Ad Week Europe Shows The Importance Of Swapping 'Likes' For Board Room Talk

Sometimes a problem is a solution waiting to be discovered. It may sound like a pointless meme but as soon as you start seeing a problem as a signal for where change needs to happen, things begin to happen. I'm thinking here about the very good points raised at Advertising Week Europe this week in London. One panel particularly caught my eye. Among the usual talk about silos and how agencies don't like working together, even though they say they do, the marketing director of foreign currency business Travelex made some very shrewd points. 

To summarise, marketers are very bad at presenting what marketing really is. By focusing attention on the best Christmas TV ad and always talking about creative, it not only gives the wrong impression of what marketers spend most of their time doing, it leads to a disconnect between graduate expectations and reality. When young talent enters the industry they expect to be making TV ads they can tell their pals about but the reality is far more mundane in the data-driven world of digital marketing. The industry has become one where data scientists and IT engineers are required, yet it's hard to attract them because everyone thinks marketing is about dusting off Top Cat for a mortgage advert at the Halifax or getting a Gorilla to drum along to Phil Collins.

Taking this observation to its next logical conclusion, then, it's easy to see the ultimate impact of this mismatch it not restricted to graduates, it goes right up to the board room. While marketers are seen to be always talking about their latest creative, the truth is they don't talk about the insight that went in to the message, the data which drove them to specific channels to attract a distinct audience.

The irony here, of course, is we're back to that tried and tested subject -- the language of the board room. Every highly rated CMO I've spoken to, or anyone who's made it beyond to become a CEO, has the same message. If you want to get marketing's message heard higher up in the organisation, you've got to stop just talking about the end product and how clever a piece of creative is or how many people like the brand on Facebook. None of these things matter nearly half as much as we like to think they do.

I'll give you an example. I was chatting to Martin Glenn recently who's well known in the UK for moving from FMCG marketing to CEO of the FA, the organisation which runs football in England. His best bit of advice to marketers was to stand up and be the customer, get walking around your facilities and see where the changes can be made and then communicate those changes to the board in business terms with business metrics. A good example is how the FA saw support was waning after a poor World Cup and so came up with family tickets so an adult and child could attend a game for less than the average price of a single adult ticket. Considering seats would be empty otherwise and those people still go in, buy a programme, a drink and a burger, it made perfect sense. Revenue was recouped and the stadium was packed even for meaningless friendlies, spurring on a new generation of young fans to get behind the team and then attend games as a full paying adult one day, perhaps with kids in tow too. 

It was a bold decision but one that had clear business metrics to back it up and not just marketing terms about "favourability" and "followers," important though those can be. The FA could count the seat revenue and the number of programmes and burger that were sold and there was a fair bit of improved brand favourability there, just for good measure.

So, the top tip is to convert what you're doing in to board room terms and measure the difference. Marketing speak is fine for internal use but if you want the department to be taken seriously, those who have gone before you are very clear. Talk in revenue, user numbers, growth and so on and eyes will start to be lifted. Carry on pointing to awards for great ads and that's exactly what the board will think is all you do.

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