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the colouring in department

Written by Polly
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On episode 4 of Resting Pitch Face, we’re exploring the role of marketing in business. 

The perception that marketing is just the ‘colouring in’ department… and ensuring that the value of what we do is seen. We also touch on the lack of representation at board level, and the hotly debated CMO role. 

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See below for a full transcription of episode 4.


Dan: Have you heard, I think you will have done. Have you heard of marketing being seen as the coloring in department?

Lee: Mm-hmm.

Dan: I’ve heard it personally for quite some time now. Do you think that this is something that’s going to stick in this industry, or at least from the outside looking in that marketing is only there for the, I’m going to say creative, fluffy brand stuff, and nothing else?

Lee: I think any agency; branding, marketing, I mean, branding, maybe a little bit if you’re doing packaging is a little bit different but any service-based agency is essentially there to bill time. It’s how you communicate your expertise in where that time goes. And I think the movement towards transparency on where that time has been spent, and the capability of then being able to show the returns for that is pulling that perception out of the shadows a little bit. And I think there are more and more situations cropping up, Coinbase, where marketing agencies are starting to stand up for themselves a little bit more in that respect. I think the last five years, a lot of brands have commoditized agency services. Whereas now I think agencies have got the forum to back themselves a little bit more, and show the value of the services. It’s becoming easier to demonstrate that that expertise has an impact, which results in pounds and pence, therefore, perception doesn’t really mean shit because you can show the value.

Dan: Yeah. I think from my understanding, as well, I’ve posted about this on LinkedIn a couple of times that I get a lot of in-house marketers jumping on that discussion as well and getting their points across, and their experiences across quite passionately, that I don’t think this exists in just agency-client relationships in that direction. I think its internal marketing teams having that battle with other teams, other departments that really do chuck stuff their way thinking that it’s just a creative department and that’s all that they’re there for. And I don’t think… I think marketing struggles personally being in the C suite, at these large organizations where the C suite had been made up of exactly who you’d expect, CEO, COO, CTO, CFO, all those, and the CMO. I find from experience has been quite interchangeable, really, and not consistently there and thereabouts. And I wonder if the perception internally marketing almost needs to do its own branding exercise of itself. Because having those conversations that I’ve had, it’s not just in agencies that this market, and obviously, that’s what we do, it’s our bread and butter. We’re a marketing agency.

But internal teams are struggling with that as well versus other departments. And I don’t know what the crusade needs to look like. But it sounds like and it seems like that there needs to be a bit of a rebranding exercise, which is quite ironic for marketing in-house as well. And I guess I’ve seen that as well, internally, client-side, my early career experience, the wider marketing department was so sliced up into many teams. Somewhat you wouldn’t approach certain teams with anything numbers best, for example, not that commercial mindset is just like, “No, don’t talk to that team about numbers. They just do the coloring in.” That, I mean, it’s a few years ago now, but it’s happening internally client side as well. Have you got any ideas as to what marketers themselves can do internally? Because I think then it’ll transpose on to better agency relationships as well at these client-side marketers thereof.

Lee: I think if you look at the structure of an agency and the services that sit within an agency and going back to like, SEO in 1998, the perception around SEO was that you could put a lot of keywords in and you’d rank for whatever you want to do essentially. Fast forward to now, the amount of different disciplines that sit within SEO as a service is vast. And I think that communicating that back and being open about not only the expertise within each sub-service within a service, if you like, but also then how that impacts overall strategy. If you look at it from a strategy level, strategy is the overarching thing and the services are tools, if you like, to achieve the strategy. And some businesses are still finding it difficult to perceive that value. I think there’s a lot of agencies and there’s a movement at the moment for righting that. Essentially, knowing your worth, I think even on a solo, on a freelance basis, knowing your value, and how you’re able to deliver your expertise to tie into our overall strategy is becoming more and more commonplace.

There are going to be brands that have an old-school mindset that never jump on board with that way of thinking. But I think we’re naturally moving towards that. Having an agency that has the capability of delivering expertise across any channel, for example, when a new channel crops up, TikTok, how long has TikTok have been going? Four years, three years? Being able to take your strategy and knowledge and your expertise, and deploy it against a new platform, that is becoming more commonplace because of technology. And I think that in itself is going to help towards reinforcing the value that an agency full of specialists is capable of delivering at a strategy level. I also think there’s a lot of conversation around what you were saying there about the CMO at board level. There’s a lot of big, big organizations that are reintroducing CMOs, and bringing them in at board level because they know the importance of it. And if a business doesn’t have that way of thinking and that mindset, now, it’s already too late. You’re already behind, in my opinion.

Dan: For me, there’s a fundamental, why are we asking that? Why am I gonna ask this question now shows that there’s a fundamental issue. Why is the CMO position dicked around with so much? Again, running theme here but I posted about this on LinkedIn before. McDonald’s been my case study for this discussion. And again, people have jumped on the discussion. So it’s clearly kinda like a sore point for many people. Let’s take McDonald’s, the real-life case study. Why do you think there was in and out with the CMO’s representation? I think it was a global CMO, and then a UK one that they were dicking around with. Where do you think that’s stemming from? Why are they so fleeting with marketing? Do you think they pull the plug, because they’re not absolutely convinced, and then the shit hits the fan, they go, “Ow, in hindsight, we can see the value that we’re getting from having that representation around the table?”

Lee: I think it comes from arrogance and lack of knowledge. I think a lot of brands and a lot of businesses at a certain size are frightened of things that they don’t know. And you bring a CMO in, not to know intricately every service that sits within marketing, but you bring a CMO in to understand what your marketing is delivering for you. And then you trust that CMO to validate any partners that you work with. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that agencies are all angels. There are agencies that do things badly. But there are also agencies that are awesome at what they do and that deliver a hell of a lot of value. And I think it does come back to arrogance, not understanding the full value that someone that has such vast expertise can deliver for you on your behalf. Yes, you have to put budget against it. But almost every marketing activity is designed to deliver positive returns. So it doesn’t make sense, and I’m obviously on the agency side, and I’m going to evangelize around the value that marketing can deliver but it is an old school mentality and it is arrogant and I think it’s also a victim of agencies that have done things badly and a lot of brands have been stung. It’s been a dark art, whereas you can’t do that now, you have to have the level of transparency and you have to report the results in a certain way. And you have to be able to have the brands that are on your side of the table along the way to educate them so that conversations become easier and easier. Well, I don’t think it is a difficult equation, but…

Dan: it’s not. But we’re seeing still to this day, press releases. That’s where I find out about CMO responsibilities being pulled and then reinstated at boardroom level at the likes of McDonald’s. It’s clearly still happening with that. And I agree with it, with that old school mindset, I mean, McDonald’s is one of the biggest brands that anyone would ever think of when you asked that question, global, you know, who do you think of huge brands. So obviously, the power of advertising for them is humongous but from a marketing perspective, it’s just so surprising that a brand that is so visible would be messing around with marketing consistently. At that level, it’s just I don’t know, I mean, we could go on and on about it, but I think we shall park it, however. It’s still gonna happen, I think. And I think both sides of the table can do more. I think agencies, suppliers, relationships, external relationships that these brands have can do a little bit more from the outside into those brands and the other way around as well. But for me, it needs to change. We need to see marketing across the board, given the… I mean, look at last two years, I know we’re gonna keep referencing this, but everyone will be bloody referencing it. So…

Lee: It’s a culture shift, the last two years have been a culture shift in a lot of ways.

Dan: But, you know, we saw it from clients’ polls in, like, everyone did kind of in that the news hit that we’re all going home and whatever, that budgets were slashed, you know, stop spending, once we all figured it out and write this up, it’s understandable. But marketing one at first, where you saw budgets to be dropped and paused. That to me…

Lee: Yeah, because I mean, from a balance sheet perspective agencies when you look at it, or an external spend. And if you’re an employer, your responsibility lies with your employees and your profitability as a business so I can understand where panic is like the main thing you would knee-jerk into pausing budgets. But, I mean, no one handled the pandemic terribly because no one knew how to react to it. But I think the brands that now are doing well are the brands that continued to market through the pandemic because they adapted to the market. And they didn’t take the foot off the gas. I think there’s businesses, certainly, in my experience over the last two years that we’ve worked with, that took the foot off the gas a little bit. No judgment on that, because you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But the exponential growth and success that brands that did invest throughout that period have seen, proves exactly the point that we’ve just been discussing for the last 15 minutes. It’s about not having the arrogance to not commit. You don’t have to go in and understand every nut and bolt. But you have to allow enough trust in the people that are delivering for you that they’re going to do the job and like I said before, I’m not saying all agencies are whiter than white but if you’ve got the right partner in place, makes sense.

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