Decoupling strategy

4 January 2011
If the majority of staff at creative agencies knew what “decoupling” is, I’d be impressed. If they weren’t anxious about it, I’d be surprised. If they could see the opportunity, I’d be amazed. To those not in the know, decoupling is using different suppliers for your marketing communications’ creative and production needs, rather than placing your eggs in an often expensive, single agency basket. However, efficiency and creativity need not necessarily be at odds. To benefit from decoupling, you must understand how and where it may be applied: it isn’t a binary, on or off solution. It introduces choice where formerly none was offered, and identifies a range of options for brands about how they work with both creative agencies and production partners. Consider the delivery of a single multinational or global campaign. The focus should be on producing high quality, culturally accurate, brand compliant executions and delivery to media schedules – significantly removing duplication of resource in the process. Conversely, when looking at local or national marketing communications, you’re typically seeking to get the most out of a limited budget in terms of creativity, quality, impact and volume. Decoupling should generate greater efficiency while maintaining all of the above and improving brand compliance. Significantly, the efficiencies gained may also free up budget for the marketing team, which is one of the real opportunities decoupling represents. Creatives and marketers would be wise to recognise they can be more flexible in their campaigns with the identification of this budget. From its beginnings as fairly unsophisticated price benchmarking, decoupling has developed as procurement professionals recognise the challenges marketers and agencies face. Macro-economic pressures and new, ever-fragmenting media opportunities have necessitated a less frenzied approach. The need to deliver ideas that work quickly is more important than a simplistic, low-cost rate card. So, should creative agencies feel threatened? How far upstream should production partners go? They can clearly provide a significant strategic role but can they, or should they, replace a creative agency? Rick Stein creates great food, but he doesn’t grow all the ingredients or cook all the dishes himself. Clients do work successfully with production providers without creative agencies – it depends on the nature of the brand’s requirements: fast-turnaround retail sector communications lend themselves to a direct-to-studio approach. Effective decoupling is never a bolt-on, but an integrated, strategic strategy that works best when a considered, long‑term perspective is taken and the whole value chain is understood. Ultimately, the production provider can be of longer-term strategic significance to the brand than many of the creative agencies appointed. * Simon Steel is business development director at Gutenberg Networks
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