Why we quit being an ad agency
“ No, it's not because we don't make ads anymore; by using our strategic thinking and creative problem-solving skills to solve current challenges in the business environment, we've learnt that we can add value across the entire business value chain.”
So says Janhendrik Oosthuizen, CEO of the creative consultancy – and former advertising agency – Etiket.
Positioning Etiket’s service offering as a business design solution counters the industry standard where advertising agencies are all too often contracted as ‘problem-solvers of last resort’ merely to conjure up ad campaigns to lure consumers, explains Oosthuizen. “As advertising specialists, agencies have the unique ability to immerse themselves in the intricacies of any industry. As part of the service offering, agencies need to (almost overnight) develop an in-depth knowledge of our client’s industry, company, products, services, target market, etc. “The frustrating part is that we only use these insights – and the creativity that we bring to the table – in the last stretch of the value chain, namely outbound advertising. In actual fact, we are able to assist our clients with proven business disruption solutions that positively impact their bottom line, using the same skills that are used to create advertising and communication campaigns.” The question then arises whether ad agencies are now venturing into the domain of business consultants? “Indeed we are, just as they are playing more and more in what was traditionally the agency domain. Take, for example, players such as Deloitte Digital and Accenture Interactive. They are competing head-on with the offerings of many digital agencies. Fact is that we are entering an era of convergence between agency and consultancy. This makes sense since the strategic methodology of having to truly get under the skin of your client is similar in both instances. “As a creative consultancy we have long since realised that creativity is not about an ad and its outcome per se; it centres on the entire business process; on producing creative and innovative ideas that make a difference and positively impact the bottom line. Creative consulting is about tackling a business problem, taking it through a process of design thinking and getting a creative solution as a deliverable. “The deliverable to the client can be advertising collateral, but more often than not is much, much more: a new business process, an innovative service or product offering, internal structural changes, a repositioning of the brand, a different way of doing things. All of this is part of the process of disrupting the status quo and coming up with creative and innovative solutions,” Oosthuizen explains. “In fact, the work we’ve produced for a number of clients is not at all advertising-orientated. Instead, we’ve applied creative thinking and design processes throughout to solve business problems. We take our clients through our own strategic process, or what we call the Reimagine Toolkit. And it’s an exciting journey,” Oosthuizen enthuses. A case in point is the work Etiket produced for a local destination marketing organisation. The brief was simple: create video-based content to stimulate tourism. Instead of merely providing the usual commercial content by shooting videos of all the familiar tourist destinations in the province, the consultancy revisited the problem and decided to change the production process by identifying a number of ‘game-changers’ in the local areas to produce the content. “Not only did this approach ensure that we equipped and empowered new entrepreneurs in the market, but we also ensured the production of authentic and emotional content that no outside production house would have been able to create. “It’s about acts, not ads... We trained these people to tell their own stories, in their own language and with their own personal insights, with the result that the communication was highly effective and impactful. These are the types of stories that are of interest to the outside world. It’s not about the video; it’s about a process of creating game-changers, giving them the opportunity to tell their stories and benefitting from additional PR opportunities around them.”
“The game-changing philosophy is the mechanism that gives the video ‘wings’. Don’t get me wrong; the final product still needs to be of award-winning quality, but this should not be the driving force behind the process. At the end of the day, this was truly creative consulting, not merely video production,” Oosthuizen points out. He adds that invariably the agency moves up in the value chain to determine the reason behind a specific business problem. For example, when an insurance client struggled to convert the digital leads that the company created for them, the business solution was as simple as providing digital training and spending time developing scripts with better ‘sales hooks’ for the call centre operators to use. “Our creativity was used in a process environment rather than just changing the digital advertisements. Again, the same creative solution that applies internally, also applies externally." “Like external communication, internal communication is paramount to align the staff with the brand promise,” Oosthuizen continues. “If you don’t positively change the experience of customers or clients, their perceptions will not change. Internal communication therefore entails much more than birthday wishes or notices of sports days and social gatherings. The very success of a company hinges on motivational and educational communication to ensure staff buy-in, and in this regard Etiket is well equipped to assist and to give strategic guidance.” Alas, clients need to be educated much more to fully appreciate the benefits and value of creative business consulting. “In the current tough business environment, marketing budgets are the first to be cut, so the logical option is to venture further afield, from the small pond to the sea, so to speak, where agencies can apply their creative arsenal across the value chain. This is an altogether different ball game, which is elevated to CEO level where problems are viewed holistically. “Designing pretty pictures and stories is only one element of creativity. It goes much further. Creativity and critical thinking are singled out in a recent World Economic Forum report as the two top requirements in the future workplace.” "Etiket has since its inception focussed on developing creative resources - from a design and copywriting perspective, to account and general business management - which are applicable and required in each and every business sphere as well as the community at large. Creativity involves the entire team who can think critically and come up with creative business solutions to the benefit of any company, irrespective of its operational nature,” Oosthuizen stresses.
“The challenge to a corporate South Africa - which is disillusioned with advertising agencies and wants to reap the benefit of innovative, creative business thinking, solutions and communication - is to give boutique creative consultants a go. Likewise, we would love to service brands that are not interested in the status quo. They may just be pleasantly surprised with the outcomes,” Oosthuizen concludes.