Beyond advertising (…and the AOY shortlist is…)

I recently took part in a pitched battle between three manufacturers and three retailers. The intense competition entailed brow-furrowing agonizing over product positioning and support, tense (even angry) negotiation between suppliers and buyers, and a day-long sense of being behind the eight ball - both in terms of the management team's time to absorb market research and reports, and to make and execute decisions.

I recently took part in a pitched battle between three manufacturers and three retailers. The intense competition entailed brow-furrowing agonizing over product positioning and support, tense (even angry) negotiation between suppliers and buyers, and a day-long sense of being behind the eight ball – both in terms of the management team’s time to absorb market research and reports, and to make and execute decisions.

It was, in fact, a market simulation called Store Wars, led by our columnist John Bradley with Ivey professor Niraj Dawar, and hosted by Pigeon president/COO Jo-Ann McArthur. Although a computer program assessed the outcome of our decisions, Store Wars was a real world eye opener into the different realities of sales and marketing departments, and the interests of retailers. No doubt that’s why Wal-Mart (whose private-label business is bigger than P&G in total) is a new customer for the 12-year-old global program. Bradley, who now co-develops the exercise, first saw it while at Cadbury Schweppes, and says it forced all functions to speak the same language, and that stars came to light, making it a leadership grooming program too.

While my team won, the real ROI was the deeper insight into CPG/retailer relationships, and a (simulated) sense of what really matters to them.

Finding out – and sharing – what really matters is also the impetus behind a new initiative for strategy. Each year we discuss our Agency of the Year process with agency execs and marketers, to make sure that it stays the most relevant exercise possible for both groups. After all, awards are only useful if they put a spotlight on the best thinking, and as the industry evolves, what that thinking entails can change.

Improving brand experience, for instance, is not typical ad award show fodder. Shows tend to recognize execution, and marketers largely compensate for it. Some enlightened awards recognize effectiveness, but they too are tied to traditional media executions. And while strategy’s Agency of the Year equally values both the creative and the strategic, we also focus on individual campaigns. Since we’ve been hearing more and more examples of intriguing agency work that fall beyond the realm of advertising, strategy wanted to celebrate those contributions.

We’ve also been hearing more murmuring amongst our marketing peeps that too much attention is devoted to rewarding the creative work of relatively insignificant players over say, the Shoppers Drug Marts of the world. The argument goes, that no matter how buzzworthy a campaign is, if it’s for a piece of business that does not influence the market, how significant is it? This got us thinking about how the big initiatives, often longer-term work, could be celebrated.

Ergo, our December Agency of the Year issue will debut the BIG awards. Big Ideas. Big Impact. Essentially, examples of thought leadership that are not campaign-centric, and the results they engender. While they are an adjunct to AOY, the BIG awards are separate and open to all agencies who meet the criteria. We invited shops to send one case study outlining their contributions, over the course of a year, towards solving one client’s business challenges. The clients must spend more than $20 million on media, and represent more than $2 million in revenue for the agency. Big Ideas are not limited to big clients, however, we’re starting this off by focusing on efforts where the stakes are higher. Winners will be announced in our December issue and at the Agency of the Year show Nov. 23.

Speaking of which, the 2006 AOY shortlist consists of: BBDO, Bensimon Byrne, Bos, DDB, Diesel Marketing, John Street, Grip, Lowe Roche, Leo Burnett, Rethink, Taxi and Zig.

Good luck all, mm

Mary Maddever, exec editor strategy/MIC