Agencies are having a crisis of confidence: IAG CMO

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 26 September 2017
IAG CMO Brent Smart

CMO of IAG Brent Smart spent 20 years in agencies before going client side – which is why moving its creative business for NRMA to The Monkeys from M&C Saatchi was not a decision made on a whim.

Creativity is his passion. He has high standards and believes in the power of simple ideas - he did grow up in M&C Saatchi after all where the motto is ‘Brutal Simplicity of Thought’. But he also knows what it’s like on the other side.

Earlier this year, AdNews sat down with Smart to talk about the challenges he faces as a creative taking on his first client side marketer role.

Smart might be a CMO now, but he believes the skills he learned in agencies are second to none in terms of how to simplify an idea and communicate it clearly.

“I’m so glad I grew up in agencies. Agencies are really good problem solvers. You learn how to creatively solve problems and that is the most important skill you can have as a marketer and in business. We bring that to everything and it’s invaluable. I think we're really good simplifiers in agencies and it's something I’m worried is getting lost, he said.

“Everyone is so keen to kill the 30-second spot or the poster, but that's the skill we learn. You have to simplify the idea down to a poster or 30 seconds. Now we build these complicated narratives. I think the beautiful ability to simplify things is something we learn in agencies and I worry that skill might be under threat a little bit.”

At a time when things are relentlessly complicated, keeping things simple is no mean feat, but it can come down to language, he says.

“The other thing [that helps simplify ideas] is the power of language, and I learned that in agencies. I soundbite everything,” he says, clearly aware of his ability to deliver a quotable soundbite on any given topic.

At the AdNews Media + Marketing Summit in Sydney in May, Smart talked about measurement “being like crack” for marketers, and proffered that “people don't give a shit about marketing”.

“It helps inside organisations because language starts revolutions. It can be inspiring and motivating. In agencies you learn the power of language; how to write a presso and a brief in a really powerful way. You learn good skills in agencies.” 

While he places huge value on agencies, he thinks the sector is doing itself down and doesn't believe in itself enough.

“The agency world is really hard on itself, and it’s having a crisis of confidence. The skills you learn in an agency are incredible, they are so transferable and unique I wouldn't change growing up in a agencies for anything. Its given me the skills I need to be a good CMO - I hope.”

Having come from an agency background makes him a better CMO, he thinks, because he’s “walked a thousand kilometers in their shoes”. But he also sees it as a growing trend saying that 40% of the Top 100 advertisers in the UK have hired agency-side execs into top marketing roles in the last year.

“Creativity is not a choice - you have to be creative in this world and apply creativity to everything, not just your ads but your customer experience, your packaging, everything. If you bake creativity in, it makes all those things more interesting.”

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