18 February 2016 12:56:51 IST

So, what’s the objective?

If objectives aren’t outlined clearly, the deal between a firm and a client can end up in heartburn

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable” — Seneca.

I am sure some of you have experienced this in group discussions. When the discussion is going nowhere, one smart person earns brownie points by saying, “Can we please get back to the topic at hand? What’s the objective?”

I have seen this happen at the workplace too as it helps get back to basics. Extending the thought to my own industry (brand and PR), the lack of clear articulation of objectives of any communication exercise will always leave clients and agencies with a sense of regret and eventually, heartburn.

The agency feels the campaign is working, whilst the client doesn’t agree. Clients are usually very keen on throwing this funny line at advertising agencies often, “Fifty per cent of my advertising budget is wasted. Trouble is, I don’t know which 50 per cent”. While it is a great throwaway line and is sure to raise laughter in cocktail parties, the reality is slightly different. Let me explain.

How sharply outlined are your objectives?

Often, marketing objectives and communication objectives are used interchangeably by people in positions of authority. And who are we to question them? They seem to forget that there are several stages before a purchase decision is made.

To expect ‘communication’ to deliver sales is a bit rich, to put it mildly. Communication can, at best, create or increase awareness for a brand and perhaps move it into the “consideration set”, but cannot make one buy a product.

Let me tell you a real life story about the last car I bought.

I had done my homework, looked at product reviews, spoken to my friends and decided on a brand of car I wanted to buy. I liked the advertising too, which drew me and my wife to the showroom. I was selling more than the salesman to my wife, who, sadly, didn’t seem too impressed.

At the moment of truth she said, “If you buy this car, I will never sit in it”. Now, if I really wanted, I could have bought the car, but I came away dutifully with my wife, to buy another car of her choice that I was paying for!

Was the advertising to blame? Hardly! It had delivered me and my wife to the dealer outlet.

The advertising objective has to be a quantifiable number of test drives that took place because of the campaign, rather than the sales it translates into. Now, while discerning marketers do know the difference, there are others who have unreasonable expectations from the agency and its efforts. It is the role of communication professionals to educate our clients and for us to educate, we must first know. Is it time to introspect?

What about public relations?

I had an interesting experience with our public relations practice. There is an expensive chain of dental clinics in Bengaluru, which has its headquarters in San Francisco. Conservatively, the price is five times that of good local dental clinics.

We presented to them, and they kept bargaining on the retainer fees and were clear that they wanted to link public relations deliverables to sales. Clearly, there are limitations to what PR can do. It can create awareness, build image and even deliver prospects to the clinic, if the work is in synergy with social media. But how can it convert interest into sales, particularly when the pricing is so high and customer experience still unproven? I declined the business and now sleep in peace.

Are we order takers or consultants?

Many of our calling cards proudly proclaim that we are consultants, whatever the discipline: advertising, public relations or social media. Yet, how many of us have the capability to advise our clients correctly and stand up for our rights? The best relations between client and agency are those built on mutual respect.

What is the essential quality of a consultant? Or why do you seek out a consultant? Because she “knows” and is a subject matter expert. Respect, sadly, is earned not demanded and that is the challenge that many of us face. You can shout from the rooftops that you are not getting any respect or bash your clients till the cows come home, but the problem may lie within and that is something that many of us do not wish to accept.

Do some intensive soul-searching. Build a reputation, write a blog and maybe lose some hair. Slowly but surely, things will change.

Today, there is a lot of talk of the “new order” and the fact that we are living in a knowledge economy. While there are enormous opportunities , the reality is that if you are not prepared for it, you may be left behind. The choice is yours. Do you wish to be a whiner and a client basher or an educator of clients?

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