We strive to do great work — and we should know if it works
I recently received an email about a project I completed 4 months ago. Part of the project involved an idea to generate sales leads in a very niche business, so our audience was quite small.
The email read in part, “Of those 14 leads, they have already taken the next step with 8 companies, adding $3.5 million to their sales pipeline.”
I was thrilled. Because that kind of success makes a real impact, the kind that truly changes a client’s business. I was also thrilled that, as a freelancer, I was included in this follow-up email.
So do most advertising creatives care about the bottom-line performance of the accounts they work on? With everything else we’re concerned with, is it ever a priority? Is it preferable just to stay focused on the quality of the creative product? Should there be incentives for work that has a positive financial impact?
I once worked at an agency that had a major automotive account, the kind of place where there were a couple of new cars parked in the agency lobby. And there was a big sign showing how many cars the manufacturer had sold in the previous two months versus the year before. Seeing raw sales numbers has an effect; it’s not a subtle hint. But the sign was on the account management floor, not the creative floor. There was no doubt our account folks were under pressure to deliver.
But unless you’re a creative that’s specifically dedicated to working on one account or two, generally you’re not concerned with the performance of your clients. Because much of the work is short-term, get-it-out-the-door campaign work. You do it and you move on to the next project.
In any full-time copywriting job I’ve had, I’d have to go out of my way to inquire how something I worked on performed. It wasn’t information that was regularly given out. Many clients and agencies don’t review the performance of past work in a formal way, and when they do, they fail to report results back to creatives.
Perhaps that’ll change. Recently, we’ve heard about new agency/client compensation agreements that focus on performance. Supposedly, agencies will get more money the better the work performs, or bonuses tied in to client sales. Does that trickle down to the teams that actually make the work? Sure, they’ll likely keep their jobs if the client is happy, but will they get paid more? I doubt it. What would a pay-for-performance structure look like for a copywriter or web designer?
Many creatives who aren’t in agency management simply don’t concern themselves too much with client performance on a large scale. They’re focused on whatever work is on the screen at the time, and little else. Perhaps that’s a good thing. But we’re in a world in which agencies keep having to prove their worth to clients in the face of competition from marketing communications firms of all kinds. So it would help if everyone in an agency were focused on making clients more successful — and that starts by understanding what success looks like to a brand.
Imagine if you were a creative and walked into a job interview. And in addition to looking at your work, the hiring manager started talking numbers about the campaigns you worked on. What would you say if you couldn’t simply reply, “We got a lot of clicks on Facebook with that one” or “We won a bunch of awards with that campaign”? An interview would be way tougher if you had to prove sales effectiveness.
Of course, there’s no direct correlation to how great a concept or idea is creatively, and how well it performs. With all the other factors at work, you simply can’t always prove the efficacy of a campaign. Great ads don’t always have the impact we hope they would, and not all creative work is simply designed to push sales figures higher — which makes the whole “did it work?” discussion even tougher.
Still, it’s incumbent upon agency leaders to stress the importance of a client’s business success. And it’s incumbent upon client-side marketers to make sure everyone on an agency team — right down to the junior project manager — understands how the client makes money and defines successful marketing efforts. Otherwise, no one’s going to care. If agencies aren’t hiring creative people with some knowledge of business, the shop will be a revolving door and the work will be a constant stream of frivolous ideas that has little impact on sales.
And that’ll have a bad effect on the long-term results of the agency business.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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