Can Ad Agencies Learn from Football?


So I spent a month and a half in Hawaii with the sis and mum. Tried to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, but after 5 days, I needed to get my hands on a computer terminal.

It was not funny at all. People were hitting the sack at 9PM, as if they forgot the night actually existed.  Needless to say, the socialites by this time consisted mostly of Monk Seals and Turtles getting it on before the full moon of October.

The-Numbers-Game-Why-EverythI did however get my hands on a very interesting book, called “The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong”. For those of you that might be wondering what this is all about, watch the movie “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt to get a better idea on baseball teams in the USA, using stats and players to buy wins.

Now here is where it gets real scary. I was applying some of these principles mentioned by the Author Chris Anderson and David Sally to the world of Advertising. Now Sally’s point of view is that a team like Stoke City did not have to play pretty football to win games. In fact they played without the ball most of the time to ensure they won the game. Now how does one play football without having the ball? I’ll let you guys figure that one out.

What I’m about to state here is that the same concept does to a certain extent apply in the world of advertising agencies. These organisations are so hell bent on doing things the way it has always been done, that they look at weak measures of success to appeal to their vanity rather than really getting successful with their clients or billings.

Take client servicing for example. I posted this question on Quora the other day. “Is reactive client servicing more efficient or pro-active responses? Also does agency culture play a big role in this?”. Now again if we take the principle of Football in this, a great defender such as Paolo Maldini of AC MIlan is not judged by how many tackles or headers he has won, but how well he has helped keep a clean sheet, or disrupt the play of other teams.

Paolo-Maldini-Italy

Doug Garnett, Founder and CEO of Atomic Direct gave his point of view on this. “It entirely depends – sometimes pro-active is key and sometimes waiting to react is the best strategy.  I suppose the term “pro-active responses” carries some sense of a moral high ground. But, “pro-active” too often means “busy body” to a client. Too many agencies step where they shouldn’t without consideration of their client’s world. ”

Doug also added. “As to being most useful to clients… In practice, pro-active can too often mean “too early”… And ideas, information, or recommendations that reach clients before the client is ready to process them generally lose their power & waste away on the shelf.”

In the EPL, tackling is encouraged and is seen as acceptable, in Italy tackles are a last ditch effort to get themselves out of a sticky situation. Each has it merits, but how does it play up to having the right staff at the right salaries doing the right job within an agency that exudes a certain type of culture.

I remember this scene in the movie – “Moneyball”, when Billy Bean was in this meeting with his scouts. He had to make a call. One, identifying that he had a problem, that is to win games with a shoe string budget team. Two? he had to fire those scouts that had years of experience finding the “right” player for teams. Now does this not sound very familiar in the context of staffing in the advertising industry?

Another issue I think we are over-looking is talent. How do we measure the potential and current ability of advertising personnel in the industry. Yes, I know we have Campaign Asia Pacific’s  Creative Rankings. But how do we determine effectiveness versus salary/bonuses earned. Or is this even a measure that is worth looking into?

What about client servicing executives? Is there a way to determine contribution to billings versus just pitch wins? Is the price paid for Fernando Torres worth his contribution to Chelsea, or would a $25 million Darren Bent been more sufficient?

darren-bent-signs-for-aston-villa-351060601

One thing that I learnt from the book for sure, is that stats and data can get a great signing, but it can’t tell how big a heart they have. This is the same with advertising, performance is always shown in groups and people that you interact with. The formula is never always right for each agency. And the forming and normalising of people in an agency differs with chemistry. Perhaps money isn’t always the carrot for great talent. There might be some lying in the depths of internships and apprenticeships.

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