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For mutual benefit

What is the single most important factor in global marketing? It's ownership, says Saatchi

A prospective client complained to us a few months ago: "In today's world of pharmaceuticals, global marketing can be almost anything; it's like the idea that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' That seems pretty slippery for something that you're pushing so hard."

It may appear that way to our customers, but it shouldn't be so. Those of us working in the global arena are able to identify principles that provide better direction and results. Global initiatives have had enough time to deliver definitive knowledge to the people responsible for them.

That doesn't mean that we are always successful, that we always have the right assets in place, the right understanding, or sufficient commitment and discipline. But an experienced global agency should have a definitive and verifiable point of view. The following questions have been designed to tease out that point of view, and, of course, we are happy to apply our own experience in answering them.

Q. There are varying degrees of centralisation in global plans: fully centralised development with local implementation, or fully distributed through a network, with each local agency having broad responsibility, or mixed, a combnation of distributed and centralised responsibility. Is one preferable to another?

A. Fully centralised management, with multi-market agency input, whereby all agencies are within a single network, is the best approach because it gives a brand the greatest opportunity to be uniform across borders, audiences and media.

Let us repeat this for emphasis and clarity: global marketing works best under central management and direction from a global board of directors, multi-market insight and other input, all of which takes place within the 'walls' of a single network.

The global board is made up of executive management, with each national agency represented by its own board member. They are responsible for liaising with their markets and agency, in a bi-directional model. This structure works very well if it is mirrored by the clients, with a similar executive steering committee supported by local representatives.

All other models are accommodations to internal structural challenges, contractual challenges, or operational challenges on both the client and agency side. That is not to say that such a measure is unnecessary, but as it does represent a compromise, it is by definition suboptimal.

Another way of thinking about this is that one size does not fit all, because companies and brands can be so different. There may be gaps in local coverage by a network, which means that the assembled team has to go outside the network to achieve complete coverage.

Alternatively, the pharma company may have established a lateral, multi-market group of directors, with each one insisting that his or her agency be a co-decision maker. However, if all pharmaceutical firms had similar cultures, hierarchies and contracts, there would be only one way to organise and deliver global marketing for optimal resonance.

Q. What have you done to drive consensus successfully?
A. If your global agencies are looking to drive consensus, they have admitted defeat before they have even begun. The assumption behind the decision to brand and market globally is that there is a single value proposition for a brand that pertains to all markets. We call it 'uni-branding'.

If such a proposition cannot be found, then perhaps the brand should not be considered for global marketing, or it should be considered on the understanding that uptake may vary across a few markets.

The decision to move forward with global branding/marketing in such an environment would be made in the context of trade-offs: efficiencies and the value of singularity in all major markets against the friction of dissonance in smaller markets. Or vice-versa, in which case you might decide against global marketing.

This is not an easy decision, but we strongly recommend that every marketer considering a global approach uses a 'decision screener', like the one described above, to assess the possibilities of success.

Q. What is the greatest barrier to success in today's global pharma marketing environment?
A. Too often, agencies are unable to change overly conservative thinking. Risk aversion is masquerading as discipline, and agencies are still struggling to find ways around this.

Take a look at What Sticks by Briggs and Stuart, a comprehensive analysis of how more than $100bn (Ä76.40bn) worth of advertising in the US is wasted. Its review of agency and corporate cultures identifies key barriers to change, including inhibitory organisational structures and cultural resistance to scientific marketing tools.

Add to that the chilling effect of high-profile litigation in the US, and you can see how hard it is to change thinking.

Habit too plays a damaging role: 'We'll do what we did last year', rarely fails, and rarely costs jobs and bonuses. But does it succeed? We have made some progress in this area by involving more of our clients in our processes: brainstorming with lateral-thinking warm-ups, brainstorming with the creative teams and sharing how we choose ideas.

We find that our clients own the work more and their natural tendency is then to come up with more interesting, and even provocative, ideas. The agency does not give up its ownership of process and passion, but we no longer have to sell the idea of tactics and creative to our clients.

Q. How much time have you saved your global clients by implementing a global process?
A. Anyone who claims that this process saves time either isn't doing global work, or is not being entirely transparent (to use a polite word). To begin with, there is a tendancy for more stakeholders and fewer lofty points of contact in global marketing. That is not ideal, but it is the reality of the de-centralisation of many global clients.

Furthermore, the global process, by definition, is broader and adds extra steps: positioning, and message and concept development require translation for the purposes of research. The research subjects often pass through slow, cumbersome shipping protocols.

Anyone who has ever waited anxiously for customs to clear research materials - while highly paid research subjects are gathering at the research centre - knows the truth of this. Research must be done serially, given that continuity is preferable: we want to have some of the same people at all research venues.

Finally, face-to-face meetings are mandatory, and scheduling global meetings is usually tougher than organising local activities.

Q. Leadership is the most important critical success factor in the global arena; what are your tools, structures and formulas for leadership?
A. As important as leadership is in all commercial enterprises, and especially one that may be far-reaching and somewhat decentralised, ownership is the single most important driver of success in global marketing. If agencies and companies don't equally own the positioning, strategy, messaging, creative and channels, no-one else will follow the plan.

The more interesting question is, what is the best way to cultivate ownership? The answer would include reward, as in 'what's in it for me?' We work very hard to establish a culture in which global success is rewarded in special ways. Ownership can also be amplified via shared process and discovery.

As outlined above, we have introduced developmental processes in which client and agency members share planning and creativity. Shared values are a clichÈ, perhaps, but they are potent forces for unity and ownership. It takes time and effort to articulate and test these values, but the effort is more than worthwhile: it really helps to innovate.

Create something truly new together - a new approach to media, an innovative strategy for segmentation - and the resulting gravitational pull is extraordinary: everyone wants to be together on something new.

Q. How do you approach the differences between managed markets from country to country?
A. A unified global approach, as noted above, can succeed in combining the best value proposition across audiences, media and markets: 'uni-branding'. It is a powerful unifying force, both within corporations and their agencies, and among their target audience. Just to be very clear, however, it cannot alone solve access problems.

A great and unified value proposition, delivered through the channels that penetrate managed care organisations and regulatory bodies, certainly can influence the discussion. However, each managed care environment lives by its own rules, and must be approached on an ad hoc basis.

Agencies can do many great things for brands, if access, patent protection and supply are secure. But those three areas are preconditions for agency work. So when a global marketing team is considering how best to launch a global brand, due consideration should be given to the markets where access, supply and legal status are assured. Then ask your agency to shoot for the moon.

Q. How does your approach differ significantly from other global networks?
A. While we can't say this with certainty, it's likely that Saatchi's fundamental approach is similar to that of other networks. After all, we recruit people from our competitors, who similarly recruit from us, and we invite the people who join us to mix their ideas and experiences with ours. We add agencies from other networks, as well.

Our clients similarly cross-pollinate their talent, both by hiring staff and through acquisitions and mergers. So there has been an increasing degree of homogenisation in the way companies go about planning and executing global marketing programmes.

You might ask, therefore, if you are all the same, why would I choose you? The answer is experience and clients. Some agencies have been doing more global marketing, with more global clients, for a longer period of time, while others continue to work more on a local marketing stage. We would like to think that we operate every day in a global context and that helps us to think, adapt, and execute.

The Author
Dr Edward Nathan is executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Advertising, part of the Publicis Healthcare Communications Group

8th March 2007

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