Calling a Spade a Spade at the OMMA Behavioral Conference

Thursday of last week was a messy, mushy wet day here in New York City, but the ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, home of the OMMA Behavioral conference, was warm and comfortable. That is, until Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi gave us all a tough talking to.

His theme: collaboration – and our lack thereof.

“We believe we’re in a share game when we’re in a growth industry,” he said. We fight tooth and nail for $1.2 billion while overlooking $240 billion that is “lying there.” We need to focus, he said, on the customer, not on each other.

So what is it the customer wants? Six things:

Clients want:

(1) Continuous Improvement
(2) Service
(3) Collaboration

How do we score?

(1) Continuous improvement: We pass!

(2) Service: Well, that’s a 50% score

(3) Collaboration…. “We do this horribly.”

Leave it to Rishad to say out loud what we all know to be true, particularly from the client’s perspective. Clients are faced, he said, with a choice between best of breed agencies, that don’t play well together or a mediocre but collaborative combination of vendors.

Most sobering, Rishad wrapped it up by saying that these are the requirements that determine whether an agency stays or goes: “You get fired for these things,” he said.

The spade that Rishad called a spade is something that has surprised and perplexed me – particularly when looking at the situation from the client’s point of view. The client wants an overarching look at how its marketing dollars are working. But an increasingly common refrain is: “We can’t get access to that data because it belongs to an agency that is not part of our group.” Craziness… but hard to fix.

How are clients fixing it? They’re taking it in house. “Clients are much smarter today than they were 5 years ago,” he said. “They are taking a lot of things in house to avoid the drama.”

Rishad brought this up in response to my question about how we can address this problem in the short term. And I’ve had it corroborated by recruiters looking for agency people to work directly for advertisers. Uh oh, if we don’t play well together, we’re going to have our very expensive toys taken away from us.

So that’s why agencies get fired. Why do they get hired? What can we do to catch the eye of a prospective client? As is often the case today, the answer came in “I’s” – three “I’s.” They are: (4) Insights, (5) Inspiration and (6) Ideas. Sounds sexy.

So… how are we doing? The story starts well:

(4) Insights: What industry is better suited to provide insights, Rishad exclaimed. Good point (if we do it right, of course…).

(5) Inspiration: Maybe not so good. Eloquent as always, Rishad explained, “We give perspiration, desperation, hallucination…” but not inspiration. Well, that’s a bummer

(6) Ideas: [hmmm.. I’ll have to go back to the recording to see what he said on this topic].

As I said, at the end of Rishad’s uplifting talk, I asked what we could do in the short term. His response:

Treat people like people. “If you are answering a question with PowerPoint slides,” he said, “you have already lost. Take your clients out to a drink and recognize that they are actually people.”

And with that, I’m tempted to put my keyboard down and get a drink but…. the last bit of what Rishad said was intriguing. “All of TV,” he said,” is going to get like digital.” Hmmm, that may be coming but not in the immediate future. Though… I must say that the satellite providers are offering some very cool interactivity with respect to remote DVR programming. This is how they differentiate themselves, and they are ahead of the curve. They are not tethered by a patchwork of acquired cable providers and corresponding remote controls.

And, he said, if the iPad succeeds, it will be the same for magazines.

Food – and drink for thought.

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