Maintaining Credibility

I’ve spent the past few weeks interviewing candidates for two openings in my department. It’s been challenging, as we’ve seen relatively few candidates with the experience we’re looking for. Some of my fellow ClickZ columnists have commented on the dearth of available talent in the job market, so I won’t expound on that issue, other than to say I’m in full agreement.

I’ve found myself asking prospective employees to cite an example of a client, or type of client, to which they would not recommend interactive marketing. The way they answer provides a good sense of their level of objectivity and credibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 99 percent of the time they can’t think of a situation in which interactive marketing shouldn’t play a role.

Speaking as a passionate evangelist, I find we’re always pushing our clients to do more. We ask them to spend more money in digital channels and allocate greater percentages of their budgets to e-marketing activities. In fact, I can’t remember a time I heard an interactive person say, “I’m sorry, Mr. Client, but we don’t think the Internet should be a part of your marketing program.” Surely the Internet and other digital media channels cannot fit all clients’ needs.

Or can they?

Credibility is a supremely important trait in business. It allows you to influence and persuade audiences to believe your point of view. Are we all so brainwashed we’ve lost credibility?

To find out, I conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with members of my agency’s strategic planning and broadcast buying groups, as well as with several miscellaneous agency friends. Overall, I did get a sense continuous zeal for increased budgets has somewhat reduced our overall credibility. This was true across the board with several agencies. I also felt research fatigue; folks get tired of seeing and talking about the same stuff. There are those who “get it” and those who don’t. Two dozen cross-media research studies aren’t going to convert them.

An interview with a senior-level media planner at a friend’s agency lasted two hours. He talked about all media having strengths and weaknesses. These attributes were a broad filter he uses when developing media recommendations. As an example, he cites that magazines’ strengths include great audience selectivity, high-quality ad reproduction, and strong reader involvement, but their weaknesses typically include long lead times, limited reach, and a lack of frequency. TV, on the other hand, is a dynamic medium that can deliver mass audiences in a “prestigious” environment. Some of TV’s weaknesses are high production costs, increasing clutter, commercial avoidance, and substantial lead time.

Armed with a more objective sense of the world, let’s conduct the same exercise for interactive marketing. To make it easier, I’ll focus just on the Internet, as opposed to all digital media options.

We can probably all recite the strengths with great alacrity: superior targeting ability; speed and flexibility; low out-of-pocket cost; ability to quickly build frequency; high involvement, and so on. Some weaknesses: difficulty in delivering highly dynamic creative; clutter; lack of standardization across publishers; intrusiveness; limited reach; inability to provide competitive separation.

We could build credibility by admitting the Internet’s limitations, instead suggesting investments in another marketing channel (creates a pit in your stomach, doesn’t it?). Perhaps a pharmaceutical client targeting the 65-plus crowd is best served in other media. Maybe a client selling a product needing to be seen and felt, such as a high-end furniture retailer or an antiques dealer, is wiser to invest in other channels.

Can you think of other examples? If so, drop me a note — I’d love to hear from you.

The next time you’re in a meeting and the client or traditional account/media person asks how much money should be devoted to interactive marketing, stop and think. Does it really make sense or is it a force-fit? Should you suggest avoiding or minimizing interactive spend because other channels would better serve objectives? I bet if you did that every so often, you’d gain tremendous credibility and respect. This would come in handy at other times when you feel really strongly digital should play the leading role in the media mix.

We can’t be all things to all people, but we can be the right thing at the right time.

Now that’s credible.

Related reading