Editorial Agents of change

Even the most die-hard of those denying the evidence that has been building over the past several years must now be converting to the view that the current turmoil in the consumer marketplace is a permanent reality.Conversations heard as recently as...

Even the most die-hard of those denying the evidence that has been building over the past several years must now be converting to the view that the current turmoil in the consumer marketplace is a permanent reality.

Conversations heard as recently as a year ago speculating as to when things will return to normal have all but ended. Most people have accepted today’s experience as the new normalcy.

So the good news is that the first important step towards recovery – acceptance that there is a problem – seems to have finally been achieved. The bad news, for the marketing and marketing services community, is that for the most part work is just beginning and widespread recovery, therefore, is still some distance away.

This is the clear feeling one gets in reviewing the research that went in to developing Strategy’s first special report on Agents of Change.

The aim of the report is to recognize those suppliers of marketing services who have responded to the new realities. We asked clients to help us in identifying these people, who we described as ‘suppliers of marketing services who have been listening and who `have got it.’ These are the people who are not intimidated by change and who, by example, are contributing to it. They are the people with vision and enterprise. They are the leaders who are helping to shape the way things will be.’

This request was part of a questionnaire that was sent to 530 clients across the country, all of them senior decision-makers in charge of various marketing functions.

Responses were slow in coming. So, early on, we began following up all questionnaires with phone calls. The calls verified receipt of the questionnaire, and, in many cases, resulted in a telephone conversation between Strategy and the marketer. We came up with 40 names of Agents of Change and, in the process, through our telephone contact with clients, we were left with a distinct impression: that of an embattled community, filled with worried people who recognize they face serious challenges, and who are also ready to admit they don’t know what they’re going to do about it.

By rough estimate, at least 80% of more than 200 clients with whom Strategy had direct telephone conversations agreed with our proposition that times have changed in a dramatic way, that conventions are being shattered and relationships between clients and service suppliers are being rewritten.

This same majority also understood and agreed with our depiction of an Agent of Change, but said that they simply could not think of a supplier who qualified.

If given the same opportunity to discuss the issue, suppliers would certainly pass the blame back to the client. They are wont to say that clients are getting what they deserve, in effect. Suppliers often argue that client timidity in these perilous times is killing any possibility – never mind the incentive – to do so-called ‘breakthrough’ work.

Yet in another question in our survey, clients felt almost unanimously that they are doing a good job at providing an environment that enourages their suppliers to be innovative.

The desire on both sides of the client-supplier relationship to make it work has always been there. Today, however, the need has never been greater.