It's time to trust again
Mi Media managing director, Richard Slater believes we're all starting to trust each other a little more and the benefits will be huge
There seems to be a distinct lack of trust around these days. According to The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report, trust in UK media has hit an all time low. Only 36% of people in the UK apparently now trust news most of the time.
There are equally concerning stats for advertisers with Kantar’s Dimension study showing that globally, only 14% trust advertising as a way to get information.
Add scandals like Cambridge Analytica, and widespread mistrust and scepticism in our industry seems inevitable.
But it’s not just consumers. Clients and agencies too are increasingly dubious about what and who they can trust.
A recent barometer study by the World Federation of Advertisers indicated that 47% of marketers pinpointed “agency transparency” as a major concern amongst the organisation’s members.
For media agencies, there’s the need to continually question and interrogate the data we see; is the media we’re buying delivering the audiences and the environments we expect, and does it represent the value our clients should be entitled to? Continually having to question the actual visibility of their campaigns and whether the clicks they are buying are from potentially interested customers or just bots.
This paints a fairly bleak picture, where no one trusts what they read, see or hear, nor the advertisers that fund the media. Where clients distrust agencies and where agencies doubt the claims of their media partners.
However, over the last year I believe there’s finally been change for the better.
It feels like now more than ever, the benefits of trusting each other have become far more apparent. Forced by exceptional circumstances we have seen some encouraging changes in the last 18 months and more importantly, recognition of the benefits of having done so.
One shift has been the renewed closeness of many clients and their agencies, which has allowed so many businesses to navigate successfully through this unprecedented storm.
The businesses that have fared best over the last 18 months are those that have been able to react quickly. For many advertisers, this frequently meant having to make key decisions without the luxury of having lots of supportive data.
At times like this, being able to trust your agency team and their experience has been invaluable.
Trust from agencies in their people has also been important – having confidence that they would do what’s necessary while working from home; learning new skills, working on new challenges, and adapting to business needs to find new ways of getting things done.
But this hasn’t just been one-way. We’ve asked our teams to trust us too.
We’ve seen agencies everywhere really going the extra mile to look after their people. Not just doing what they can to protect jobs, but being open and honest with people about what was happening, ensuring their development didn’t suffer and making sure everyone got the right support whenever it was needed.
Finally, trust from agencies that their media partners would be reasonable at such a testing time. Many media owners have genuinely helped us minimise the impact on those clients with such unexpected business challenges, despite often having significant business challenges of their own.
All in all, we’ve actually seen massive positives emerge from so many difficult situations.
But this really shouldn’t be a surprise. A recent study by Durham University Business School and The Journal of Organisational Effectiveness highlighted that businesses generally are more profitable when a company’s culture has mutual trust embedded at its core.
By granting a bit more trust, clients could pivot quickly based on solid advice. We quickly found new ways to function by instilling more trust in people, who in turn weren’t paralysed by fear or confusion on what was happening, and quick resolutions were reached with media partners.
Clearly, adversity can drive different behaviour and it would be naïve to suggest that things won’t change in the future. However, as we start to emerge from this, it feels we are at a bit of a crossroads.
Rather than simply returning to our default positions, agencies and their staff are already working through what new systems and ways of working they will introduce or retain, some with more and some with less flexibility (effectively granting more or less trust).
I believe building more trust-based conditions has big benefits for everyone so hopefully, as an industry, we’ll retain a lot of the new practices we’ve developed recently.
On the client side, trust in agencies understandably remains a talking point.
The recent update of ISBA’s Media Service Framework, drafted for clients, will hopefully help.
As ISBA’s Philip Smith has said “now more than ever, advertisers must know they are getting the best media plans or creative work possible for their money – particularly as budgets have tightened throughout the pandemic. That fundamentally relies on a relationship of trust.”
From my perspective, it has been a valuable learning understanding the importance of granting trust as well as earning it.
If we trust a little more easily, we do of course open ourselves up to being let down. But I think that’s a risk worth taking.
The more willing we are to grant trust in people, the more likely we are to foster greater cooperation and collaboration.
Clearly, we have to be realistic, recognising potential risks as well as rewards, but I for one hope we don’t lose sight of or forget the value and benefits we’ve experienced from granting people a bit more trust.