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Creative Series: John Gleason, A Better View: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | Apr 09, 2024

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we kick off our Creative Series with John Gleason, Founder and President of A Better View Strategic Consulting. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

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Marketing Smarts: Creative Series: John Gleason, A Better View

In this episode, we kick off our Creative Series, focused on the issues facing creative agencies today and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. Our first special guest is John Gleason, Founder and President of A Better View Strategic Consulting. He straddles the line of agency and corporate, with many, many years spent at P&G until he stepped out on his own and started working directly with both agencies and corporate clients himself. Hear his definitions of design and design thinking, the biggest challenges facing agencies today, why focus groups are ineffective, where agencies should push back, and what makes a great client. This episode covers everything from design to teamwork. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • What is design in this context?
  • How have agencies changed over the years?
  • What should you be an expert in as an agency?
  • How do you approach insight mining?
  • What makes a great client?
  • How can agencies push back?
  • “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”
  • Quick-Fire: What is John’s beverage of choice?

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

John Gleason 0:00
Most agency sound like most other agencies, and they still don’t know how to have a business conversation.

April Martini 0:06
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today.

And if you missed anything, don’t worry. We put worksheets on our website that summarize the key points now. Let’s get to it.

Welcome to Marketing Smarts.

I am Anne Candido,

and I am April Martini and today we’re kicking off our Marketing Smarts mini-series all around the topic of the issues facing creative agencies today, and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. This series brings together folks from both agency and corporate that all have different point of views on this topic, but are all experienced practitioners and thought leaders with decades of experience, and today we welcome special guest John Gleason, who actually straddles the line of agency and corporate having many many years spent at Procter & Gamble until he stepped out on his own and started a better view strategic consulting. In that role, he has the pleasure of working with both agencies and corporate clients. So he will bring tremendous knowledge and experience to the conversation today. And in today’s conversation, we cover specific topics, including what happens when agencies and clients focus too much on short term gain versus long term growth. Why agencies struggle to speak the language of their clients, businesses, how we’ve landed in a place where most briefs are focused on the wrong problem. And my personal favorite, why we cannot treat design like a decoration station. John welcome. And please introduce yourself

John Gleason 1:40
by April and and thanks so much for having me. So a little bit about my background is I personally run a consulting business called a better view. We spend most of our time and energy at the intersection of clients and agencies. I help big corporations and consumer facing brands elevate design more strategically, help them with their agency relationship strategy and their roster selection. I help agencies become more relevant for the market they hope to serve, and in the process, hopefully become better businesses. And then of course, there’s the intersection of those worlds. I jokingly say matchmaking and marriage counseling.

April Martini 2:25
But I now tell people about you. I’m like, well, genre, and then I’m like you maybe doesn’t want me to start with that.

Anne Candido 2:31
People get it?

John Gleason 2:33
Well, it certainly is a little more descriptive about Oh, okay. That’s where he plays in a part of this is I got here after 20 years at Procter & Gamble. I had a left brain career at Procter and Gamble and supply chain operations and purchasing, and a right brain career in design, marketing and innovation. And it was the last role that I had at P&G, that inspired me to leave p&g and launch this consulting business. In that role, I was a part of P&G’s design organization at the very beginning of its journey to elevate design more strategically. And to embed it into the DNA of the company. One of the hats I wore was, I was responsible for all of our outside external agency relationships. And it was in that role that I found that almost every agency sounded like every other agency. And they didn’t know how to have a business conversation, which kind of inspired me to play that that role of trying to help agencies become more relevant and to become better businesses. Another hat I wore in that role was the journey at P&G for design was an incredibly visible one, our CEO at the time ag Lafley was on the cover of Fast Company talking about design. In our first global design officer, Claudia Casca, was covered in just about every business publication at the time. And so we would often get calls from other large companies saying we don’t understand what you’re doing with design, can we come learn from you and I became the coordinator of all of those conversations, both the ones we chose to have where we thought we could learn as much from them as they might from us. And the ones where we politely declined, where we felt that we would not be able to learn as much from them and it would be a one sided learning journey. And so armed with that information, I left P&G with a whole bunch of corporate contexts of people that didn’t understand what strategic design could be. And a plethora of agencies who both won business at P&G and did not win business at P&G, but it provided that foundation that I have now that that still to this day, 18 years later. Most agency sound like most other agencies, and they still don’t know how to have a business conversation. So good news for me, but bad news. For the industry,

April Martini 5:00
John, can you explain design in the context by which you’re speaking about it, because it can show up in a multiple different ways. I just want everybody to kind of be able to internalize what you mean by design, break

John Gleason 5:12
question. And so so one of the reasons these other corporations would come to us is they saw design as I’ll just speak colloquially, as a decoration station. It was to decorate packaging or create a website or create sales and marketing collateral. And it was not necessarily anything other than that creative exercise to bring something to life visually. When I talk about design, and when p&g talked about it at that time, design was a way of seeing the world and understanding consumers. It was a way of solving business challenges, not just creative challenges, but what markets should we be in what business models should we operate by? Who should we be collaborating with. And it’s a far more complex kind of framework, than a lot of other people seem to think one easy description for some people who are familiar with it is design thinking is a framework of seeing the world and solving challenges with a very specific framework and stage gate to work through. That’s a component of this strategic design proposition that, that I have great ambitions and aspirations for the world to leverage design. It could also be used to help enhance internal employee engagement or create better experiences for consumers or for customers or for for collaboration models on teams. I see too often to kind of ramble on a bit here and is I see, a lot of large companies say, Oh, we’ve got the consumer empathy. We, you know, we do consumer research, we do this, and we do that. But man, John, over here in supply chain, that guy’s a jerk, he’s always getting in my way. He’s. And it’s like, oh, so empathy is a is only an external thing. And it’s, it’s a conditional thing. It doesn’t apply to everything that we should be doing. And I’m of the opinion, that great empathy. Imagine how much better our personal relationships would be our relationships with our neighbors, and our colleagues and our friends and our family would be if we took the time to really understand what made them tick, and what inspired them and what frustrated them and then actually did something about it.

April Martini 7:35
Yeah, I mean, well, good. Push there to redefine, because I think that that is exactly one of the things we want to tackle with these conversations. And I think for the series, we’ve defined it as creative agencies. So the context of what design means there’s lots of different words to use it, but I think we’re definitely all speaking the same language. And John, you began to point out some of the issues that we see within the industry, right. And the decoration station is one of the things you and I talked about very early on of just making something look quote unquote, pretty, which doesn’t move the needle on anything related to what’s going on the business. And you gave great examples of both internally and externally what that can look like. But when you actually start to define design, in terms of what the business needs, and create a problem solving, that’s when it really starts to move the needle. So I would love to have some of your perspective. You’ve already shown the amount of time you’ve been in this industry. But really what has changed in recent years, what are the challenges you’re seeing, and most immediately, and all these conversations you have kind of across the board that we need to address in order for agencies to morph and change and adapt to being able to really solve these problems effectively versus being that decoration station.

John Gleason 8:55
In terms of the things that I have seen change. The most notable are the tools in which those design activities are performed, whether it’s ethnographic qualitative kinds of research, or it’s Illustrator and Photoshop and other things that have become incredibly more robust, more capable of predicting what I might be thinking or removing backgrounds and so the those things and and we’re on the nexus of a massive one with AI. The other thing that I think has changed is the time horizon on which clients are looking at their business and operating the activities that require design. There was a time when brands and companies would invest in research to simply explore and understand what inspires and frustrates consumers without necessarily a preach determined agenda. And that then turned into oh, here’s this big gap that nobody is solving. Let’s go solve for that. And from that came some big, really cool disruptive innovation. An example I’ll use is back in the in the 1950s, and 60s and 70s. There was a there was a need to help consumers with washing colored clothing, and not having it bleed. And Procter and Gamble created a dry detergent with a bleach alternative that was safe for colors and worked in cold water. And that was one of the catalysts for PNGs dominance in the laundry care fabric care business for decades. Because they invested in that gap and then found the technology. The other one that’s closer to home and maybe a little bit more fun, is Oreo, the resealable pack that they have where you peel the top of the package back to access the cookies. And you can reseal it before that you had to open the end of the package. And it would always rip the package and you were always worried that the cookies would get stale, and you stuffed them in Ziploc bags and all these other things. Kind of a an unintended positive consequence for for Nabisco Then and Now Mondelez is by accessing the entire package on the top, I now can eat more cookies in one sitting. So it drives consumption and it drives more frequency. And if I think that it might last a day or two longer, I can seal it up and feel like it’s it’s secure. And it’s it’s tapping into those consumer habits and frustrations. Today, most big businesses are so focused on what I can deliver this quarter. And this fiscal year. They’re not looking at next year or the year after. So they’re not investing in that longer term research in that longer term and innovation. And as a result, surveys, and occasionally focus groups are the pathway, not ethnography, not qualitative, in a true exploratory sense. And from that, it leads to incremental, slaver and scented line extension, but the company’s calling that disruptive innovation, and from that, you might, you might get the key, you might get a small bump in sales, because oh, you know, pumpkin spice latte, we’re going to put that in Cheerios, and we’re going to put it on steak, and we’re in milk and dairy and ice cream and whatever. And you might get a small bump, but when that season’s over, the business isn’t going to operate at that new higher level, it’s going to crash come bouncing back down until the next flavor comes in. And so it’s not real disruptive innovation that changes the trajectory of a brand. It’s what p&g used to call commercial innovation. It’s we’re gonna do these temporary things on small sine wave cycles. While we while we do the big 15 year curve on massive transformative innovation that creates swift her or create something else. And you just don’t see swift for like innovations anymore from big companies, because they’re so focused on that near term that, you know, several factors. One is what can I deliver in the short term. And the second is, I’m only going to be on this desk for 18 months. I’m not going to get credit for something that launches after I leave, so why bother? And so it just becomes this this this dysfunctional cycle that makes things shorter and shorter, which I think is also endemic in how they how client brief agencies for the short term stuff, which which also just feeds the decoration dragon and it’s okay, you know, we need to go decorate this thing we need to go do this thing. We’ve got a seasonal thing here. We don’t have time, April, we don’t have time to do research, we don’t have time to go do the right thing. So good enough is good enough. And off we go. Those are the to me the big things that have changed is the time horizon that clients are trying to plan for and then their reward system of short term behavior driving short term results that I love having conversations with CMOs to say your ABMs The only thing they care about is getting promoted, they will crash and burn the long term equity of a brand if they can show that they can move the needle short term so that they can get promoted and move on but by the time you realize the the equity of the brand has been destroyed it you’re three to five years down the path and consumers are confused and I’m done rambling about that but you See, I’m a little passionate about this, this notion of of rewards, it wouldn’t be a conversation with John Gleason if he wasn’t talking about reward stripe behavior.

April Martini 15:10
Well, I’m gonna build on that too, because, well, first, I gotta say nothing warms my heart more than having to pee in tears kick off our whole mini series on creative discussion. April’s like, you know, worst nightmare. And like my April, you know, to pee and years of eat, it’s just, it just doesn’t happen any everyday. But I think the insights are right on. And I think it’s great to hear how that is translating outside as well, because you’re getting like April, set up the two different interviews. But I want to go back to something that you said in really lends a lot to my experience, too, about the reward based actions or in how people operate with that in mind is I did come from an element of products research. And then when I was in PR, still very highly connected to that world. And this is not judging or putting down any of our CMK products, or any of those of those products, researchers, but even a context of what we’ll call insight driving, right in these this day and age, that feels like that whole system seems to be a bit broken, because it feels like a lot of the tools that have been developed in order to quote unquote, gain insights, then end up being commoditized in the reporting. So even if we have really good intentions to go in mind for insights, when we report out to all the people, you know, that may not have been close to the to the actual research, we have to do it in a way that they can understand and they can get it so we start bucketing things. And like putting things together and like creating these, like, whatever you would have called categories, or whether it was jobs would be done framework or whatever it was. And at the end of the day, you give something you’re like, Yeah, we know that. And we already do that. So then it seems like the briefs become the same thing. So maybe a slightly different way. And so it feels like the whole art of insight mining, where the Swiffers would have emerged from a very clear insight that was not like standard ties to a category that we already are aligned to go do. Because I’m only going to get rewarded by actually providing a strategy based on something that we’re already gonna go do, I’m not gonna provide something that we’re not because that’ll never get done. Right, the machine won’t allow for that. So what do you have to say about that, like the whole, like art and insight meeting, especially as we’re talking about design and creativity, but just so it’s so critical to that whole process.

John Gleason 17:35
For all of those who are familiar familiar with design thinking, the first step is empathy for the user that you’re hoping to serve. If we’re shortcutting, and bypassing that process, or ignoring and neglecting it altogether, then we’re never going to get to something that is profoundly disruptive and meaningful to that user or that consumer. And, and I think and to your comment about insights, that’s the fuel and inspiration for all of this. And if you’re going to cheapen that, or cut it out altogether, then you can expect the output to be less than what it could be. But there’s, there’s a whole cultural construct inside the corporation that do I want something that’s going to take six to 10 years to develop? Do I want something that could fail and blow up in my face? You know, nobody wants a again, the idea My idea of rewards drive behavior is those brand people that are leading that process are often discouraging the insights people from doing the proper research, and it’s, Hey, we only have $20,000. And we’ve got six weeks to go do this. We can’t go visit consumers homes, and what are we going to learn from three consumers if we visit their home or three shop alongs? You know, I’d rather go do an internet survey and get 10,000 people. And so there’s the quote, statistically representative component, that it’s easier to sell brands and leaders on data that involves a lot of people. But I have seen, I’m perhaps going to show up as perhaps being a Negative Nelly here on the way brands operate. But to some degree, it’s, it’s deserved. And it’s this notion of we don’t have time, and we don’t have money to go learn that. We think we already know what we need to know. And in fact, here’s my favorite, you know, the the associate brand manager in fact, I think I’m the target consumer. So I know what I would like to have in the brand and I’m gonna go provide an incredibly prescriptive brief to my agency because I’ve already got the solution. We don’t want them to explore. We don’t want them to challenge. It’s going to be big and it’s going to be green. And it’s going to have six sides. And it’s going to have a little illustration of some flavor that we’re going to put on it. I don’t know how hard that could be. My my completely unofficial, unscientific research, having worked with about 160 corporations, and about 2400 agencies, is that about two thirds of the briefs are working on the wrong problem. Well, yeah, that’s a wrap. Point. Yeah, the client thanks, a they want to show how creative and strategic they are. Be the briefs often are 10 times more verbose than they need to be to inspire you as a creative. And they often have the solution embedded in it, not the ability to explore for it. agencies out there that are listening, you’re not doing your client any any justice, if you’re not pushing back on those briefs. But most of you won’t, because you don’t want to be fired and show up as difficult and argumentative and being giving the appearance of trying to sell more stuff. And that’s what I remember when when I was in the design function, Claudia Kotka, the Global Head of Design at P&G would often go in magazines and conferences and interviews. And she would say, will somebody please kill focus groups, because they do no good for innovation and brand experiences. Because they’re just made up of people who want their $75 in their pizza. And they’re more likely to acquiesce to the loudest voice in the room than they are to speak their own opinion. Especially if it’s a difficult product space. In even the best facilitators will have a hard time drawing out a truly honest perspective from somebody because they’re on some research company’s database, and they frequently get called and they love getting their 75 bucks, and it’s a nice break from the home routine. And they you know, have a nice dinner and and then they, you know, they walk out with a little mad money, and and they haven’t moved the needle at all.

April Martini 22:19
Well, I mean, so many things were said there, I’m gonna try to not do the April keep talking for a while here, and we’ll have to keep me honest. Boy. But I mean, a couple of things you said, and then I have a question coming out of this, too, is, first and foremost, because we were just talking focus groups. I mean, I think those are hugely ineffective because you’re leading the witness no matter what. So whether or

not an email done an m&m, peanuts or off

admission, you get a lot of fun spending. Yes,

John Gleason 22:43

April Martini 22:46
But I think the Yes, I agree with Claudia’s comment. And I think all of our perspective on focus groups in total, because it’s not a natural environment. And so I also agree with you, John, on the ethnographic side, and how much more you get out of qualitative by observing if you truly understand the right questions to ask. The other piece around the insight. And one of my big pet peeves is the overuse of that term, right? There is only if you’re lucky, one true insight in any of this exploratory that you’re doing. And it’s hard work to get to what that is. Observations and insights are very different things. And you can’t ask the consumer a question and expect them to provide you an insight that is just completely wrong. That is not what we’re talking about here. But all of this leads into my question, because I wholly agree with you on how the timelines have been squeezed and how little we have to actually affect some of the stuff based on all the symptoms we’ve talked about. on the agency side, what can we be doing? Because we’re we are painting a bit of a bleak picture. And that’s kind of the point of this series, right is to really peel back the curtain and have this discussion and coming from the agency world and not have been in the ownership or leadership or decision making position. If I’m sitting there as a strategist or account person, and they’re giving me the brief and saying, This is it, and I know the repercussions are being fired. That’s the old world where we had longer timelines. Now we’re kind of both hands tied behind our backs. What do you what advice are you giving to them? What are you telling them to do? How do they push back and how do they hopefully flex the knowledge of the business to be able to even have a seat in the conversation?

John Gleason 24:32
Well, APR, good news, the therapist is in.

April Martini 24:38
Yes, there was like PTSD. And

John Gleason 24:42
believe me, we know. So I think part of the challenge is agencies often are pitching when they’re either they’re invited or they’ve they’ve navigated their way into a selection process of some sort. and the agencies, most agencies are thinking I’m pitching this brand or this company. They completely forget about the humans that are sitting on the other side of that table. The people, as you indicated, April, is this the project that’s going to get me fired? Or is this the project that could get me promoted? Is that the one that’s going to get me visibility? You know, what are the what are the politics that happened inside the client organization that that person who believes that they are the decision maker, and they tell you, they’re the decision maker, but they are nowhere close to being the decision maker, or the decision maker that doesn’t show up until two weeks before launch? Saying that I’m trying to empower my team to go make these decisions. But then they come in and say, I don’t like purple. Yep. And it has no basis. So So it starts with, try to understand what makes the humans that you’re talking to tick, read their body language. And this is the super difficult thing in a remote virtual zoom teams kind of world. Is it super hard to read body language? I view teams and zoom and the like, as a left brain box checking activity? Yes, okay. We, you know, where are we on this, this follow up and check, check, check. It’s not something for creativity. It’s not something for collaboration, it’s not something for expressing curiosity or pushing back. And so part of that is, is lean into finding more ways to meet with your clients in person. Try to get to know them, you know, how long have they been on the desk? What are their aspirations do they did they see themselves being on that desk for another six months, or another three years, so those those will impact how they see whatever it is you’re proposing to serve them. And when it comes to critiques of the work, either you pushing back on a brief or when you’re presenting concepts and somebody says I don’t like I like I don’t like one of the one of the tricks or tips that I offer is blame someone else. What I mean by that is point to the consumer. Clients are very, very happy to share their subjective opinion, I like this, this is great. The curves here, the shape here, the color here. But like is is a subjective thing. And you need to move away from like and dislike, and move to what did the consumer tell us? Here’s why we created this illusion, you heard her in that focus group or in that ethnography or, or 80% of consumers in your survey said they hate this and they love this. And how inspiring is it to move towards something that more people love, instead of compromising on something that fewer people hate? And I think that’s where we are with most consumer brand decisions is fewer people disliked this fewer people had a negative reaction. And what a horrible reason to be picking something. And so if you can point to the consumer, or a customer, or an industry expert that might have been called in for something or a senior leader that said, you know, I really want to go try this. That way, you get away from the subjective debate of who has more power and whose vote counts more. Because the client is always going to think their vote counts more than the agency. Unless the agency has a relationship with the CEO of the company, then the agency’s vote often counts more, because they can go cry to mom and dad and say, you know, Hey, your team’s not cooperating. And, and so so part of it is, I think one of the one of the challenges that most agencies I’ve come across is first, they almost all sound the same. And so spend some time and energy on your brand, your purpose, the things you’re proposing to your clients, do that for yourself. And that’s super hard for agencies because you’re not a paying client for yourself. You’ve got revenue and income and utilization rates and all the things that the consultants are telling you to do while you’re trying to run a good business. And and the biggest client you have is yourself and you’re not spending any time and energy on that. So So most agencies just phone in an identity and equity a positioning a purpose, and they make it up as they go. Or the or the founders in the business know what you stand for, but it’s not codified for the rest of the team. And the more specialized the more experts He’s you exude, the more experience you have that makes you that expert, the more the client is going to listen. But if you look and sound like everybody else, you you’re just going to be an interchangeable cog in their wheel. And they’ll replace you if they don’t like you because they find somebody else that looks and sounds like you be an expert. Blair ends for anybody that’s listening out there as a consultant that helps with positioning and messaging. And he he said this phrase, and I think he may have gotten it from someone else is, most agencies when they’re pitching a client, they see the client as the prize. They need to see themself as the prize for the client. We are the prize for you client, not you’re the client that I get to put your logo on my, my NASCAR page and show you this, this misleading thing that Oh, I worked with, I worked with Old Spice and Procter and Gamble, because both logos are on there. But I really only worked with Old Spice and they’re owned by Procter and Gamble. But but but part of this is figure out who you are, figure out what you stand for, and where your expertise lies. Because deep expertise, I mean, there are lots of studies that have proven, deep expertise gets to make more margin, deep expertise gets to work on more of the strategic fun stuff for brands, you as an expert can avoid some of the competitive conflict challenges. If if you are working with multiple players in a in a single category, if you’re the expert, the clients will say you’re the expert, you know, I want to work with you. Instead of saying, hey, I want to work with you, as long as you don’t work with anybody else that that sells the stuff that we sell. And so part of that is is deep expertise, proven expertise, you get to avoid a lot of those things, and you get to call the shots. Clients will wait for true experts, instead of whoever happens to be available to do the stuff I need in the short term. And you know, those are all symptoms and signs that are you strategic? Or are you just a homogenous interchangeable commodity to them? And they’ll find somebody else who will do it if you won’t.

April Martini 32:21
But I think it’s interesting, because I feel like and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong, it feels like that mentally has been embraced on both sides. Because even though we’re lamenting over the innovation cycle, a lot of the channels now lend themselves to quick content, right? Oh, yeah, digital and social. So it’s almost playing into the fact that I can pull these these quick wins from these marketing channels and demonstrate because a lot of times it’s about growing the existing brand. It’s not always about, you know, big innovation, it’s just how do I get more people to like my brand and use my brand, which seems like that agencies have responded to by also niching down. So now you have just digital specific agencies or social specific agencies or just content execution agencies. I mean, they’re, they’re at every single level of the creative agency gamut, if you will. So my question is, when you say, being an expert, an expert and what, like what is important to be an expert in now, therein

John Gleason 33:27
lies part of the challenge because most agencies when I propose that as a as a statement or a recommendation, they immediately jumped to a capability. Oh, I’m an expert in packaging, or I’m digital, or I’m social or I’m media or, you know, whatever that is fine. Or design, little little UI design or design. That’s right. Part of the challenge is, it’s impossible to set yourself apart from the market if you only focus on the activities that you perform. I mean, the the agency community out there that might be listening and whatever client community might be listening, how many times have you gone to a competitor’s website, or maybe your own Wink, wink, nudge nudge? And you see this super long list of bullet points of things that the agency says they do, right? They try to bucket it in something big or brand strategy. And then there’s 14 bullet points of every imaginal activity from PowerPoints to logo development to naming and in a part of it is there’s an exhaustion that clients have when they look at that list. For one, it’s no different than most other agencies list. What I tried to tell the agency to think about is, what problems are you solving for the client? Yep. What does the client get as a result of your experience and your expertise? It’s not the activities of oh, we could do a package or Digital banner ads and we could do this, that and the other, it’s greater connection with with consumer, it’s engagement, it’s activation. And and your comment is dead on that not only have the time horizons of responsibility and activity, shortened for clients, but the tools of reaching consumers have created greater immediacy for that, you know, social media. The challenge we’re in the the other thing I’ll add is, there’s more and more pressure for marketers to be able to prove an ROI for every dollar they spend. Which, in my opinion, and and perhaps this is connected to me being an old timer? Is there is investment in brand building that you can’t get get or see an immediate ROI. It’s written what are those things you invest in the brand that create an over time perspective of reinforcing what this brand stands for the cutting edge, I say, Mustafa on the horse for for Old Spice, you know, here’s, I’m the guy that has the thing that you can’t tell me that was immediate, someone rushed out to target and said, I’m gonna get old spice. But that was about reinforcing what this brand stood for, and what it could help with that consumer who might buy it. Most of that long term brand building investment is gone from, from the marketing budget. But but most of those near term social media things aren’t measuring real business performance. It’s measuring likes, and forwards and comments and things, not a single way for you to say, did that turn into any additional business. And instead of trying to create better connection with with the consumer, the marketing team is trying to go create metrics that prove some correlation between business performance and those ads that they ran or the media strategy that they had. And so, again, marketers are working on the wrong things. They’re trying to help prop themselves up and make themselves look good. And to me, there’s, there’s no more endemic example of the famous Khan festival of creativity every year. Where were for several years in a row, Burger King was named marketer of the year. My opinion of marketer of the year is you’ve created amazing things that resonated with consumers. And it grew the business. Mm hmm. Burger King, one this thing, 234 years out of five or six years in a row, their business declined every year. I’m sorry, con, but part of the criteria should be did the business grow. That’s what really marketing is about. And in great marketing isn’t going to have an immediate payoff. There may be some great campaign campaigns, there may be some great product innovations and maybe some great things that do. But most of it is the slow burn over time to say, what does this brand stand for? Does it resonate with me? Does it speak to me? And does it create some aspect of loyalty many a number of years ago created a promotion only for people who currently drove minis. And they got lambasted by all the publications while marketing should be about new growth beside the other. What they didn’t understand was many was hoping to get the second and third purchase from those consumers. Or the longevity of that purchase that helped the service department in the mini dealerships continue to get their revenue from those consumers. You know that the experts in the industry completely missed the purpose of that particular promotion because the American auto industry, they only care about selling you one car. They don’t care about having a relationship with you. The German, the Japanese, the Korean car companies, they understand the value of hey, if I can look up John Gleason’s purchases for his life. He’s going to spend a million dollars over his lifetime, and he’s going to tell his kids and he’s going to tell his friends, he’s going to do this. It may mean 10s of millions of dollars of business. But if I buy a clunker from GM that falls apart Three years later, and the service department is rude, and they charge this and they charge that I just randomly mentioned GM for anybody out there, American auto industry. I’m likely to tell them bad things about GM. And I’m never buying a GM again, you know, and it’s what what’s that that long term impact of having an amazing product that resonates with the world That solves some real meaningful problem or challenge. And isn’t an inauthentic, something that’s being pushed on me because I don’t really think I want it or need it. But then, you know, the Stanley Stanley Cup thing, it’s like, okay, there’s a, there’s a community of people that this resonates with. Like and that is, is meaningful. And there’s a whole nother part of the community and, and it’s okay for brands not to be appropriate for everybody or not to resonate with everybody. But so many brands are more about I don’t want people to hate us. And I don’t want people not to connect with us. You can’t tell me Tesla cares about every person that drives a car. But the American auto industry does care about, oh, we don’t want to upset this group and that group and this, and they’re more focused on not upsetting people, as opposed to going to own something, you know, the, the ultimate driving machine for BMW, people know what that is. And so how do you go create those things, and how to agencies be a part of that by finding their voice, to be able to challenge the brief to be able to push back on things. And like I said, blame someone else as a way of trying to create the pathway for you to create credibility with a client so that it doesn’t, the client doesn’t think you’re just argumentative, or that you’re upset because they don’t like your idea.

April Martini 41:36
Well, and I guess the question that comes to mind, and I’ll give, like kind of the context, listening to you talk is, so how do we and this is my nan’s language, we’re always talking about solving business problems through brand, right, which is similar to your definition of design and how you use it. There are all kinds of things hitting the industry on both the corporate and agency side, whether we’re talking about the reward system and people’s roles, and how short they’re in them to some of the channels that exist now, and how do we actually use them to metrics that look good on paper, but they’re not actually moving the needle and changing anything? I mean, I feel like Anna and I are out there fighting the good fight all the time, right, where our clients are coming to us. And it’s like you said, they, they’re looking for the thing, right? Like, I mean, how many times do we get, we need a website? Okay, that’s great. Why do you think that is, right? Or we need to be on social because everybody’s on social. Okay, well, great. But like that, is that really the the challenge that we’re solving, so finding clients on our end that have the patience to step back and say, help us uncover what are you really solving for. But that takes patience and time on both sides, at the same time that you’re trying to build a relationship, which on the agency side of this conversation, again, was always a very difficult place to be because we never really felt like we had control in that relationship. So it feels like we’re in a much more intense situation than has been the case throughout the duration of all of our careers. How do we change this? How do we, you know, I hear you on the Get in person, like, Absolutely, I’ve been having those conversations constantly lately about this is not going to work. We’re not going to ever know each other for just on screen. What else can be done short term and long term, in your opinion, especially sitting on both sides to start to move the change?

Well, and I’ll bet on that question, too. Because the other part of that is that usually these clients come in, something’s already wrong. There’s something broken, that’s also fair, you know, there’s always There’s something’s on fire, and it needs to be fixed tomorrow, right? And so again, like the patience of it is just never feels like we can get ahead of it. Right. So I just wanted to build on that, because I feel like that’s another nuance that continues to happen.

John Gleason 43:51
So much of this is, how do you help the client? Do what every agency is going to do is oh, you need a website? Okay. Yep, we can do that. But But part of it is diving more deeply into it to say, what is it that’s not working with the current one? What is it you want to achieve through this? And then the other part for those agencies who do have extensive experience in other spaces, is leaning into their experience to say, you know, we’ve had 20 clients come to us for website, you know, either creation or reduce. And most of them, actually, there was a different business problem that really needed to be solved before the website could be effective. Could we do the website? Of course we could. But part of this is, could we take a little time to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve? What’s not working? What What are all those things that are driving the need for the thing that they believe they need? So often, I see even in briefs but but certainly in conversations If the client is candid and honest, they’re going to talk about oh, well, we’ve got a revenue problem, we’ve got a profitability problem, we’ve got a market share problem. And that’s the problem that particularly a junior marketer wants to go try to solve. But the reality is those things are symptoms of something else. The consumer is not buying your stuff for they don’t care about revenue and profit and market share. They’re contributing to that or not based on whether they’re buying or not buying. And that’s the problem that most clients really need to solve. But they often don’t have the patience to do that. And if you can get to a conversation loop that gets them to admit, we really don’t have time for this, tell you what can we can we work on that next year, then that that helps you as an agency begin to demonstrate the strategic influence that you might be able to have. But but, you know, there’s a part of me that says, What a horrible waste of money that you’re going to still push through with a website that’s designed without the bigger, broader business challenges in mind. And I think finding the right person, or people inside the client is the other because a lot of times, you’re gonna get contacted by somebody who’s responsible for that project. And they often don’t want their boss to be involved in things because they want to be in control, they want to show that they can own this, they can show that they can run this. And part of that is can you influence them to say, hey, you know, not trying to go around your over your head, but would love to have? Where does this project fit in the context of the vision for your brand, the experiences that you want to create for your consumer, because the last thing you want to do is create a website that has a certain look, tone, and feel and navigation. That’s completely inconsistent with the rest of what that brand stands for in the marketplace. But that’s what you’re going to get if the ABM, who’s in charge of the website only cares about the website. It’s asking those questions that are trying not to be argumentative, or trying not to be difficult, knowing that sometimes that client may see you as difficult. Well, you know, why do you keep asking about you’re just trying to sell me more stuff? It’s like, no. How does this fit with your packaging, or your retail strategy or your pricing or the trajectory of your brands or your innovation pipeline? Because all of those things ought to be considered as part of this website project? Not necessarily built in yet. But they need to be considered, you know, are you going to have an E commerce where you’re going to sell something and collect money on the website? Or is it just an information flow? Well, you know, DTC is a big pressure point. So you know, I think we would love to sell. But we’re, we’re currently a, you know, sell through retail channels. Oh, okay. That’s an important thing to know, short term or long term as we, what are plugins for the website? And I think it’s, it’s how do you how do you respect the authority that the client has? Or that they think they have asked questions in many cases that you already know the answer to, based on other clients that you’ve had. But one of the trends I see is clients are bringing more and more hands on work in house. Yep. They believe they’re doing that for two primary reasons. They think it’s less expensive, and they think it’s faster. The problem I see with this is the first one or two years that they do it. It’s awesome, because they’re hiring people with all kinds of amazing experiences from different categories and sectors and capability. But by year three, it becomes a productivity organization and the budget start to get cut, the inspiration and exploration outside of their own category starts to get cut. And by year four, and five, they’re just doing PowerPoint presentations about their competitors, using the Insight dynamics that the insights team pulled together that you referenced earlier, and it becomes tactical and transactional. I think the big mistake that agencies have made over time is they don’t overtly tell the client that our ideas and concepts and recommendations are coming to you because of all of this amazing experience we have in other categories. Agencies are more likely to say we ran it through the magic creativity machine and Toto. And they want the client to think that they are the magic sauce. And not necessarily to overtly tell the client look, if we were not in tech if we were not in automotive, and if we were not in beauty. I don’t think we would have come to you with this particular concept. Because that’s the thing that clients eventually lose when they bring Create in house teams is the external stimulus about what’s happening in other categories. And and the budget becomes arbitrarily small, you know, oh, we need to cut two heads and we need to cut the budget. Well, wait, why? How did you get that number and and so I think part of it is agency’s own the fact that you’re in a lot of other clients and a lot of other categories and industries and stages of work activity, and pull that forward. You know, based on the other client work that we’ve done, we could do the website. But 80% of those other clients that asks us to do websites, there was something else brewing in their business, that it was more important to work on the other thing before the website, or to include the other thing as part of the website, you know, and be open and honest, look, hey, we’re not trying to sell you more stuff. We’re just trying to bring the experience of of our, you know, 52 years of collective experience into whatever the the narrative you want to create about years of experience and categories and all those things, own that stuff and bring it forward, don’t hide it behind a magic curtain. And and say that’s the magic sauce. But

April Martini 51:15
I mean, I will say 100% agree with all of that. Number one, the secret sauce, the madman era days, whatever you want to call it is gone. And it’s because of all the things we’ve talked about today, whether it’s creative tools in everybody’s hands to short term digital things that anyone can put stuff in. But also, I think what we’ve started to use as a vetting criteria set a different way to what you said is will be the generalist to your specialist. And that does allow for the conversation about just the patterns we see across industries, or where you can steal learnings that you would be like, I’m in cars, and you’re telling me I should borrow that from beauty. But when we bring the concept to life, it’s never would have expected. But I also appreciate what you said about the respect of the people you’re talking to on the other side. And this is something that I think agencies do get wrong. Sometimes as they come in, they say our way or the highway, we know better than you we’ve done X, Y and Z, when we have the specialist conversation with our clients, the statement is you know more than we are ever going to know about the business that you are in. And it is the partnering in the collaboration that’s going to get to the best solution. Without either side, we’re never going to get to as good of an idea. Totally agree, you can definitely have your other question. But I do think that’s a good fine exclamation point to put on the conversation. And we have a few quick fires, too. We need to get to so yes. So yeah, but ask your question. Well, so

I’d be I’d be remiss if I didn’t flip the coin to the other side since I was a client. And so John, if you could just speak to just a few points of what you think would make, or is a really good client, in this world, like, what do you think needs to paint on the client side? Yep.

John Gleason 52:59
leaving room for curiosity and exploration, and pushback and challenge. One of the things that I often ask in my own work is, do you think you already have the answer? Are you using our engagement as a way of socializing or refining your answer? And the killer one that I asked is, are you willing to be wrong? Based on the way they answer those questions, I sometimes choose not to engage with that play if the client says I’m not willing to be wrong, and yes, I think I already have the answer, then it’s like, well, you don’t need me. You need somebody that’s going to tell you how smart you are, and how good looking you are, and how well your mother dresses you. That’s going to tell you, you have all the right answers. You don’t need somebody that is going to do the right thing for you to say that you might be working on the wrong problem. The other thing is respecting the experts expertise. Not just simply accepting the agency’s ideas, but but diving into and exploring Well, how did you come up with that? Why did you go there instead of here what’s and to try to recognize their own subjectivity. And keep that in check. And then the other is respecting budgets. But most design budgets are set arbitrarily 18 to 24 months in the past, oh, we’re going to do a redesign. We’re going to do a website. Oh, yeah, that’s 10 grand for the website. And it’s five grand for the rebrand and redesign. And there’s no context for why that budget is what it is. But then that becomes the thing. Oh, you’re really expensive April when you come in at $50,000 for a website, and I’ve only got 10. It’s like, Well, you had it wrong to begin with.

April Martini 54:50
99 Before pricing, its

John Gleason 54:53
interests. So your question is interesting, and I did a webinar last week on winning in more business with difficult clients. And and as part of this, I included a survey that I’ve kind of done over over time where where I asked agencies to rate their clients in five buckets, you know, an exceptional partner. Very good, good, difficult and toxic. And so I’m not asking for the clients names, I just say if you’ve got 10 clients tell me where your 10 Fall out in this category. And 9% of the responses indicated, toxic clients. Yet only 8% were exceptional clients. So there were more, there’s more toxicity than there is exceptional. That was probably 2400 agencies, which was about 22,000 clients representative in that. So you’re getting close to a statistically significant representative. I also asked about 300 clients, those same five questions, where would you put yourself. And so if 9% said, We’re exceptional, or if the agency said 9% of their clients are exceptional. 9% 22% of them felt themselves to be exceptional. very telling, the most shocking of all, was that they were eight people that said we are a toxic client. Just like I applaud you Rambo for admitting this, I hope you’re doing something about this. But But similarly, very, very small percentage felt themselves to be a difficult client. And they were also unapologetic for, for example, for having demanding and high standards. Clients shouldn’t have to apologize for that. And that shouldn’t be counted as difficult. But agencies count that is difficult. And so some of this is just understanding the lens through which each side of this relationship is seeing the world. Most clients don’t think they’re the problem. It’s too easy to fire an agency and change agencies. You know, you talked about cleaning something up, the first one didn’t work. Hey, can you work on this website? And oh, by the way, we’ve already spent 90% of the budget with this other agency, and it didn’t work. Can you do it for the 10%? That’s left? Yep, yep. And I hope every agency out there that’s listening says no. We will do it for the original budget. Or we will do it for 20% above the original budget, because apparently that may be one of the reasons it didn’t work. So part of it is is knowing your value and seeing yourself as the prize. And then letting your work speak for itself so that it gets more clients and the word of mouth from clients get you other clients. Because the other thing that you all know in and you’ve you’ve been at Procter you’re now in in an agency clients move. And if you’re an exceptional partner with somebody in one client, and they move, are they likely to bring you with them? Or are you likely the one that’s replaced by somebody that is brought in by somebody else that moves. So you know, the there’s the don’t burn bridges, but don’t do it in a way that I say Don’t burn them, just for technical opinion reasons. Go stand for something, including yourself and your business. And then go own that and run a better business. Don’t be apologetic about saying look, we have a responsibility to ourselves to charge fees that are commensurate with the work and the the outcomes that we create for you. But one guy’s opinion.

April Martini 58:46
Oh, I forgot you’re gonna say that at the end. I know you. Okay, so, I think great discussion. And I think you know, and mentioned you being our first and I was a little scared about having to Procter & Gamble, folks, but I think we did a good job on this one. So but one thing we do like to do, John is a couple of quick fires, just immediate response type things because we like our listeners to get a sense of our guests as people as well. So these have not been given to John beforehand, but real quick,

John Gleason 59:13
which is always scary. Always scary.

April Martini 59:15
The first one is beverage of choice. Water, water. All right. No one’s ever said that. Top on your list of places to visit that you haven’t been

John Gleason 59:31
off Australia, New Zealand.

April Martini 59:34
All right. favorite way to relax or unwind

John Gleason 59:41

April Martini 59:42
and what are you reading right now?

John Gleason 59:43
What I just finished his is rereading. Blair ends when without pitching manifesto.

April Martini 59:52
brand that you admire, for their ability to do everything that you just said?

John Gleason 59:59
MINI is one I would agree with that. Yeah. The other one is the polarizing one I mentioned Tesla. And a third that I’ll talk about is method. Hmm, interesting. They they came out when I was still at p&g and and all of the white lab coats in in r&d said, the stuff in their bottle is garbage, we can outperform we cannot do this, how could do that. And I kept coming at it from a design perspective, saying that’s not why people are buying method. And that’s right. And if it’s not as good, even though it’s probably imperceptible to the consumer, but those performance differences, I’m going to squirt a little more dish soap on on the sponge, and I’m going to scrub a little harder, so I’m going to use more faster. Yep. So from a business perspective, it may be smart not to have great stuff in the bottle because they sell more, as long as the stuff is good enough, and it serves other purposes.

April Martini 1:01:02
Solve the right problem, right? It’s the right problem. That’s

John Gleason 1:01:04
the right problem. Yep. Well, John, this

April Martini 1:01:07
has been a pleasure. And before we close out, please tell people where they can find you if they want to continue the conversation with anything and all the things we talked about today.

John Gleason 1:01:16
I think the easiest is LinkedIn, John Gleason, I’m gonna pick shirt or John at get a better And happy to have a conversation happy to be a sounding board for anyone out there that heard something that sparks disagreement or agreement. I’m open for for the debate. I want to be better. This

April Martini 1:01:37
has been an exceptionally insightful conversation. And we want to thank John for being one of our experts in this Marketing Smarts Creative Series, the issues facing creative agencies today, and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. We hope that coming out of this conversation all of you listeners take action on the insights we’ve discussed today to make your agency client partnerships stronger and more meaningful, as well as be honest with yourselves and clean up work cleanup as needed. We can all change the industry for the better this way. Be on the lookout or listen for other episodes in this series. And if you have particular thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you as always. And with that, we will say go and exercise your Marketing Smarts! Still need help in growing your Marketing Smarts? Contact us through our website: We can help you become a savvier marketer through coaching or training you and your team or doing the work on your behalf. Please also help us grow the podcast by rating and reviewing on your player of choice and sharing with at least one person. Now, go show off your Marketing Smarts!