Tom Denford
By Tom Denford
Sep 28, 2012 2:58:46 PM

5 Things Marketers Should Take From #Shicklegate


A consideration of what marketers can gain from this week's embarrassing agency leaks.

This week the media agency world got itself into a frenzy over a leaked email from a disgruntled employee at MEC in London which made some (rather libellous) accusations against a former boss. Within hours the story was being commented on in the trade press all around the world. The obligatory sensational hashtags #shicklegate and #findkieranallen were quickly joined by the Downfall parody, at which point it became clear we had a viral smash hit on our hands, intended or not.

No doubt this left Steve Hatch, CEO of MEC UK wondering what he'd done to deserve so much attention with so little glory when MEC has by any other metric had a pretty reasonable time under his watch so far. The dust looked like it was slowly settling, only for the (until then unnamed) female in the farce to come forward (via the caring protective custody of the Daily Mail) and posed on their homepage with arguably too few shirt buttons done up. Hopefully though that is the end of the affair and we all certainly enjoyed the chuckle at the media agency story that just kept on giving.

In the aftermath (assuming GroupM has now managed to negotiate a cease and desist with Associated News & Media), it does throw up some questions about how agencies manage their resources.  We won't know how much truth there was in Kieran Allen's all-staffer, but it does hint at an agency culture which may have been spreading resource a bit too thinly for their clients. This is perhaps not uncommon, and more likely to be happening where clients are still paying their agency by media commission.

There are some things we can learn from this mess. Marketers need to be considering their own agency resources and understanding if talent at their agency is being spread too thin. There is a general suspicion amongst clients that their allocated resource is never really delivered to the proportion of people's time stated (especially if that is less than 50%) and we hear stories of the best agency talent being committed 300% of their time to a suite of different clients.

Did Allen really work across 16 different clients at the same time? No matter how good an operator you are you cannot realistically deliver value to more than 2 or 3 clients at any one time. Were Allen's clients being told they had a decent chunk of his time? Did they in fact know who he was? Or worse did they have no visibility of who was working on their business, what these people were doing and what they were being charged out at? If clients are not demanding decent levels of visibility on resource then it leaves (in theory) the agency to stretch their talent too thinly.

It has been an ugly and messy week for MEC, Shickle and Allen (and now the brave young lady in the Daily Mail). Whilst Kieran Allen's reaction was hugely naive and very damaging, perhaps there may be some good that comes from this;  it does raise awareness of resource potentially being spread too thin which, if it is happening, clients need to take more interest in.

This is not a problem isolated to MEC. Its likely a problem within any agency that gets paid by commission rather than fees. Good media talent has always been stretched thinly because its a precious resource. It is usually the agency's priority clients who will see the benefits because they usually get given the best resources. This means that those further down the pecking order risk having their resource spread too thinly, to potentially ineffective levels. This can clearly create situations of stress and will sometimes result in Allen-style reckless resentments.

Here are 5 things that marketers should take from the #shicklegate affair:

1. Consider seriously how you pay your agency - This really is the fundamental. If you are paying the agency purely by media commission then the agency owes you no transparency (nor do you have any control) over who is working on your business. This creates a situation in which the agency can make more profit margin by under-resourcing clients and spreading resource thinly. It would be no surprise then if this practice were more common. If you are paying the agency only by commission then you need to consider modernising your terms (read this Guide to Agency Remuneration)

2. Know what the agency is doing for you - Be clear what you want the agency to do. Sounds really simple but too often it is missing. Work closely with the agency to define a scope of work for them. They will appreciate it.

3. Know who you have working on your business and why - You should know who works on your accounts. This should be in the form of a bespoke resource plan from the agency which names individuals, what they will do, what they will cost and how much of their time you have. (We have some templates available for this, get in touch)

4. Know when the agency have delivered what they say they will - Hold the agency to account for delivery of the scope of work and the resources they have allocated to its delivery. This is the time to evaluate if you have had full visibility of the persons named in the resource plan. If not, then recalibrate it for the next year. And don't pay the agency bonus.

5. Understand how you keep track of the agency's performance and thenincentivise their good behaviour - Do this by linking the agency's income (in significant part) to the delivery of the steps above. Simple really.

In the future, these kind of principles might save us from another #shicklegate email. Whilst that scenario is far less entertaining,  it does ensure that marketers are getting the value they are entitled to, that agencies are being properly rewarded for the value they create and the sometimes dysfunctional and distrustful relationships that can exist between client and agency become a thing of the past.

But then we wouldn't have had the entertaining respite of the last few days distracting us from the day job by being glued to @shicklegreg... Back to twitter...