Campaign US editor Lindsay Stein asked RB Health and McCann Worldgroup — partners for five years — to unpack their own relationship in front of an audience at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
The conclusion? Like any relationship, you have to work at it. And you have to care. Care about creativity, about the business, about growth. And if there’s a problem, you have to care about finding a solution, fast.
So, is RB Health and McCann’s a passionate love affair or a marriage of convenience? What is the secret of their partnership’s success?
Lindsay Stein, editor, Campaign US: Do clients like agencies to be a one-stop-shop or do they prefer to shop around?
Harris Diamond, chairman and CEO, McCann Worldgroup: I don’t think anyone would argue with the idea that integrated campaigns require a closeness of creative mind and strategic understanding. In an ideal world, we’d want both to come from the same team, one able to bring complete focus to all aspects of the campaign — shopper marketing, CRM, PR, everything. Does that have to be in one agency? No.
Laurent Faracci, executive vice-president and global CMO, RB Health: I think, above all, loyalty and candour are important in an agency relationship. If you have those connections and that trust, you can talk straight and say what needs to be said. In any agency relationship, you will have ups and downs. You have to be able to talk.
"We did a mutual appraisal, RB and McCann, and we made sure we were tough.
People even thought I wanted to resign the business"
Campaign: What is it like when brand and agency disagree?
HD: If you’re not disagreeing sometimes, then something is wrong. When you talk about changes you need to make from both sides, that’s a healthy conversation. We did a mutual appraisal, RB and McCann, and we made sure we were tough. People even thought I wanted to resign the business. I didn’t. That candour is what set us on a good path for these last couple of years.
LF: Complacency is the enemy of good work. No one does everything right all the time. If you can talk about things the way they really are, you can change them. And in creative matters, nothing is ever just the agency’s fault. You get the work you deserve.
HD: As marketers, RB holds us on a tight leash. We could have the best work in the world, but if the cash registers aren’t ringing, we’re failing.
Campaign: Right, creativity has to drive effectiveness...
LF: The two are inextricably linked. For a company like ours, brand goodwill is the single biggest asset on the balance sheet. Of course we make products, but more importantly we sell brands, we create innovative solutions to put health in your hands … and that requires creative effectiveness.
HD: There’s also this myth that short-termism is a bad thing. I don’t know anyone who is not accountable for what they do today. The market is competitive. RB is fighting for market share every day. I don’t know a client in the world who’s not worried about their performance in the here and now.
Campaign: What does the process look like, for working together in the way you describe?
LF: [Holds up his phone]. When you hit a roadblock, clear the calendar, pick up the phone and sort the thing out. It’s basic common sense and you just have to apply to it stewardship and governance. For global brands, for example Dettol which is present in so many countries, it’s a bit more complicated. You have to have an escalation process. But it’s still the same principle.
HD: We have serious and significant processes, designed to make sure we are on track, day to day. But you have to back that up with the willingness to be flexible. Last week, for instance, I texted Laurent. He called me back. We talked. And then we both agreed to send some people to work together, just two days’ later, to fix an issue. Email is the enemy of relationships and formal meetings are the enemy of getting work done when urgency is required.
Campaign: What’s the biggest thing the external agency brings to the relationship?
LF: People. Talent. And getting those creative people together and getting the most out of them, that’s not my line of business. I don’t know how to dole out the love to creatives. That’s not my business. I think we shouldn’t mistake our roles. Ours, client-side, is to grow our business, to innovate, to build and to invest in our brands. We’re not magicians. They are (gestures at HD). He has a suit and a wand.
"In an age where data is the new oil, we need to re-invent intimacy"
Campaign: Do you feel you should be bringing the agencies in deeper, embedding them internally?
HD: We have a lot of that. MRM McCann, our customer relationship agency, works with clients to set up systems, make use of first-party data. Most clients like for us to have the creative marketing side but also to have people in house. We find it works well.
LF: In an age where data is the new oil, we need to re-invent intimacy. How do we get that data plugged into creativity? We have to answer all these questions and we need the skills to do it together. But that does not necessarily mean co-location. My global Enfamil team is based in Singapore, because that’s where it has to be to access China, which is a huge market. Even my own team isn’t co-located with me. So, it doesn’t need to be physical. The explosion of content means we need new models. We have low funnel content studios in-house but not in-house creativity any longer like we used to with Mucinex.
Campaign: Everyone’s conscious of tightening their belts. How do you deal with that?
HD: We’re all looking for efficiency and effectiveness. We’re always under pressure to be more effective but we grow our business that way. And we’ve learned great knowledge about our clients’ businesses which makes us valuable. Long-term relationships with tension stay long-term.
LF: We’ve partly moved away from the traditional sequential- brief - content - media – sequence which was easy to quantify and measure. But what if content is media now? How do we move from a linear approach to a culture of content and a culture of creativity? It’s how you redefine where you put your money. Also, there are new cost lines coming through. Data is one. Verification is another - and you have to do it. It’s about the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness.
Campaign: In an age of nationalism, is it still possible to build a global brand?
HD: Yes. Global brands are now perceived as more trustworthy than any government. As the world flattens, it’s more likely than ever that brands will go global. No matter what is going on in politics, barriers to information are still dropping. In China, for instance, they are very aware of the fashions in the US.
Campaign: What’s the most interesting advertising or marketing story from your career?
LF: I’m going to give a McCann example. Tom Murphy, he’s now the CCO of McCann in New York. When he sold us the Mucinex campaign, he performed the Mr Mucus character for us. We cried with laughter. And I refused to have any voice-over other than one done by him. Now every time I see him, I tell him I want a Mr Mucus impersonation. "Not again," he says. Yes, again! That campaign helped Mucinex become the number one OTC brand in the US - and it has won a Bronze Lions for Creative Effectiveness this week.
HD: Ok, he told the funny story, so I’ll tell the serious one. A few years ago, we were retained by the World Health Organisation to work on a campaign about vaccinations for children in Afghanistan. We were working with highly mobile populations and we had to find a way to reach them. In that part of the world, both mothers and children wear charms. We came up with the idea of having a charm for each vaccination. When the mother came into the office, she just had to show the doctor her charms for the doctor to know which vaccinations a child had. And it encouraged the mothers to come and get the kids vaccinated, because they wanted to collect the charms.
Campaign: Give us one word for a strong agency-client relationship.
LF: Two ears
HD: Conversation. I like clients who listen!