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A new commercial contract

The incoming IPA president, Ian Priest, will concentrate on advancing the cause of 'commercial creativity' during his two-year tenure.

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The IPA's ADAPT agenda

The areas we will be examining at IPA events are under five main headings: alliances; deliverables; actions; profit; and talent. The more alert among you will have spotted they make up the acronym ADAPT.

Our most important alliance is with our clients. It can be easy for us to stereotype clients as being over-commercial at the expense of creativity – and, reversing that, for clients to stereotype agencies as being naïvely commercial. Yet a true alliance or partnership is where commercial creativity should be the bigger shared purpose.

Alliances based on trust are more adaptive and open to opportunity and, in turn, this produces great work that works. A win-win. We aim to expose what the alliance of commercial creativity means for all of us and how we need to adapt to what a model client-agency partnership should look like.

Sir John Hegarty is known for championing the creative idea. But he is also fond of saying that creativity doesn’t just reside solely in an agency’s creative department and the end deliverable of ads. It applies to the whole commercial process and its various constituent parts, from customer bills to apps. We don’t have a monopoly on creative ideas or the media that delivers them – teenagers in bedrooms up and down the country are changing that. However, what we do have is our professional expertise and commercial experience to understand how to reach consumers, engage with them and involve them in conversations. But we need to evolve and adapt our deliverables to meet these new and exciting opportunities.

A is for ACTIONS.
As an industry, we are increasingly recognising that we spend too much time and money on pitches. The IPA and ISBA membership have been working for some time on “best pitch practice”. We should aim to build on this. The IPA is also talking to clients about “modern briefing”. This is an exciting development in the context of commercial creativity because, when it comes to taking on business, are our briefings commercial enough?

What more can we do from client briefing to production and media placement to make us more agile, more open to experimentation? What examples can we learn from? Can we take evaluation to a new level to create a culture of effectiveness throughout the process, as opposed to after the event? How can we work with clients and research partners to develop models fit for the social world we are living in now, not the past?

The end result we are all looking for is to drive profitable returns for both clients and agencies. Agency remuneration is an area that has long been debated and is still a hot topic, so needs to be pushed along – with the involvement of both procurement and marketing departments.

We have moved through various stages of commission to fees or performance-related bonuses and suchlike. We have discussed revenue share and looked into intellectual property and licensing. There is no one formula that fits all, but an appetite for evolving the current practice is evident to make it fit our new commercial creative purpose. This area is already under discussion between the IPA Finance Policy Group, ISBA and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply but needs more profile, more senior engagement and more audacious ambitions and goals.

T is for TALENT.
Last, but perhaps the most important of all, as this is an industry that without its talent – without you – is nothing at all. Clients want our professional expertise and commercial experience. They want our ambition and confidence and sometimes feel we have lost this a bit.

We need to continue to ensure we are attracting, developing and retaining the best and most diverse talent in our industry. We need to attract and build more diverse skills. Look at the roles we have in agencies now: creative technologists, data scientists, content strategists. As our products evolve, so will our skills and roles. Under my watch, we will be offering even more digital training, building on the connections established by Nicola Mendelsohn with Google, Facebook and Twitter.

As with all previous IPA presidents before me, I am honoured to have been asked to lead the IPA Council. And, as previous presidents have done before me, I have made it my business to meet chief executives, planners, creatives and producers from all types of agencies and locations to get a view on the forces that are driving our industry.

What I have found is that the same three themes come up again and again: being commercial; being creative; and being adaptive.

Clients want us for our creativity. But, more than that, they want us for our commercial creativity – creativity that demonstrably adds value to their businesses and, in return, adds value to ours.

The IPA Effectiveness Awards Databank is filled with numerous examples of this commercial creativity, but it seems this message needs to be continually reinforced with our clients, their boards and the wider community (as well as to ourselves) to ensure we are growing our position at the creative end of commerce.

Commercial creativity

So, commercial creativity will be the core of my agenda.

This is not new – it goes back to David Ogilvy’s mantra "we sell or else". But what is new is the world we now live in, and the need to adapt and evolve what we do and how we do it to meet the challenges and opportunities of modern advertising.

Charles Darwin would tell us: "It’s not the biggest or strongest of a species that survives (and thrives), it’s the ones that are the most adaptable to change."

Looking at our world of brands and advertising, he also might say one key element of our environment – the economy – is putting pressure on all of us to focus more on the commercial side of creativity. But as Andy Fennell from Diageo said to me recently: "Creativity and commerciality should be seen less as a trade-off and more as bedfellows in times of austerity. This is exactly when I need more commercial creativity, when there is less resource around. My brands live or die on this."

Commercial creativity will be the core of my agenda, and we need to adapt to what we do to meet the challenges of modern advertising

In other words, he is looking for more than just traditional advertising outputs – he wants genuinely creative inputs to achieve commercial outcomes. And that is something we need to adapt to.

The other main change in our environment is the development and take-up of digital technology in all aspects of our lives. We all know this because we are living it: smart mobile devices, connected media, availability of data, the "always-on" world – they are changing the relationships between consumers and brands and the way we communicate.

We are operating in a period of dynamic change – in uncharted waters in some ways – where we are less in control of the conversation and working in real time. And are we, as an industry, adapting fast enough to these changes and opportunities? In general, if we are honest with ourselves, probably not.

Client focus

So what should we be doing about it? Darwin would probably tell us to concentrate on the elements that we can directly influence and work as a collective and as an industry, not just on our own.

Also, he would probably recommend that we should be less insular and inward-facing in how we adapt, evolving with our codependents and not on our own.

And who are our closest codependents in our environment? Our clients.

So my first action as president has been to invite, for the first time, a group of clients to join forces with the IPA and create what I have called the Client Council to help us shape our common future.

It’s made up of a number of very influential, forward-thinking, opinion-formers from a variety of industry sectors, all of whom work with IPA member agencies both here and abroad. Coincidentally, many of them are ex-agency people with interesting perspectives from both sides. They welcome my agenda and believe that, in these challenging times, there is no question that clients and agencies need each other and need to work together to deliver outstanding creativity that will give us the absolute competitive advantage.

They believe it’s about mutual respect and empathy for each other, as well as a common sense of what success looks like. So I am inviting them to join us on the journey, to work with us to adapt to a new era of commercial creativity for our mutual gain.

Across my two-year presidency, I plan to run a series of open events, starting at Cannes in June, where our Client Council will join with agency leaders to demonstrate how they are adapting to delivering commercial creativity and debate areas of best practice for the benefit of all. Not only best practice, but also inspirational thought leadership to drive us all to greater places.

Training the industry

Should we be doing more to encourage joint training and qualifications with our clients as well? I think so.

I will be supporting the IPA opening up its courses to clients. I also want to encourage work placements and job swaps to foster greater mutual understanding.

I also intend to create a lot of debate and then follow up with clear and actionable thought leadership and best-practice content about how we as an industry should adapt, for everyone to share, comment and act upon.

So where is this all heading? To the creation of a new deal that we would all like to sign up to, combining all into one "commercial creative contract" to act as a guide for agencies and clients for their mutual gain.

I make no apologies for presenting an agenda that focuses on the practical and action-oriented – I have never been one for ideology or over-intellectualisation – and trust that, by the end of my two years, through our combined actions, we will have helped our industry move into a new phase of confidence and prosperity; a new era of commercial creativity where we adapt with our clients to the benefit of all.

And I hope you will join me on the journey.

Ian Priest is a founding partner of VCCP

This article was first published on

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