Harry Davison of Maxus: how can we ensure that ‘media effectiveness’ helps us do the right thing?

Unknown-4“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing”. I am always struck by these words by Peter Drucker, the founding father of management consultancy. They are pertinent because people tend to gravitate towards finessing what they are already doing, as opposed to challenging the status quo and asking: ‘Am I doing the right thing? Are we taking the best course?’

With clients now demanding that we have an immediate, data informed opinion on their business, Drucker’s words are more relevant than ever. Many agencies have a department called ‘analysis’, ‘data’ or ‘insights’, yet there is a risk that this automatically encourages a focus on the minutiae. It becomes all too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. For Effectiveness to ‘do the right thing’, it needs to be positioned front and centre as the ‘conscience’ of the agency and work to some core guiding principles:

Hire passionate people

Getting the right talent in place is crucial for the benefits of Effectiveness to be felt throughout the agency and by clients. Analytical brilliance along with a fine eye for detail are obvious requirements. Equally important is a passion for creative problem solving. Beyond this, team members need to be able to communicate clearly and simply to clients and client teams, explaining what they’ve done and why they’ve done it. In the words of Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Where it can be a challenge to find individuals who possess all these traits, the trick is to employ the right mix of ‘heads down’ (technical wizards) and ‘heads up’ people (skilled communicators). By achieving the right balance, clients get the benefit of technically brilliant analysis that is integrated into the account team’s work, attuned to both the campaign imperatives and their broader strategic objectives.
Harder to find, perhaps, are people that still have a childlike inquisitiveness and imagination to combine with their knowledge and skills. You know them when you meet them.

Collaboration is key

Effectiveness means knowing your clients’ business like it’s your own. Get under their skin, know what keeps them up at night; you need to be adept at answering the questions that really matter to them and to their business. To achieve this, the account director, business directors and client service directors need to become your best friends. They talk to clients on a day-to-day basis and can act as a great filter for the need-to-know details.

Start early and be agile

A real benefit of collaborating closely with clients and knowing what your client teams are planning is that you can get in on the brief early.
Take an early doors approach, for example testing the effectiveness of running different media combinations in the early planning stages of a campaign. Where this can be done swiftly and on a budget, so much the better. Such an approach enables you to recommend the best media combination well in advance, and helps clients to set aside the correct budget for projects. It also means that tracking, pre-research or marketing activity can be set up in the best way to measure the solution.

Of course, it doesn’t always work like this; often Effectiveness is brought in to analyse activity after it has taken place. This calls for agile creative thinkers in the team, to work out how to answer clients’ critical questions. Effectiveness isn’t about rolling out the same analysis for each piece of work – it’s about delivering bespoke solutions every time.

Lean into change and bring clients with you

Measure, analyse, conclude, recommend and change. This is the point of doing Effectiveness projects, to give clients and their teams the framework and principles to make better decisions in the future.

It is paramount that we don’t just carry out the first two exercises in this list – our job doesn’t stop when we present our findings. Effectiveness should draw clear conclusions from its work and translate these into recommendations for the future – then assist in actioning them.

Work with clients and their teams continuously on implementing findings. Also, consult on how best to run tests of new media or strategies, creating options for the client to show them how different plans will deliver results.

True Effectiveness involves continually monitoring activity and updating forecasts and, crucially, communicating each campaign’s performance to clients. Analysis should reveal what’s worked and what hasn’t, and form the basis of recommendations on how to improve it next time round. And so the continuous process starts over again, working with the client team to put those new recommendations into effect.
Have an entrepreneurial spirit

For all clients, success will ultimately be measured in the financial return generated for the business owners or good causes in the case of charities. Many of us working in Effectiveness have joined from economics backgrounds and we apply these principles daily. After all, the main objective for all clients is to increase their long-term profitability.

Effectiveness means keeping this objective front of mind for each project. Often, this presents a challenge because our analysis and clients’ targets tend to revolve around quite short-term objectives. Therefore, we must look to draw hypotheses or conclusions on the longer term effect of our recommendations. Ultimately, this means looking beyond the brief to find ways clients can increase their bottom line.

Clients expect us to answer the difficult questions. The challenge for agencies is that these questions are evolving at an alarming rate. To be truly effective, Effectiveness must stay rooted to clients’ core objectives, delivering robust, original and insightful findings and applying them purposefully to their business. Of course there is a role for business efficiency and “doing things right”. But only by taking a bigger picture view and moving Effectiveness front and centre of processes can we ensure that we are, in Drucker’s words, “doing the right thing”.

Harry Davison is effectiveness director of Maxus UK

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