Ad agencies as strategic business partners

by Wayne Naidoo. Just how much value is your advertising agency really offering you?

by Wayne Naidoo. Just how much value is your advertising agency really offering you? And just how well do they understand your business. Has your agency spent a week on the ground with you to see what your day-to-day operation involves? Have they spoken to your suppliers or even competitors in the industry? Have they asked about numbers, deliverables and targets and, most importantly, do they know what keeps you awake at night?

There is a reason why ad agencies are losing ground to consulting firms – they are offering clients more than just advertising. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter and Gamble stated in the Financial Times, “Agencies need to do more to help their clients – the industry needs to figure out how we drive growth.” If agencies want to remain competitive, we need to come up with innovative, unique solutions for our clients to position ourselves as an indispensible, strategic business partner.

This exact positioning forms the foundation of the DUKE Group Brains Trust – a strategic tool utilising key industry individuals with extensive experience operating within in our client’s sector, to explore different opportunities in that particular field and help us better understand and service the client’s business. The Brains Trust allows us to submerge ourselves completely in their business and the industry in which it operates. The first requirement is that we conduct ‘structured interviews’ with the company’s executive. Brand building is a business issue not a marketing issue, hence, we depend upon access to C-suite executives to get to the core of your business requirements.

Consider the enormity of the financial services, motor and FMCG industries alone – how can we begin to believe that we, as an agency, have a comprehensive understanding of the sector in which our clients operate? Instead, as part of the Brains Trust we recruit experts in each industry to strategise around the needs of every client. These will include people who speak the client’s language and understand the sector in which they operate. It might include a supplier, a trade union representative, an industry journalist and an ex-competitor – all individuals who have extensive experience operating within the sector and who can explore different opportunities in the client’s business. And we obviously also include you, the client – the CEO, financial director and marketing director – because it is ultimately your business that we want to understand, and your input is obviously most valuable.

Agency value

The agency’s role? To facilitate the forum in a way that ensures that these credible, experienced individuals provide us with an in-depth understanding of the key opportunities and strengths in the industry and the challenges faced by the client. Knowing what questions to ask is often what unlocks fresh, creative answers. This is the most valuable offering of the Brains Trust: sufficient knowledge of your sector to challenge what you “know to be true”. After that a good executive team will find new solutions and a good agency will package them well.

There is huge value to be gained from sitting around the table with industry heavyweights and thrashing out ideas. The outcomes are obviously on-target and far more insightful than any generic research model. It’s a way to gain targeted and detailed business insights from the foremost experts in that field and for us to translate those into strategic and creative deliverables. Sometimes that doesn’t even involve an advertising campaign – it might involve PR, social networking, or a new staff-training programme.

Placing all your focus on the consumer, as is traditionally the case, often doesn’t lead to desired outcomes – consumers more often than not react to what’s given to them and seldom, if ever, create anything. So, understanding your key business platforms and trade needs may be more important than consumer insight when it comes to actually generating new markets, channels, product or brand promises.

If the past 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that agencies really need to be providing significantly more to our clients than creative campaigns. Brands are questioning the way in which agencies are spending their money and reassessing the way we market and sell their products. The point is; your agency should be looking for solutions that go beyond the regular scope of traditional campaign elements. Are they prepared to explore non-traditional solutions that might not necessarily make them as much money, but that will benefit your business far more? Because at the end of the day we should be adding value as a business partner and not just creating pretty ads.


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Wayne Naidoo is founder and CEO of DUKE Group. He started out in the industry as Marketing Manager of the Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid Committee. Seduced by the world of advertising, he joined Lowe Bull soon after its inception, where he started out in account management and grew through the ranks to business development director, where he worked on a range of blue-chip clients; and was appointed Group CEO of the Lowe Group. After a stint at fintech startup afb (now known as JUMO World); Naidoo returned to advertising and started Duke six years ago. He is current Chairman for the Association for Communication and Advertising in South Africa (ACA); a board member for the AAA School of Advertising; and Chairman of the Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) in Cape Town.

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The Duke Group is a sponsor on and with Retailing Africa, will be publishing a series of thought leadership articles on strategic insights into advertising for brands in South Africa and Africa. DUKE is an integrated marketing agency that puts the best people in the corner of contender brands so they can win the fight for customers’ attention. The independent agency is a tight collaboration and integration of different disciplines brought together to best help clients to succeed in a progressively challenging and fluid environment – from strategy to creative; production and PR; sponsorship and research. Companies in the group include Duchess, Champ, Nude, Mark1 and Positive Dialogue.