Stoppies 2017: Mars and Colenso BBDO prove to be the perfect match

Ahmad Salim

The most creative client at the 2017 Axis Awards continued its strong streak this year with even more eye-catching work, including the ‘Child Replacement Programme‘ and SelfieStix. Going along for the ride is Colenso BBDO, which has won not only the affections of the local team but also Mars global. Here’s Colenso group business director Ahmad Salim’s on what binds this partnership together. 

It’s often said it takes trust to make a good client- agency partnership. But what does trust look like and what does it mean in a practical sense?
In the early days of the relationship, I think we were like most clients and agencies where clients knew their business and had their priorities, and the agency knew the work and had theirs. Quite simply, over time, we each realised that the more we knew and prioritised each other’s needs, the better and more effective the work was.

Importantly, Mars has a strong principle of mutuality, which drives the way it does business with everyone, and what that meant for us has been a mutual agreement: we will only ever present work that will grow their business and meet their needs, and they will commit to only investing in work that we believe in. We are always open and honest, we accept responsibility actively, and when things are challenging, or we fail, we focus on what we’ve collectively learnt and how we’ll make sure it never happens again. Quite simply, it’s about love and trust—both take years to earn, but minutes to lose.

How do you strike the balance between being creative and being commercial?
We’ve always said that good problems are hard to find. When you have done the work to uncover the best possible problem, you find that everyone is aligned on the solution—even before it has been written. The team at Mars NZ are excellent strategists, very collaborative, and are capable of being very single-minded about the business objectives they set. As a result, we are able to work very closely to design the right problem before we embark on designing a solution. Then crucially, Mars is a business that believes in the power of creativity to grow brands and agrees with our philosophy that brands with purpose, who put their audience first, grow faster. So, by the me we get to the creative phase of work, we already know that what we are doing will be commercially effective.

How did Colenso start doing international campaigns for Mars?
Working in a smaller market has its benefits. We get to have closer relationships with the full team, and the work is evidence of that relationship. Our partnership with Mars NZ has become quite famous in the world of Mars inc., because despite being one of the smallest markets with the smallest budgets, the last three years have seen us make more work for Mars Petcare that has won more creative and effectiveness awards around the world, than any other market. 

How do you convince a client to take creative risks?
The illusion is that creative work is risky, but it’s not. Average work carries the greatest risk. Why would you invest all of that me and money in an idea that very likely won’t have an impact? We don’t convince. We make sure our strategy is airtight and that the idea is a short walk from the proposition. Given our history of success and healthy collaboration, we trust each other, and Mars knows that we wouldn’t present something we don’t believe in or that we can’t deliver. So, neither side sees great insights or great creative work as ‘risk’. We see it as an essential way to grow business. When we present, we all get equally excited about the work, and we operate on the assumption that we will succeed, and if we don’t, we’ll learn something incredibly valuable. 

What advice would you give to a younger person working in advertising who is struggling with a client that isn’t willing to take a few creative risks?
Just remember that it’s only a risk if they don’t have faith in either the idea’s ability to deliver what they need, or in your ability to deliver it. The responsibility for both of those things lies with you. So, work hard, listen, and focus on helping them grow their business. If you’ve done that well, then they’ll know that what you’re presenting is correct and will work. 

Any other thoughts on the state of the industry?
There are more challenges than ever facing our industry. And the agencies and clients that succeed will be the ones who tackle those challenges together. 

  • This story originally appeared in the Special edition of NZ Marketing magazine to celebrate the Stoppies.

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