2016

So, what’s the objective?

“When there is no port of call, no wind is the right wind“ - Seneca

I am sure some of you have experienced this in group discussions. When the discussion is going nowhere some smart person earns brownie points by saying, “Can we please get back to the topic at hand? What’s the objective?” I have seen this happen at the work place too as it helps to get back to basics. Extending the thought to my own industry the lack of clear articulation of objectives of any communication exercise will always leave clients and agencies with a sense of regret and eventually heartburn. The agency feels that the campaign is working or is delivering whilst the client does not seem to agree. Clients seem very keen to throw this funny line at advertising agencies often enough, “50 per cent of my advertising budget is wasted, trouble is I don’t know which 50 per cent”. While it is a great throwaway line and sure to raise laughter in cocktail parties the reality is slightly different. Let me explain.

How sharply outlined are your objectives?
Often marketing objectives and communication objectives are used interchangeably by people in positions of authority and who are we to question them? They seem to forget that there are several stages before a purchase decision is made. To expect communication to deliver sales is a bit rich to put it mildly. Communication can at best create or increase awareness for a brand and perhaps move it into the “consideration set”. But it cannot make one buy a product. Let me tell you a real life story about the last car I bought. I had done my homework, looked at product reviews, spoken to my friends and decided on a brand of car to buy. I liked the advertising too which delivered me and my wife to the showroom. I was selling more than the salesman to my wife who sadly didn’t seem too impressed. At the moment of truth she said, “if you buy this car, I will never sit in it”. Now what should any self-respecting husband have done? He should have bought the car, but I came away dutifully with my wife to buy another car of her choice that I was paying for! Was the advertising to blame? Hardly! It had delivered me and my wife to the dealer outlet. The advertising objective has to be a quantifiable number of test drives because of the campaign rather than sales. Now while discerning marketers do know the difference there are others who have unreasonable expectations from the agency and its efforts. It is the role of communication professionals to educate our clients and for us to educate we must first know. Time to introspect?

What about Public Relations?
I had an interesting experience with our Public Relations practice. There is an expensive chain of dental clinics in Bengaluru which has its headquarters in San Francisco. Conservatively the price is five times the price of good local dental clinics. We presented to them and they kept bargaining on the retainer fees and were clear that they wanted to link public relations deliverables to sales. Clearly there are limitations to what PR can do. It can create awareness, build image and even deliver prospects to the clinic, if working in synergy with social media. But how can it convert particularly when the pricing is so high and customer experience is still unproven? I declined the business and now sleep in peace.

Are we order takers or consultants?
Many of our calling cards proudly proclaim that we are consultants whatever the discipline, advertising, Public Relations or Social Media. Yet how many of us have the capability to advise our clients correctly and stand up for our rights? The best relations between client and agency are those that are built on mutual respect. What is the essential quality of a consultant? Or why do you seek out a consultant? You seek her out because she “knows” and is a subject matter expert. Respect sadly is earned not demanded and that is the challenge that many of us face in today‘s world. You can shout from the roof tops that you are not getting respected or bash your clients till the cows come home but the problem may lie within and that is something that many of us do not wish to accept. Do some intensive soul searching. Build a reputation, write a blog and maybe lose some hair, slowly but surely things will change.

Today there is a lot of talk of the “new order” and the fact that we are living in a knowledge economy. While there are enormous opportunities as well, the reality is that if you are not prepared for it you may be left behind. The choice is yours. Do you wish to be a whiner and a client basher or an educator of clients?

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