News & Views

Opinion / It’s time to let the OR die

by Contagious Contributor
Product OR brand? Client OR agency? Tech OR Marketing? Jason Hartley, chief strategy officer at The Partners  argues it’s time to forget the ‘or’ and focus on the ‘and’; to look in the mirror rather than point the finger.

The industry is full of constant discussion around the rights and wrongs of how to grow a successful brand and product/service. I’ve been in or around the digital, brand and communications industry for 22 years now, and every year I hear the same comments and the same finger pointing. It really is time to put that to bed and realise like everything else in life, it is understanding, passion and selfless commitment to a common goal that creates success. Here are some of my observations:

Start with brand. 
Succeed with product. A brand is why you get up every morning and do what you do. Your product is the passion and care given to what you do so it’s the best. Without brand your passion and care will be channelled inefficiently, without product your brand will not succeed.

Translating the above into organisational operation – stop siloing marketing, branding, digital, internal communications and product development. There is no more substantial barrier to greatness as an organisation than a business set up in vertical silos. One brand idea drives them all. Work together and succeed. Work apart and fail. This may read as blindingly obvious; you would be amazed at the number of multi-national organisations that don’t foster this approach.

I work with some amazingly talented people under 30, but I have to caution the passion and ideology that comes with being the new wave of talent, with the fact that if you have never run your own brand or business, you do not yet know it all. Also remember that no matter what their age, most clients have also never run their own business or brand either. It is somewhat a bizarre case of the blind leading the blind. The best thing all parties could and should do is to start their own cottage business as a hobby. It’s something I actively encourage and stimulate in my own business. You will learn more in a month of putting business and marketing plans together for yourself, creating a product and getting a market stall or creating a simple ecommerce site and selling things, than 5 years of training, conferences and campaigns will teach you.

You are not more important than the brand. The biggest barrier to someone’s career is personal ambition. When you speak to good CEOs, they invariably always listen. They will council input, taking into account all necessary factors and then make a decision that is in the best interest of the business. That last word is important. They make the best decisions for the business knowing that if they do that and the business succeeds, they themselves will succeed with it.

Lower down the corporate hierarchy decisions are too often made with the success of the individual, rather than the brand at the forefront of the mind. That person’s role is a stepping stone to greater things, and a need to create impact. It motivates change rather than considered growth. As that person moves on, another arrives with the same agenda and the brand spends a lot of time and money going in circles. With that in mind, an incumbent agency must remember its responsibility to the brand first, and the individual second. It is not easy, but it can involve the use of the most powerful tool in an agencies armoury; the word ‘no’. When used sparingly and with objective reasoning behind it, ‘no’ can prevent wrong turns, enforce an understanding of the brand, and demonstrate a commitment to a strong rather than subservient relationship.

You have to align principles to profit. Everyone loves an award, but at the end of the day marketing is there to sell things, make people love you and keep buying your things.

Ad agencies are great at advertising. Not branding. The ad industry business model is dependent on change; on disposability, and the need to reinvent an idea or story. Some do this brilliantly – many do not. Clients should beware the ad agency that claims to know how to define ‘the brand’.

You are not a storyteller unless you have written a multi-episodic TV show, a multi-chaptered book or a multi-act film. One idea filmed and put on a client’s social channels does not make a story teller. I would encourage everyone to study what comprises a true narrative and then do one of the above before putting it on a business card or LinkedIn.

Most importantly, put the collective aim of the brand ahead of your personal ambition. The best memories are the ones spent working with great people, doing great work. This only happens when the only thing that matters is the work itself. Job titles, roles, client or agency are put to one side, and a group of people strive to do something brilliant. When that happens, the individuals reap all the success they crave.