Interview with the Balticbest jury member: Anna Celmina, Head of Strategy at Nord DDB Riga.
Historically, ad agencies used to create ads and business consultants sold strategic advice. Now the market is quite crowded – ad agencies, media agencies, PR agencies, business consultants, etc are selling strategy. What is your competitive advantage?
I’m actually quite happy about the fact that the competition is increasing because that creates more need for the client as well.
I would pick this anytime over the situation 10 years ago when the strategist was a rare breed and you’d have to explain to the clients what it is that we do.
I think right now we’re mostly competing with some of the PR agencies and we’ve seen some specialized strategy shops being born in the past years.
Our approach is to be one stop shop where each of the strategists in our team specializes in something in particular. We have people with different skills: social anthropologist, data analyst and some generalists as well. Depending on the client’s query we mix and match and pick the teams. We look at the problem that needs to be solved and then come up with customized methodology for that.
We are also competing with more classical research agencies like GFK or Norstat because we do our own research as well. Our research methods are quicker and lighter than the offerings of traditional research companies.
So all-in-all: I love the competition and I like the fact that that’s raising the bar in the need for strategists – we no longer have to explain to the clients what it’s about
My biggest issue is not getting the clients, but getting planners and strategists – so we try to train them and we try to persuade them to move to us from different areas of work to our agency.
Advertising agencies have had a problem reaching C-level people in the organizations and ad people work with marketing departments. But in order to sell strategy, you need to have access to the CEO. PWCs Accentures of this World have been more successful in reaching the C-suite because they mean business.
The deeper your understanding of your clients business, the more access you have to their different departments. I work with marketing people with less than 50% of my time. This is super fun, since you learn a lot of new things.
Our preferred approach is long term partnerships with the clients and with all long term clients we have we work with C-suite. Obviously, you need to speak their language and be more business minded. Thats why are increasingly hiring business-minded, business-analytical people to be able to speak to such clients.
You also need an adult in the room. You need a generalist to have a complex view of the situation where marketing is just one bit of the puzzle. I love Gen Z, but you need an adult in the room!
C-level people want to see someone in their level who understands business, but they also want to see these Gen Z wunderkinds in their 20-s. That’s why we work in teams – business strategists and Gen Z creative people in pairs.
Please describe your favorite client.
My favorite clients are the hidden gems: amazing products that don’t know they are great yet.
In terms of client setup – the biggest problem is the mixed feedback messages you get from different people in the organization. Large marketing teams that don’t agree among each other, too many decision makers.
The ideal client has just one decision maker who gives the feedback to us.
So my definition of the ideal client: The great product that does know that it’s great yet with the single decision maker.
Recently there has been quite a lot of hype about the new business model – agencies helping to market startups not for a fee, but in exchange for equity. Have you tried this model?
Although the experience with startups hasn’t been super fruitful so far, we do see some perspective for the future – on the condition that investors are on the same page with us regarding the importance of branding.
Good old retainer schemes, good old long term partnerships – they are proven and they work.