May 27

Garbage in, garbage out

9109 I’ve never met Casey Jones (the marketer, not the engineer), but I already like the cut of this man’s jib.

For those of you unfamiliar with Casey (the marketer, not the ill-fated engineer), Jones has a long list of accomplishments including serving as VP of Dell and creating Apple’s memorable ‘1984’ TV spot that launched the Mac computer.

But, I’m not writing about Casey’s past accomplishments as a marketer. Instead, I feel compelled to wax poetic about his fresh way of thinking about client-agency relationships. As a strategy consultant to corporations such as Verizon Wireless, Jones has changed the ways clients think. To wit, Verizon’s VP of marketing communications, John Harrobin, is now holding his internal executives responsible for “…demonstrating excellence in providing the organization’s stable of agencies clearly defined briefs from which to execute marketing communications and campaigns.” That’s HUGE! In other words, clients can no longer pass the buck and blame their agencies for poor execution. Instead, thanks to Casey’s counsel, Verizon’s internal communications team shares success or failure with their agency partners. Talk about a long overdue sea change.

Jones is an absolute evangelist when it comes to the ongoing blame game about failed marketing efforts. His motto is ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’ That’s shorthand for his theory that efficiency-obsessed clients can get want they want by not slashing an agency’s budget but, rather, by briefing the agency better. Jones rates the average client direction as being between a two and a three on a scale of one to 10. “The norm is partial, incomplete and sometimes no brief at all,” he opines. Ouch.

I agree with Jones (with reservations, of course). We have some superb clients with whom we’re fully engaged in the strategic planning process, creative brief and definitions of success. And, then there have been those clients who, after telling us they wanted a strategic partner, left us to put out fires on a daily basis and fired us for ‘not understanding the business of their business.’ I still recall a post mortem with one client who admitted he himself didn’t really get the corporation’s business model but still felt compelled to fire us. “So,” replied Deb Brown, our ice hockey playing, Kangoo-jumping, absolutely fearless account manager of the ill-fated business, “How do you expect your agency to understand your business if you don’t?” You go, girl.

Casey Jones and his ideas are starting to take root. The Association of National Advertisers’ School of Marketing has invited him to give presentations about the importance of quality briefings by the client. That’s great. But, it’s not enough. I suggest the Arthur W. Page Society (www.awpagesociety.com) and the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org) follow suit ASAP and invite Jones to present to PR types.

Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. It’s high time other clients follow the lead of Verizon Wireless and hold their own internal communications team just as responsible for success (or failure) as they do their external agency partners.

As Ad Age said in its headline for the article, “Marketers, quit blaming your agency – it’s your brief at fault.”