Brands' project approach: Trial run before tying the knot?

There has been significant increase in both, large and small agencies taking up work on project basis. Creative honchos highlight the pros and cons of such an approach...

e4m by Priyanka Mehra
Updated: Jul 24, 2013 8:34 AM
Brands' project approach: Trial run before tying the knot?

Gone is the era of long-term relationships, and Adland certainly seems to be a true reflection of the same, with a significant increase in work being taken up on project basis by large and small agencies alike.

Much like what T20 did to cricket, where it is common to see a lesser known team beat the most high profile one. The format forces every player to be at his best all the time because there are no second chances. The same logic applies to brands being built through a project-by-project approach. It puts the pressure on ‘right now’. You could always argue if it’s making ‘right-now’ bigger than ‘what’s right’, and while that argument stands, it seems to be a sign of the times we live in.

“Long-term partnerships are a different ball game altogether, with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. But if you are a marketer who wants to shape brands that are built-to-last, a series of projects may be the hardest way to get there. And that’s where long-term partnerships score over any other approach,” stated Vikas Mehta, CMO, Lowe Lintas and Partners.

Client needs and objectives play a pivotal role
It depends on what the client is looking for. If the objective is to create some fireworks that will get your brand a lot of attention immediately, the easiest way to do this is to invite a few agencies to pitch for a ‘project’ assignment, and whoever gets the best sparklers to the show wins.

“The way I look at work on a project basis is that it is an indication of our environment. For example, there are new products and services coming into the market, and want to send out messages to people through a campaign to say ‘we are here’. But maybe this is their first outing and we don’t know if they will be regular advertisers. Many a times the nature of the industry such, i.e. a builder making a fancy building just wants to communicate about that building and not his day-to-day work. We would love to have long-term associations, but if the client feels he is not ready for regular communication, then project basis work becomes the best option,” said Abhijit Avasthi, National Creative Director, Ogilvy India.

Whilst the project mind-set seems to be on the rise and is here to stay for a while, it could also be a good leveller for the bigger networks and the smaller start-ups.

Increase in work on a project basis may also be attributed to today’s CMOs donning the role of a quasi CFO. With shrinking budgets, marketers today are also aggressively focussed on meeting their numbers. A project approach is also of great use for clients who do not have the means or the need for an agency on retainer all year round.

“If your business needs only one campaign a year, then your money is better spent working with the best agency in the country for a two-month project instead of having a sweat shop on an annual retainer,” added Mehta.

It works for agencies as remuneration earned from work on a project basis translates to assured monies coming in a fixed time period.

“This is the era of IPL and T20. The increasing trend of project work is stemming from consumer behaviour. In fact, it is one of the big problems that the nation is going through for last six to eight years to meet the committed targets year-on-year which are given to individual offices. In case these are not met, senior guys lose a huge sum, which maybe in form of bonus and reputation,” opined Santosh Padhi, Founder – Chief Creative Officer, Taproot India. 

Means to get your foot in the door
Projects are also viewed as a means for smaller agencies to get their foot in the door. 
“Projects are like sampling; smaller agencies get an opportunity to showcase their area of expertise and credentials. It serves like a test drive, maybe that’s the new way of pitching,” said Sagar Mahableshwarkar, Chief Creative Officer, BatesCHI and Partners.

A project seems like an interesting way to substitute a multi-agency pitch. It is a great way to test drive a new partnership before you tie the knot, rather than invite four agencies to come and attempt to solve a decade-old marketing problem in a two-hour meeting. Doing the same via a project provides both, the marketer and the agency an opportunity to really work together and get a feel of what a long-term partnership may possibly look like.

Does it help the brand?
Is short-term project basis work propelling the brand forward or taking a step back from the traditional way of functioning which believed in partnering with a single agency that worked on the brand for decades?
“Relationships matter. They lead to brand understanding as well as understanding of the brand’s challenges and objectives, producing effective communication. That can never be replaced. Work taken on a short-term basis signifies a quick monetary gain – nothing else. In the long or short run, it is a monetary gain approach or a foot in the door strategy. If there is no relationship post project completion, we will stand to lose our position as communication experts,” stated Rana Barua, Chief Operating Officer, Contract Advertising.
Clients are currently using a project-based approach to seek fresh thinking, break-through ideas, test drive a relationship with a new agency, or even to try a new agency while being tied to a global alignment that’s not working out locally.

“No one is looking for long-term solutions; everyone is asking what is my next three months’ goal or six months’ goal. The maximum people look at is three years’ goal; no one wants to see beyond three years. The average life of everyone’s career has become much shorter. Everyone is used to short-term solutions with a mindset that ‘as long as by the end of this year, I meet my numbers, I am fine’. This might not help most brands nor agencies; somewhere down the line, you have to engage with consumers throughout the year,” said Mahabaleshwarkar.

Is it also a way of putting pressure over the existing agency? Is this healthy in the long run?
“Clients also at times misuse giving project work to other agencies to keep their current agency on its toes and drive agency costs down by creating excess competition and so on. This is the set one needs to worry about, discourage, and shun. Otherwise, your long-term partnerships will end up as marriages where extra-marital sex is acceptable once in a while. Not the healthiest of marriages, I must say,” said Mehta.

However, in the larger context, a significant increase in project work is a mirror of what the media industry is going through. In a media-exploded environment that’s getting more fragmented by the minute, there is enough confusion about what is the best way to engage people in pursuit of building brands. Most of the existing models are going back to the drawing board and there seems to be an unsettling feeling among both, marketers and agencies on whether there is something else out there that he/she is missing.

Increase in project basis work – though not necessarily harmful depending on the objective – promises to keep increasing; similar to the entropy that precedes any significant step of an evolution. 

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