Published in Jan-Feb 2021
I hope the title of this article will serve as click bait. It is something I failed to understand while working for advertising agencies. It is hard to understand the client’s side of the story when you work long hours, and as someone who has worked in four agencies over a period of seven years, the past version of myself.
I coincidentally entered the brand side a few campaigns ago (that is how we creatives see our timeline) when a friend WhatsApped me about a job opening at a service sales corporation. After a few Zoom interviews, tests and negotiations, I was given an offer I could not refuse. It both terrified and excited me, the brand side! How different could it be?
Before joining the company as a creative, I experienced endless possibilities and concerns. Would there be more stability? Would I have to work along creatively dead people? Would this mean a smaller number of cigarette breaks? No more loud music? Constant scrutiny? Suitable but uncomfortable attire?
Upon joining, I was literally like a rock. I did not move from my seat, had my observation glasses on, and was too afraid to even put my headphones on. Wearing headphones is a norm of agency life, but here, I was not sure. My friends had warned me that wearing headphones is frowned upon at the brand side, but I was willing to make the sacrifice. With time I got to know that wearing headphones was not that big a deal. Sure, playing Shamoon Ismail’s Marijuana out loud would rub colleagues off the wrong way (and consequently, perhaps result in an email from HR. Oh yes agency fellows, HR is a thing).
A few days later, I realised the work was 100% the same, much less in amount, but generally the same. The main difference was that the role of client servicing was taken by the brand team and I was FINALLY a dedicated resource – I was now finally working and focusing on one brand. After working seven years in agencies, those two words (dedicated resource) had become a joke and we creatives are a laughingstock given that we worked on multiple brands at the same time, despite the fact that the brand representatives were told we were their ‘dedicated resources’. It was nice to see those two words finally being given the justice they deserve.
After a few weeks, I settled in. The company where I work is known for their good work culture and have a reputation for harbouring well-mannered people. The fact is that the client-agency relationship is often a relationship of abuse and exploitation, but not in my company’s case. They were humble, lenient in their deadlines and treated their agency team as human beings. It was with great pleasure that I learned that the brand team members were much better to have as colleagues.
Another important thing I learnt was how limited my opinion of the brand team had been before. Agencies usually think the brand team loves to give tight deadlines to keep their agency on a leash. Another popular opinion is that the brand team is made up of safe players who react to creative work as if they had seen a ghost (or an inappropriate popup on their screen when showing something to their family). After my experience on the brand side, I can safely say that (at least in my case) this is not true.
What we agency peeps fail to understand is that the marketing department is (in most cases) not the most powerful department in a typical company. The brand team is linked to many other departments; sales and, particularly in my company’s case, the merchandising department.
The relationship between the marketing and sales department is a more obvious one. Sales are the driving force for business, and the whole point of marketing is giving a major boost to sales. The merchandising department (in my case again) is responsible for one of the main P’s of marketing; the product. From the designs, to the material used, to the samples, to the final quantity, all this falls under the merchandising department. As a result, the marketing department depends a lot on this department which is responsible for the final product. Have you ever thought that the reason why you are given a tight deadline is because everything was delayed by a week because the product was delivered to the marketing team late and that despite this, the release date for a campaign remains the same? (Imagine a lawn winter collection ad released in March.) So when a product is delayed (it is mostly), the time span for the execution of the campaign reduces accordingly. If you are promoting refrigerators, more than the brand team and the agency team combined, you need the refrigerator to be at the shoot!
Every department holds the marketing team responsible for sales. Numbers are far more important on the brand side than winning an award for a creative idea ever could be. At an agency, I always gave more importance to aesthetics and clever storytelling. On the brand side, I must make sure the product I upload on the brand’s Instagram is available at every store.
To summarise, brand managers are human beings too. They have challenges agencies usually do not understand. When a brand manager is adamant about a deadline, it is probably because a person from another department is adamant about that deadline. The environment on the brand side can be very stressful too (less than at an agency, but still stressful) and when they do not approve an idea, it is not because they are anti-creative but rather because they have limitations that are wholly unknown by anyone at the agency... including my former self.
Muneeb Akram is an in-house creative at NDURE.