We are not reckless…

Chris Hirst, European and UK Group CEO of Havas, Chairman of Havas UK, and Chair of IPA’s Effectiveness Leadership Group, argues that one of the biggest challenges facing the advertising industry is perception.

For me Effectiveness Week 2016 represented a pivotal moment for the IPA and the advertising industry. There are many facets to marketing effectiveness, and as my esteemed colleague Mark Luce of SABMiller on my panel at the event pointed out, it can only really be achieved when all parties, both clients and agencies, are working together to create a shared understanding of what they mean by effectiveness.

But I think this drive for effectiveness is especially important to the advertising industry at this particular juncture in history. Contrary to popular opinion, we advertising folk care a great deal about effectiveness. We really, really do. Yes we want to work on campaigns that win a Cannes Lions. But we also want to be able to say that we worked on something that sold a million more units.

My issue, and the reason that I am the Chair of the IPA’s Effectiveness Leadership Group, is that I don’t think that as an industry we have done enough to communicate this to our clients. Frankly, I think that in the past we have become a little too focused on the ‘how’ we did things, rather than the outcomes we achieved. Many in our industry are quick to moan about the fact that clients don’t take us seriously enough and that we are not at the top-table and so on. One way to address that is to start taking effectiveness very, very seriously and to demonstrate that seriousness.

Because let's face it, our budgets are not a God-given right. They are allocated because shareholders believe they will get a better return on investment by spending that money on marketing than elsewhere. No one is expecting us to prove that everything we touch turns to gold. But, those shareholders, and the FD and CEO’s that are representing them are doing an awful lot on trust if we don’t demonstrate that we are being diligent about how we spend their investment. That we can deliver a clear outcome, measure the impact of that outcome, learn from it and iterate on it.

It’s a cliché these days, but we are at a time of change. Many industries (not just ours) are facing a crisis of confidence as the evolution of technology continues to affect a great transformation in society and business. Agencies need to reorganise themselves more around data-driven consumer insight and become much more responsive, in real-time.

Creativity has a great part to play in all of this, but just as we need change clients’ perceptions of our commitment to effectiveness, we also need to adjust their understanding of the way we define creativity’s role. The purpose of creativity in advertising is no longer to persuade people not to go and put the kettle on in the break from Coronation Street. Those days are emphatically gone. In this new world, creativity could just as easily reside in a brilliant algorithm, as it could in a beautifully executed campaign. For me, there is a serious question mark hanging over agencies that continue to address creativity in the way we did ten to fifteen years ago. Will they be able to do business at any scale in the future? I suspect not.

This shouldn’t be seen as a threat. It isn’t a binary question. It’s not one or the other – creativity or effectiveness. Everyone in the industry does not suddenly need to become more scientific or go and learn how to programme. We simply need a re-balancing, a few more people that can do those things. A reorganisation around experts in consumer insight and a keener, and crucially, more public focus on effectiveness.

We are not reckless; let’s show the world that.

Last updated 21 January 2022