You just gotta love me

Years ago I had a conversation with a highly creative Marketing Director from a top flight car company. He knew the secrets to engaging people and making his brands popular, and his success was obvious. His Company was No 1. When I looked back on the work he commissioned, the common denominator was that every bit of it made me smile, and sometimes chuckle. I analysed it all and humour was the common denominator.


I became obsessed with creating brand platforms built around laconic, dry humour. To learn how it worked I interviewed comedians, went to comedy nights at the pub, organised comedy workshops for clients and agency creatives, and even started to pen a bit of it.


Writing comedy is hard. It takes an inordinate amount of time to craft, simplify, reduce, all the while enhancing the puns and jokes, site gags or situations. It’s too easy to delve into cynicism, create a comic foil who is the butt of the joke, rather than create a funny joke of itself. Cynicism and sarcasm is inherently mean-spirited, and that isn’t going to make someone like the butt of the joke. They just laugh at whoever or whatever it is.


But I digress.


Being funny wasn’t what my all-too-ahead-of-the-game client focused on. Sure, he wanted to entertain but that was secondary to making people like his brand. The core of his genius was to be liked. He judged creative work by its ability to make people like or love the brand.


Have you ever bought something from a business you despise?  Me neither.


Even when it comes to grudge purchases, like insurance or telco’s, you’ll go with the one you “hate the least”. Buying goods and services is not a process of indifference, it is a process of preference. Brand preference.


And how do you build ‘preference’? Remember, brands don’t exist in the physical 3 dimensional world. They are intangible entities that exist only in the heads of the consumer. It’s in there that they earn their stripes. Values and personality traits are overlaid with brand imagery and experience to coalesce into a brand of note, or if the process of building preference is poorly executed, a brand that means nothing.


Preference comes from imparting the right values and personality traits in communications, creating a positive user and shopping experience, cool POS, clever staff sales training, and attractive packaging. Probably in that order of importance.


And the objective should, at the very least, to be liked.


But I think there is more to just being liked. I think brands need to be loved.  Creating Brand Love. That is my goal for each and every client I work on, and perhaps just as important for my own brand, elemental.


When I look back at the work I have done and brands I have worked on, the best of it makes you smile, sometimes makes you laugh and like the brand in question. But its time to elevate the game. I reckon we are all in the “love” game now.


Send your bouquets or brickbats to



Salty or Swag. the Agency dilemma

Salty^ (adj). Bitterness. Feeling bitter, and being bitter about feeling bitter. To be salty is to be bitter.

Swag^. (adj). Feeling on top. Complete. In control. “I’m swag, that’s swag. That’s swag dude, real swag”.


Right now the agency business is salty, really salty, and it shall remain so. CEO’s know it. CFO’s know it. The CD’s know it too. For all our intelligence, creativity, hard work and vision, we don’t make money anymore. We struggle to monetize our IP, and have relied on their production suite for too long. It’s a specific type of bitterness seeing the quality thinking go out the door for next to nix, only to find production rolled up and stuffed by a purchasing department that forces contractual down-cost. No money for your brains, no money for the body (of work). That’s salty.


How did it come to this?


How easily did it come to this is the real question. Giving away the farm for the cows. Selling the IP as ‘green fees’, trusting the cash from ad production and fee from the account management team. Dealing with the client negotiation on the fee structure (arguing over a 2.4, 2.1, or 1.8 multiple on account management staff cost) doesn’t build value on the balance sheet. Selling the kids, but not the creators… You know it, I know it, and it’s all our own fault.


Turning this debacle around is not easy. Some big businesses – communications groups – are now so strapped for cash they’re hobbled when trying to turn around sinking ship by either investing in IP and new services, or buying smarter businesses. Shareholders don’t create value, but they do create a demand for profit that limits the capability of a CEO or Board to build a better business in the mid to long term.


4 years ago, I experienced this first hand. My effort to turn around a sinking ship was not the real challenge – been there, done that; the real challenge was to position the business (future-proof it) for genuine growth. That required investment in people and services, and it proved a very hard sell up the line to regional management. They simply saw more cost in an already marginal, if improving, business. Despite making it profitable, this Agency was hamstrung by its balance sheet. Net result? I didn’t want to manage an average shop. Nor did my regional management team, and fair enough too.


Now the predators are circling. Media shops. Management consultants. Clients too! KPMG just bought Heat. | 29 February 2016


“We are the single place for our clients to go to connect business strategy with creative strategy and content,” said Andy Main, chief executive of Deloitte Digital. “We combine creative chops with the powerful Deloitte platform to help our clients find their own disruptive advantage.”


That is real salty, particularly for the Agency CEO who has no real track record dealing with the type of process management a management consultancy puts in place – their veneer of professional service is so very different to that of an agency. But it is just a veneer.

Agencies produce the best ‘window dressing’ (strategy+creative) known. Hard arsed engineers, sales guys, finance people and operations managers look at what we do and dismiss it, saying “its just advertising”. But it isn’t just advertising, it is the marketing magic that builds the only asset that counts, a brand. It should be one of the most important pieces of window dressing on a client CEO’s agenda. Because if they get it right, sales follow.

Building a brand; It’s easy to say, but as we know, harder to do. That is the real reason most of the big management consultants are so reluctant to enter the agency game, because they don’t understand how to sell intangible concepts like ideas. They don’t really get it. All their training and pedigree in business has been in dealing with tangible assets or liabilities– cash, P&L, sales and logistics. Intangibles like brand values and feelings, aren’t as easily identified let alone measured. The management consultants look at the creative process and it scares them.


I had a conversation with the Director of Digital at a massive management consultancy the other day. He said “we love digital production because we can measure it, manage it, and control it. Ideation is a different matter. We are not ready, yet”.


Management consultants have the right idea though. Buy the business that can make real conversations around ideation and creative, and combine it with their reputation, processes, and professionalism. Clients gain confidence in a process that is both elevated and illuminated by the veneer of professional consultancy analysis and cost control. That’s swag.


What is really swag underscores the key difference between the agency and the consultancy – the consultancy will charge for the IP. The performance of each person working on the client’s business is measured very simply – billable head hours. The management consultancies wmonetize the IP the agencies give away for zip.


Interestingly, the PR firms have been monetizing IP for years. But most are yet to enter the big brand game – controlling, growing or re-shaping a brand’s health on behalf of their clients.



There in is the very salty rub. Agency people have a pedigree for doing the hardest of the hard yards, providing clients with the confidence that the agency product / machine can produce creative that changes the health and wealth of the clients brand and business. But we don’t get paid for it, and now, can’t find a way for charging for it.


A senior heavy-weight creative mate of mine posed an interesting question, asking me what I would do. His is client didn’t want the agency to provide a strategic solution that would take weeks to write and deliver, and cost a poultice. The client just wanted 2 hours of his time, because he knew my mate would solve the problem. He said ‘JOC, how do I charge for that?’. I said my Barrister charges $10,000 an hour just to mitigate legal risk, let alone fight a case, and you’re being asked to do so much more, to create brand health and wealth…


Our leadership challenge is to up-weight the IP offer by incorporating data and BI into the client conversation, along with the traditional brand management and problems / solution creative ideation.


We just have to charge for that work, and not just mere head hours, but charge a fair reflection of the wealth the work creates. Before more jackals* eat our lunch.


Now wouldn’t that be swag.


John O’Connor

CEO, Elemental

+44 7541 253544




*Jackals? They can’t do what we do. They just feed of our carcass.

^ Definitions supplied by 9 year old skateboarder



What do clients want from their Communications partners?

Clients select agencies based on what they believe will be the ‘right fit’ with their business. They have specific sales and marketing objectives that must be met, and their communication partners exist solely to help them achieve them. Clients realise that, when buying into an agency relationship, they buy into the total package – account management, creative, strategy, digital, and the inherent costs associated with deploying those resources. It is expensive, but the need for functional efficacy is mandatory. Efficiency, however, is their genuine battleground – how to get more, for less, from their agency(s).
Agencies are a compromise.

The inherent problem with agencies is that they aren’t interested in the client’s need for efficiency. This does them no good at all. Agencies are already under cost pressures. What they are interested in is deploying all of their people all the time, on client projects, and demonstrating their efficacy – strategic and creative performance.


The problem is that Agency people are generalists. Agency staff must be able to wear many category-client hats. An agency can not just hire a brilliant car creative, if they also have food, finance, insurance, or packaged goods clients. Agency people must be, by default, generalists.


In short, clients recognise that Agencies build teams that are ‘fit for purpose’ not a perfect fit.


The opportunity

A client would love to be able to pick and choose world’s-best agency and creative talent available, and deploy skills that are a perfect fit for their business, on their key projects. Many already try to do so, and build agency rosters with diverse skill sets. The client then must manage multiple agency relationships, and the inherent budgetary issues that arise from deploying multiple businesses, the creative clashes and the lack and synergy on projects and brands. It is a case of too many people feeding on the one piece of pie, and remains a business problem CMO’s must begrudgingly manage.


But, what if the CMO or CEO could deploy the world’s-best people on a project basis, without any of the inherent management issues detailed above? And do so without the cost issues that make managing up to their C-Suite colleagues so difficult?


A Communications Company’s real opportunity:

Give the C-Suite the world’s-best people – what they want, when they want it – without the burden of incurring significant additional cost.



The Comms’ firm need to add value to Country Managers who help pay for the Global team, and demand value from it.


So why not build a world’s-best a team of brand strategists, creative leaders, digital strategist, technologists, and media strategists (whatever skill-set client’s need) and deploys them on client projects when required? More so, build this team around client needs. i.e. if Kellogg needs digital activation solutions, the Firm deploys the best people globally, on this project, on a fee basis.


Creating competitive advantage – efficiency

The key is that the Firm can recruit this talent from the freelance ranks. The people may be freelance, may be in consultancy, or may be working within a business. Regardless, pay them a project fee to execute brilliantly on clients project, and add world’s-best cleverness and creativity to the Firm’s offer.


Country Managers can choose to deploy this fluid global team or not.  But a Country Manger can never say, “Global doesn’t add value”.



  • Up-skilled teams without onerous fixed HR costs.
  • Visible added value for Country Managers.
  • Visible added value to clients.
  • The Firm provides a better, more focused service, for less than its mainstream competitors.
  • Delivering World’s-best skills costs nothing until it is deployed.


Customers know all they need to know to buy a cars Sales should foster this knowledge to enhance CS. Salespeople don’t care about data or tech, because it doesn’t empower them, or their customer. People will give you their business, if you give them value beyond price

There is an awful lot of digitally-dazzling marketing-speak swirling around car companies these days. It creates a haziness (can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees type of haziness) for time-poor executives who have to focus on understanding what the jargon means, before thinking through the benefits and analyzing the implications of using it, if at all.

All while doing their day job.

So why do marketers confuse new sales and marketing tools and technology with marketing-speak of never-ending complexity?

The reality for dealer staff should be, and is, simple, if they approach all this marketing gumph from their customer’s shoes. Customers don’t give a stuff about UX, CCP or Lead Tracker CRM integration software. They just want a good look at a car their boss, family or friends said was worth looking at. They want to be able to check it out. They want to be able to drive it. They want to be able to buy it, easily, with a deal in place that lets them boast to all that they bought a cracking car at a cracking good price.

And they will, most likely finance it.

With that reality top of mind, lets look at data, digital and tech’ from the salesperson’s perspective.

Salespeople wants to know if the inquiry they get from the website is real, the customer is coming in, a car will be available for test drive, and that they can meet and greet with confidence knowing they aren’t left talking crap about something they can’t demonstrate.

Again, pretty simple, isn’t it?

Perhaps what is needed is a simple bit of tech that meets both sides of this purchasing game? Like an app, on a smartphone, that shows the customer what’s inside and outside the car, what it goes like, what its like to drive (but encourages them to check it out for themselves) and where they can go and do just that. Also, best to be able to book a time with the salesperson that suits, so they and he/she know the car is ready for them.

The salesman benefits from this simple bit of smartphone tech because they know when the customer is coming in, and how warm they are thanks to a simple rating metric based on time spent on the website linked to CRM data. The salesperson also knows what car the customer wants, and can reserve said car for a test drive via a booking function with Reception to ensure its available for them to demonstrate.

This smartphone app uses readily available sources of data to provide an overview of where someone is at within their purchase process, built with simplicity in mind, for both customers and salespeople. Easy!

Oh, here are some supporting statistics that say this is a good idea:
• People visit 4.6 websites when thinking of buying*.
• 58% visit a dealership without informing the dealership that they are coming. (And why would they give their email or mobile number out, without getting anything in return?)
• 76% say they bought the car from the dealership because they were treated well. Hmmm.
• 80% buy after visiting a dealership.
• 66% buy elsewhere because the salesman wasn’t nice.
• 33% buy elsewhere because there was no test drive car available.
• 30% buy elsewhere because the salesperson lacked product knowledge.
• And, the stunner – only 25% bought because of price. (Can you believe that?)


But how to get the customer contact data I hear you shout.

Here is the rub. If a dealership provides the customer with personalised product information (perhaps incorporating video) and pricing in exchange for their mobile or email data, the salesman will know what the customer is looking for and can both prepare the car for test drive and swat-up on it versus the competitive models. And he or she is in with a real chance. 70% of people will provide contact data if given a good reason to do so. I know this to be the case, as it is a metric gained from 10 years experience with lead generation marketing in Automotive.

Lets go further. If the salesperson gets that customer information from the dealer website within an a few minutes, and can package up this personalised response to the customer within an hour, he or she has just given themselves a 40% better chance of closing the deal. Speed of response is crucial. And automating responses to sales inquiry is as old as the hills. At least 10 years old which is a lifetime and then some in the digital age.

Finance has its role to play as well. 74%# of people search finance options and monthly cost, before visiting the dealership. We better bolt on a finance calculator to our customer-specific customised product information. (Which could be an email, video, spec sheet, or best yet a simple link to a website that does all of the above.)

The end result is a salesperson with a brilliant chance to sell a car. More importantly, they will have created a relationship built on good service that will extend beyond this sale, because the customer will go and tell their boss, friends and family what a cracking car they bought, at a cracking price, from a cracking salesperson at a cracking dealership.

Now, where is this simple tech…

John O’Connor
CEO, Elemental.
+44 7541 253544
twitter: simplesttruths

* Nick King, Insight Director, Autotrader.
^ Carwow survey of 11,000 customers, 2015
# PwC 2015 Report.