The Jerry Maguire Principle

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You’re a marketing director or CMO of a company. 2020 happened, bringing a pandemic and a global economic crisis with it. Your first order of business is to do the seemingly impossible – continue to build a compelling brand while reducing your cost. The clock is ticking. What do you do?

20/20 vision is a term usually used to express normal visual acuity, the clarity or sharpness of vision.

The irony of our 2020 has forcibly caused many businesses to review and reinvent themselves, some desperately to stay afloat and some taking stock to put the intent of relevance to clients back in the driving seat.

Many deem the secret lies in (re)living their core values. And therein lies the predicament. I’ve often found it difficult to pinpoint exact core values in a business philosophy because I believe that as sentient human beings in a business environment, we are always changing and adapting to needs and trends.

A lot of companies speak vaguely about their core values and some even tastefully decorate their lobby, conference room or cafeteria walls. All of that is great, of course, but do your employees really understand them? Better yet, do they embrace them? Do you take them to heart? Could you, right now, recite your company core values and give examples of how you measurably achieve them on a daily basis?

When was the last time you really communicated with your team about the company’s core values? When was the last time you asked your team about how they demonstrate those values? Or do your core values seem outdated and meaningless to the work force that you have in place now?

Just like any incentive or benefits program, there is a need to review your company core values from time to time. They shouldn’t be cast in stone. Not in today’s rapid changing times where we almost live from moment to moment. These should consist of values that change and adapt over time. They should change, be meaningful and purposeful.

“Help Me, Help You”

When I think about setting a business direction, I often find myself thinking about the movie Jerry Maguire and how it may relate to our industry in current state. With the tumultuous market conditions over the last several months littered with financial and operational crises, how do we, as communication and creative advisors provide the right communication message? More importantly, how do we rebuild and strengthen client relationships?

If you have seen the movie, you will distinctly remember the scene where Tom Cruise in his role as Jerry Maguire — bagged goldfish in hand — leaves his agency over his thoughtful, passionate revision to the company’s mission statement.

The character’s mission statement was restructured to align the agent to his athlete, creating a relationship and bond that ensures contracts are established purely in the best interest of the athlete. By acting in the athletes’ best interest and safeguarding them in the competitive world of professional sports, the agent in turn, earns his fee, but more importantly earns the trust and long-term loyalty of his clients.

I still recall the scene where shock and awe fell over the office floor. The emotions were that of sacrilege! It was unfathomable an agent would think of such a preposterous and absurd notion. Often, the money is the focus, not the client.

Now consider this – if you are a marketing director or a chief marketing officer during these trying times, the same principles would apply. The consumers are your client. How are you aligning your marketing communication direction towards your client? How are you setting yourself up to ensure you are creating value?

One of the biggest decisions CMOs must make is in choosing an agency to market their company. Many factors attribute into this choice. We may include the convenience of the agency’s location, its specialties, experiences, individuals and its past work with other brands. Even the size.

Standard advertising dogma says big companies need to hire big agencies. I don’t think this stands up to logic. The other point of contention is also the fact that companies are often asked about their credentials and this is another that doesn’t stand up to logic.

If a company hires an agency with 1,000 employees, how many do you think will be assigned to your account? Probably just as many as you would get at a boutique firm with a fraction of the workforce. WHY? Because you don’t want your cost to escalate over resourcing.

As a general rule, many boutique marketing and creative firms get their start when the creative team from a large agency break free for the freedom that comes from being their own captains. They’re eager to innovate and try new things, knowing they don’t have to sell a big bureaucracy on the idea — just their client.

Consider also the fact that large firms are usually driven by volume of clients. This will cause your account servicing team to be pulled in many directions other than yours. Boutique firms, however, are driven by retention — they’re focused on you. Hence, the Jerry Maguire principle.

The larger the agency you’re dealing with, the lower the chance any particular person you’re talking to will be able to answer your specific question. A standard structure is to employ an account manager as a dedicated point person for a client, letting the client reach out to the individual who has the solution he or she needs.

This structure is for the agency’s convenience and may sound fine, but because the focus is on volume, these managers could be juggling multiple clients. When this becomes a case, they are likely to be disconnected from the day-to-day work being done on any one account. They may not have the answers you need and thus, their role then is to find out who does.

Boutique firms, on the other hand, have one team. Your point person will and should know everything there is to know about your brand. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t answer every question you have.

Maths don’t lie

Put plainly, each account matters more to a boutique firm. It’s not that big agencies are full of inefficiencies — it’s just mathematics. If you’re one account out of 100, your individual needs matter less than they would if you were one of four.

It’s also logistics. Large(er) firms consider opportunity costs that comes with scale. To scale, they would need to create a routine and a process to automate and templatise. There would be then less room to treat clients as individuals with individual needs for whom individual solutions can be offered, unless of course, there is a sign off on a lucrative fee to the agency.

The organisation thus becomes the customer, not the client. You can see this in the metrics they use to measure success. Large agencies track success by awards, eg qualitative campaigns. Boutique firms generally gauge success by how much they have helped their clients, ie. measurable outcomes.

Two sides of the same coin

Boutique firms maximise, rely and utilise each member of the team. There’s no room for mediocrity or laziness. Boutiques also don’t have multiple divisions or managerial layers. Everyone contributes to everything: positioning, strategy, execution and project management.

There is also no separation of teams, so there’s no miscommunication among individuals. And everyone involved attends all the meetings. Even the MD! There’s no need for supervisors to have a secondary meeting after a primary meeting to give their interpretation to the creatives about what the client wants. This flat organisational structure makes the team more efficient and delivers better outcomes.

This is the other side of the efficiency coin.

The other is when a firm can eliminate waste in how the team functions and how it’s staffed, they can pass those savings on to the client. Often, boutique advertising budgets are lower because they are not chasing volume. Some use distributed teams and don’t even maintain an office. Not all firms have low overhead, but their relative nimble position offers them opportunities for cost savings that are unavailable to larger firms.

When you hire a boutique firm with a successful client history, you know you are getting the people who were truly responsible for that success. When you hire a large agency, you don’t know which team you will be assigned to. Some may be better than others. Perhaps there are only a couple that routinely win the awards that the firm brags about to its prospective clients.

Picking David over Goliath

There is comfort in choosing a firm that’s universally recognised. No one ever had to justify why they picked Goliath to win. But if your company wants to stand out — if you want innovative marketing, if you want individual attention, and if you want to know the people you’re working with and their individual track records — I urge you not to play it safe.

Boutique firms can offer greater creative intimacy and thereby, provide you much more confidence that you and your team will be working with the high-quality creatives who did the work.

Whether you’re the CMO of a large or small enterprise alike, hiring a boutique marketing firm could be the best choice you ever make. It’s the personal relationship established between client and advisor and the dedication to acting as an advocate in our industry that creates trust. An investment of time and education in a client relationship is the best investment any firm will make but it takes just that – a lot of time, a lot of patience and a good dose of innovation based on data and creativity.

Many boutique forms choose this cobbled path because of their intent to be personally involved in navigating the client’s business and outcome, by advocating change in this dull creative media landscape. Because these firms believe they never just have the clients at hello.

At COMMUNICATE, we believe in “breakthrough, not breakdown”. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. To remain relevant, innovative and assured, we have very robust creative discussions backed by data and analytics with our clients. We may sometimes differ in opinions but we are usually collectively guided by delivering outcomes. Our principles of operations have endeared us not only to projects with clients-direct but also, in supporting larger consulting and creative agencies to deliver on theirs. Who knows? We may just complete you.