Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Importance of Aligning Creativity With ROI

Unless agencies bring accountability into the equation, clients are increasingly likely to drift towards in-house solutions, argues Umair Mohsin.
Updated 15 Feb, 2024 10:11am

Twenty-five years is a narrative arc. A hero’s journey echoing with personal growth and transformation. It is the story of a young man transitioning from a young adult into a seasoned professional. Perhaps in a similar vein, it is also the story of Aurora embarking on a relatively parallel journey from obscurity to becoming the thought leader of the industry.

Picture this. It is 1998, the cusp of the internet’s emergence in Pakistan.

The internet is weaving itself into the fabric of people’s lives. The world is about to welcome e-commerce, search and social media – digital platforms that will revolutionise the way we shop, connect and communicate. Traditional advertising channels are about to undergo the transformation from 30-second ads to the era of likes, shares, reels and stories – all of which will change consumer habits and reshape the industry.

As I revisit the last 25 years, I find myself at the intersection of two distinct worlds. That of a former agency person and now of a banker and a client.

I began my career in advertising because of my love of words, music, stories and creative pursuits. Joining as a copywriter and then growing first in the creative field and then in strategy, I was lucky to work with and learn from traditional advertising gurus, and then when digital became more and more pronounced, from global experts, all the while loving the whirlwind of brainstorming sessions, concept creation and collaborating with some of the most talented and creative people from around the world. It was during this time that I witnessed the profound transformation of marketing from a print-centric realm to a dynamic digital landscape, where data-driven decisions and online campaigns reign supreme.

I have always believed (and still do) that agencies are a breeding ground for new ideas and innovative campaigns, and that the late-night coffee-fuelled brainstorming sessions are where some of the best ideas originate from. Yet, agency life, while exhilarating, is not without its challenges. It demands a relentless pace and the ability to adapt swiftly to evolving technologies and client needs. It requires understanding the client’s pain-points and more importantly understanding the industry.

Speaking now from the client side of the fence, perhaps the biggest shock a former agency person faces in the corporate world is how the pace of decision-making often feels like a slow-motion steam train compared to the fast-paced one of agency life. In the agency world, swift adaptation and a quick turnaround are the norm and decisions are made in a matter of hours. On this side of the fence, however, the professional is subject to a myriad of stakeholders, layers of approvals and a cautious approach to change.

Due to the scale, there is a profound interest in every facet of the product, from the backend of the website to the size of the logo, the web banner height and the customer reviews. The product owner is responsible and answerable to IT, sales, senior management, finance, HR, compliance and governance.

This level of thoroughness and depth is neither fostered nor required at an agency, and this leads to a yawning gap between the client who has discussed numerous ideas with all the internal stakeholders before even drafting the brief, and the agency relationship manager who just wants to wrap up another “here is yet another exciting offer of X% off,” without having to spend another weekend at the office.

So why doesn’t the client’s approach change or become more creative? The answer lies in the concept of accountability. Corporates do not win points because of how creative the last campaign was or whether an AI bot was used in the campaign. The focus is entirely on tangible business outcomes and metrics. Factors such as business growth, alignment with corporate culture, stakeholder buy-in and justification of every expense necessitate a disciplined and structured approach. Creativity and technology are valued, but they must be channelled towards achieving these concrete objectives.

The product manager operates under the constant scrutiny of the public, shareholders, board members and investors, all of whom demand quantifiable results that align with the company’s mission and long-term vision – and it is this drive for accountability that underscores the difference in approach between agencies and corporate entities.

Agencies are unable to grasp the magnitude of the client’s ‘issues’ as the fast-paced nature of the agency environment often limits their ability to delve into the intricate details and long-term implications that corporates deal with daily. A single sign-off on a payment can sometimes entail weeks of hand-holding and follow-ups. What seems like a straightforward action, can become mired in a sea of emails, meetings and documentation. It’s not uncommon for weeks to pass before all the necessary approvals are obtained. I used to wonder why, when everything was ready to launch, an approval would take weeks. Now I understand that those weeks were about ‘expedited approval.’

In retrospect, these 25 years unveil a tapestry of evolution, not only in my personal journey but in the broader landscape of advertising and corporate dynamics. The agency world, where my career first took flight, will forever hold a special place in my heart. It is a world where creativity knows no bounds and where the spirit of innovation hovers every day. The unbridled creative energy of the industry is an integral part of this collective narrative.

Yet, to move into the future requires a commitment to in-depth research, industry knowledge, and the ability to empathise with the client’s unique challenges and goals. Agencies can benefit from embracing a more comprehensive perspective on accountability. While creativity will always be the vital element, agencies must also channel their innovative ideas towards achieving tangible, data-driven results. It is about combining the best creative thinking with the metrics that demonstrate the impact of their work on their client’s businesses. Otherwise, sadly, more businesses will move to the in-house solution.

Umair Mohsin is a former traditional and digital advertising professional now working as a banker.