As individuals, the way that we see ourselves may be quite different from how others perceive us. How businesses see themselves may be different from how their market, customers and competitors perceive them to be.
Organisations spend a lot of time and money on communicating with their target audience, but perhaps independent specialist agencies are better able to deliver the message in a manner that is more effective.
Communications in the form of advertising, public relations are an essential tool in supporting sales and company image, to influence the perceptions and decisions of decision makers and influencers. Added to these established methods of communication, is the internet and social media which provide direct interaction with interested parties at an individual level.
For the commercial manager, responsible for producing the profitable income on which the business relies, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements is the fundamental activity. An essential part of that activity is communication with customers, both existing and potential, in order not just to inform the market of the business and its products, but perhaps more importantly to hear the opinions and requirements of the market. Being able to receive genuine opinions and attitude from the market enables a business not only to react quickly to changing conditions, perceptions and attitudes, but also to anticipate change and act accordingly.
The late Robert Townshend, former chairman of Avis and author of the internationally acclaimed best seller, “Up the Organization,” understood that for any business, “Marketing was the name of the game”. By this, he meant that marketing was fundamental to the business as being the management of all those activities involved in producing sustainable profitable income for the long term future of the business. However, while agreeing the fundamental importance of marketing, Townshend was not a believer in marketing departments.
He took the view that marketing strategy should be decided by the chief executive officer (CEO) who should be responsible for making overall profits, while a commercial manager would be responsible for efficiently producing and maximizing sustainable profitable income.
Townshend advocated using outside full service marketing agencies, as a cost effective alternative to employing, internal specialists, as this reduced the overhead costs, and gave greater flexibility to use resources. These contracted marketing agencies would provide specialist support as and when required, for marketing communications, research, customer relationship management, and any other specialist services required which could also include the contracting out of selling operations.
Advantages and considerations
The advantage of using outside specialist agencies and contractors, rather than employing internal specialist staff is that their collective experience is usually greater than would be expected from an individual company employee. Agencies and contractors provide services only as and when needed, providing increased flexibility for the client company in their use of assets and investment. At the same time, specialist contractors and agencies usually look for long term associations, providing a stability which may not be apparent with marketing employee who may be guided by short term personal interests. While Townshend’s approach may not appeal to all, it does have some significant advantages, especially for those small and growing businesses with more limited resources requiring greater flexibility in their use.
Using a “full service” adverting agency, one that provides advertising and press relations support as well as social media can provide a good solution to the communications conundrum. Using an independent agency has a number of advantages, namely it is independent, it is selected for its expertise, it is not tied to the organisations view of itself, and it can be changed. Finding, selecting, engaging a suitable agency and then successfully managing the relationship is therefore of great importance.
When managing the relationship with a communications agency, a commercial manager should consider the following principles:
- The objectives, content and target audience for communication need to be defined.
- It is essential that the development of mutual trust and confidence is established with the agency, as its consultants may require access to some confidential company information.
- The agency’s consultants will need to have access to the appropriate people when necessary.
- The client /consultancy relationship should be considered for the longer term in order for its successful development.
- The commercial manager’s organisation knows more about itself than does an agency. Similarly a good agency knows more about advertising, PR, and social media than does the organisation. Thus while retaining an ultimate veto, the commercial manager should not attempt to improve any communication submitted for approval by the agency. Any changes suggested by the commercial manager should be limited to factual defects in the communication.
- Media selection should be the primary responsibility of the agency, but should take advice from the commercial manager in any special situation.
The message that an organisation wants to send to its customers and market should coincide with that which the recipients want to hear.
While an organisation may create the information that it wants to convey, a specialist agency is best able to deliver it in a manner that the audience wants to receive it and to which it will be most receptive.