From marketing director at Lewis Road Creamery to head of client service at Special Group – we asked Storm Day what’s it like sitting on the other side of the table?
“Having spent most of my earlier career agency side I jumped at the opportunity to be marketing director at Lewis Road Creamery, one of New Zealand’s most loved brands. Who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to step in to the shoes of a client and try them on for size? And in doing so on a true challenger brand that is passionately adored by Kiwis and its loyal dairy-loving ‘Roadie’ fans.
Today, having come full circle back to agency land in my role as head of client service at Special Group, I have a renewed passion and perspective on the value of creativity and how agencies and brand owners work together. I thought I’d share a handful of my realisations and learnings that have helped me better understand the yin and yang of agency and client relationships.
Two guesses for which is the dark side!
The journey is more important than the destination
Perhaps it’s my generation or upbringing, but I was always so focused on a perfectly polished outcome. Whether it was a brand campaign’s success or a perfectly formed product at launch.
Being a marketer means you are at the coalface receiving direct and real consumer feedback every single day. It’s unrelenting yet also incredible to experience the full force of energy people have for a brand. The first thing I heard loud and clear was that people are hungry to hear the full story. They don’t want the perfect fairy-tale ending, they want to hear about the hiccups, the hurdles and how you overcame them.
They want to know about the trials and tribulations – a real, honest journey framed as an ongoing conversation vs. a big polished reveal. Kiwis love a challenger brand that they can get behind and support. Too often we focus on sharing the outputs and not the inputs of our story.
You don’t know what you don’t know
It seems such an obvious realisation to make, but being agency side we only see and get to experience one or maybe two slices of the whole pie. And that’s of course is what gives us perspective, from the outside looking in. ‘Naïve intelligence’ is what we called it. But it’s almost impossible for us to be involved or understand the ins and outs of every aspect of our client’s business.
And while the scale of an organisation has a big impact on a marketing team’s exposure, it will always be tougher for agencies to get under the skin of a business. Being part of the day-to-day nitty-gritty of financials, operations parameters, export, innovation and sustainability conversations opens us up to discover more opportunities.
Working marketing side exposed me to all segments of the pie and for example, I witnessed the power of brand when it drives the whole business vs. only being part of a marketing department.
And now, being agency side I am curious. Curious to find out more, to ask more questions, to see how a brand purpose runs through the veins of the organisations we work with, and how it manifests itself in each employee and drives their actions.
We all need to be more curious, and as a believer in human contact, we all need to find more opportunities to connect beyond our screens. It’s not easy for introverts like myself and it takes time, but being curious and asking more questions is the best way to discover what we never knew.
Trust your gut
Having sat on the marketing side of the table you have to make the call based on pure gut instinct and you learn that actually, your experience has equipped you with bloody good judgement. Too often we fall back on validation whether that be in the form of historic patterns, other people’s opinions or research feedback.
In agencies, we make recommendations and instinctively we know which idea, if we present more than one, (which is too often the case) is the strongest. But, we never make the final call – we’re not picking up the tab. Most marketers today have to jump through a crazy number of hoops to get wider stakeholder agreement and justify the investment – it’s no wonder that they second guess themselves. Being in this position taught me a valuable lesson – to have faith in my gut instinct and to fight for it.
Brands need building
Short-termism has become such an epidemic that our industry experts – Peter Field and Les Binet have dedicated years proving the effectiveness of long-term brand building. No doubt everyone reading this will be familiar with their amazing work, but it’s not until you’re sitting marketing side, and so exposed to weekly or monthly sales peaks and troughs, that you realise what a tough slog it can be to get everyone behind a longer-term brand view. Getting the whole organisation to buy in to long-term brand measures is crucial.
It is reassuring to hear my new colleagues at Special talking about how ‘ideas wear in, not out’, and that a strong, consistent brand platform should spark iterative ideation and messaging.
Innovate. Innovate. Innovate.
Innovation is part of the DNA at Lewis Road and while there I learnt how potent innovation is as a brand-building tool. Innovation doesn’t just have to mean new flavours or formats. It comes in many forms, and can provide a brand with its most newsworthy moment. Building a culture of innovation means that the responsibility can’t sit with one department. The whole leadership team driving an innovation plan and pipeline is the best way to breed this kind of ideation throughout an entire organisation.
Agencies are often left out of this process altogether but this is where I believe agencies can provide huge value. Being involved in innovation ideation, and understanding design and operations parameters is a joy to see in action at Special with many of our clients.
Surround yourself with creative minds
My belief is that marketers ultimately engage agencies for their creative minds. Agencies approach a problem or challenge from a whole different perspective, and they bring a level of creative thinking and fire power that is impossible to re-create inhouse. I adore being surrounded by creative people every single day and I am damn sure that my idea will never be as great as a creative directors, (not that don’t try)!
I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table. It has helped me better understand the opportunities and limitations that clients have, but also identify the gaps in today’s agency offerings, and our future value to clients.
Yin and yang is an ancient symbol of harmony, it tells us that relationships are a balancing act and most fulfilling when we experience its dualities, its ups and downs, its joys and challenges.
So, I’ve gone back to the dark side, if you can call it that at Special, and now I’m able to apply everything I’ve learnt so far to our incredible business.
Storm Day is head of client service at Special Group.