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In the tactical ad world, does the ‘culture’ of an agency really matter to brands?

When BestMediaInfo.com interviewed marketers, some contended that brands are generally indifferent to agency cultures and it’s an internal matter for individual companies to take care of. Conversely, others argued that the culture of an ad agency extends beyond its internal dynamics; it also influences the external perception of the brands it serves

In a recent development, WPP merged Wunderman Thompson with VMLY&R to create VML, raising significant questions about the preservation of their respective cultures. Given the marked differences between Wunderman Thompson (formerly JWT) and VMLY&R in terms of culture, there arose concerns about how the DNA and culture of these entities would evolve post-merger. Would individuals from Wunderman Thompson feel belonged in the culture at VML?

The discussions around fostering healthy agency cultures resurfaced once again. Rather than delving into discussions with advertising agencies about the importance of cultivating agency cultures, BestMediaInfo.com decided to engage with marketers to gauge the significance of agency culture while associating with them. Many marketers emphasise that agency-client relationships often tend to be tactical rather than strategic.

When BestMediaInfo.com interviewed marketers, some contended that brands are generally indifferent to agency cultures, emphasising that what matters most to them is the quality of work delivered by the agency. Conversely, others argued that the culture of an ad agency extends beyond its internal dynamics; it also influences the external perception of the brands it serves, ultimately manifesting in the work produced.

As per a senior brand marketing veteran who didn’t wish to be quoted, the preliminary purpose of any brand reaching out to an ad agency for years has continued to be to “find optimal creative solutions to the business or brand problem”.

In this process, what is of utmost importance is when the individual experiences the agency’s speed, strategy, and cost-effectiveness, or even when engaging with different people from the particular agency’s different teams and seeing them as one common personality.

“What I mean by personality here is that all the team members are equally trained, competent, and fast. And that is what is most important to me, rather than the culture of the agency, because that is something that is internal to them. But for clients such as us, the most important factor is the agency’s ability to deliver on our needs, and for that, you need a positive culture so that you can get your people to work together and be comfortable. In fact, the true test of a culture is when you don't deal with people, but with a firm that is consistent in its quality and in the practices of people,” the spokesperson said.

Furthermore, the marketing professional also pointed out that the biggest ‘cultural’ need that the ad world has out there is to work together and not in silos. There have been various instances where the spokesperson has seen creative people work separately and planners not listen to them while the servicing team does not even listen to either of them. Apart from this, sometimes the case is such that the agency people are unaware of what a quick turnaround or even a cost-effective solution means.

“Culture is an ingredient that all agencies should have to deliver the optimal outcome or output for a client, but it is not what we primarily look for because I am only interested in having the aam and not the guthli, which means that I am only interested in getting a creative solution that works in the marketplace,” the spokesperson added.

Sumeet Singh

According to Sumeet Singh, Group Chief Marketing Officer, Info Edge India, what matters to brands today, first and foremost, is the quality of the work that comes out of an agency and the quality of the team that is going to be associated with the brand, not the culture of the agency that handles their account.

“Many times, what happens is that the best resources from the agency come onboard for a pitch, but what happens in the aftermath is that who works on the account is an entirely different team because even though an agency might have a very good creative director doing fabulous work out of, say, the Bombay office, my location is Delhi, and hence there is a difference in the team that works on my brand. On the other hand, one does not really evaluate their decision to choose an agency partner by the ‘culture’ of that particular agency, but I do feel that it plays some part,” she said.

She then went on to add that before finalising an agency partner, one often considers a combination of both primary and secondary factors, such as the team’s attitude, functional skills, creative expertise, strategic depth in account planning, etc. depending on the kind of work that one wants to be done. Hence, culture is not the only deciding factor, but it does play a role somewhere.

Adityan Kayalakal

On the other hand, Adityan Kayalakal, Head- Marketing and Founding Team Member, Veera, also pointed out that while the role of an agency’s culture is absolutely important for a brand, what is also an important factor to see is if the culture is actually conducive to the brand.

“While hiring for Veera, we wanted to hire an agency that would think on their feet, do daring work, and work closely with us every single day. But while working for a more traditional brand, the process and rigour might be greater considerations, really,” he said.

In his viewpoint, one of the cultural aspects that play an important role in brand-agency partnerships is the focus on idea-centricity, or big ideas, a flat hierarchy where the team from the CEO to the intern is as passionate as the marketer himself and also flexible at the same time.

“Another big consideration for most marketers should be whether they can reflect the culture of the agency they choose. If the agency culture differs too much from the expectations of the marketing team, friction can occur there as well. But it is important to understand that for everything we demand from our agency partners, we give them equal amounts of freedom, respect, and honesty,” he opined.

Rajeev Jain

Rajeev Jain, Senior Vice President- Corporate Marketing, Dharampal Satyapal Group, also denoted that he strongly feels that when it comes to client-agency relationships, the case is often like that of a long-term association or a marriage between the two, because the ultimate objective of such associations is to get creative solutions to the brand’s business problems.

In his view, these business problems could be those of building the brand, understanding the challenges, target audience, and competition, among other things. And until and unless the agency doesn’t put its shoes in those of the brand’s marketing team, having an all-around understanding is not possible.

“For this to actually happen, what is important is to build a relationship between the agency and the brand, and that too with the same passion, because only then would one be able to create good work. Making an ad or a TVC worth three crores is not on the agenda, but it is actually more than that. It is about defining the brand and its identity and space, along with the brand’s essence and architecture, among all other elements. Hence, it is what plays a major role in the culture and the attitude of the agency partner, alongside strategic thinking, creative capability, servicing, speed and agility, etc.” he said.

In his view, the resonance of the culture between the agency and the brand is therefore very important. Coupled with that, there are other factors like business acumen and strategic thinking, among others, that are also considered.

“Just because an agency is part of a network may not work best to my advantage as long as they don't leverage that network capability better in India in terms of sharing resources and learnings from the international markets. Additionally, when looking at appointing agency partners, we do tend to consider the work or client quality of the team that would work on my account, their team size, as well as how internally aligned they are because, in today’s digital world, speed and turnaround are extremely crucial for an agency to do justice to the brands,” he added.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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