Collaboration is not just a buzzword: the notion of businesses working together to achieve a common objective is not a new phenomenon fuelled by digital media. However, 90% of people surveyed in one agency believe it has a positive impact on the work produced. Whilst many agencies speak of the wonderful potential of collaboration, they continue to provide themselves with significant hurdles and show reluctance to truly engage in collaborative processes.
One of the pegs holding the collaborative balloon firmly on the ground is that the parties involved in the advertising process serially refuse to take responsibility for the origination and management of a collaborative process. From our research, we found that many agencies lay this task firmly at the feet of their clients, who they believe should be the maypole around which collaborating agencies should dance. With so many marketing teams having shrunk since 2008, this could be an issue. Bearing this in mind, agencies must take the lead in this process. Of course, there are other restraints as agencies must protect their respective revenue streams. It is easy to forget, as agencies boast about their creative and innovative thinking, that it is the bottom-line which drives their work. As the recession continues to place strains upon marketing budgets, agencies will forever be scrapping for the morsels of budget their client is able to offer. Collaboration, the sharing of work and responsibility, insinuates a negative ‘sharing of fee’ mentality at agencies, and they shut the door firmly.
On top of this, the declining budgets mean that each party is clambering to increase their range of services in order to be able to satisfy the clients’ needs. This was an aspect of another issue found in agency collaboration: ownership of services and ideas. Social media is a prime example of a platform which every agency feels should fall under their remit, and tensions will continue to increase as long as this area remains grey. Similarly, the ideas that are forged within agencies are then kept under lock and key. Agencies’ main objectives are to be the lead agency, so external input has perceived negative implications for total ownership of their work.
This is also an issue within agencies. Individuals and teams work in isolation and this induces competition within the agency. As Fern Miller, EMEA Head of Strategy & Planning, LBi says, ‘agencies are full of people…People are usually flawed, chippy, ambitious, nervous, and occasionally petty’ and with these characteristics rife amongst agencies, how can we expect real collaboration? Egos must be left at the door.
Agencies have their own motivations and there is a distinct lack of common goals for agencies working for the same client. If collaboration is to be a regular, efficient, and effective mode of work, the idea must be paramount and the clients’ need must be the crux of every stage of the process. There must also be a clear definition of where each agency starts and finishes work. Nick Cohen, Head of Mediacom Beyond Advertising, Mediacom, asserts that, ‘the most successful partnerships are those in which the ground-rules are really clear’; that clarity and definition are paramount when it comes to roles and responsibilities, and that it is vital to ensure that, ‘everyone is motivated to collaborate…rather than motivated to compete with one-another’ towards collective goals. Establishing barriers allows those parties with expertise in certain areas to take due prominence in particular areas of the campaign.
Responses from agencies suggest that media is a counter-culture to collaboration. Until ‘the work’ sits upon a pedestal currently occupied by revenue streams and creative ownership, real collaboration cannot succeed. The major flaw is that media agency business models do not value the creation of real ideas, but instead values the buying of media or creating ads for more expensive platforms, and pays on a commission based model. Fixing this will take more than a few award-winning plasters, but instead a significant operation to drive change on a wider scale. The evolution of relationships between agencies and media owners, which were formally tense, rates-related, and at arm’s length, now continually produce excellent work, notably in outdoor advertising. It is collaboration that has allowed the work in these areas to evolve as they have. The industry must hold outstanding collaborative work in a higher regard, as this will drive agencies to recognise its true value. The presence of a media-neutral party may allow the management of the collaborative process, but until the process is owned by one party and driven by a sole objective, collaboration in its truest sense cannot exist.