Telling the left brain from the right

Telling the left brain from the right

Can consultants snare agencies without smothering the thing that makes them desirable acquisition targets?

There’s a story in this issue in which Sir Martin Sorrell reckons one big difference between consultants and agencies can be summarised like this: "Traditionally, those consultants have worked with chief information officers or chief technology officers on the left brain; we’ve tended to work with chief marketing officers on the right brain."

It’s a distinction that is preoccupying our industry. Can consultants snare agencies without smothering the thing that makes them desirable acquisition targets? Can businesses geared around left-brain decision-making bed down with businesses rooted in right-brain, instinctive creativity?

It’s too soon to call on any prescriptive level (though early anecdotal evidence suggests there are surprisingly few shared ambitions beyond their own financials that unite the two beasts). But the tension between proof and intuition, left and right brain, is one that the best marketers and agencies have been accommodating for years. The smartest marketers and the smartest agencies know when to let the left brain rule, when to deploy systems, research and data, and when to ignore them all in favour of what just feels right (brain).

It’s that latter bit, the instinctive over the empirical, that the consultancies are said to find hard to pull off. And it’s that latter bit that marketers lacking in confidence and/or the support of their board find hardest to achieve. These are the marketers who need to be able to say "these are the facts", who don’t have the credibility to get away with "I think" and "trust me". And, like consultancies, they are in danger of smothering the very creativity that they’re hoping to harness.

So said Adam & Eve/DDB’s James Murphy in Cannes – and he’s not alone, with other industry leaders adding their voice to growing concern that traditional pretesting models are dangerously outdated. VCCP’s Julian Douglas describes pretesting as "the last refuge of the nervous and risk-averse advertiser" (page 5). Of course, no-one is saying dismiss the left brain, the research, the data – but left brain needs to come before right brain, not in place of it.

Pretesting – that subjugation of right brain to left – is a perennial topic for debate. But it’s one that’s become more pointed in a world where left-brain management consultants are beginning to own more of the client relationship. In a world like that, the need to reassert the value of instinct and the alchemical magic of creativity becomes imperative.

Brave marketers embrace the right brain. Smart, brave marketers use both left and right brain but know when to value one side above the other. And the remaining marketers will probably hand their budget to Accenture or Deloitte in a few years’ time. Pick your side now.

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.      

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