Noelle McElhatton: Forget austerity. 'Agile' is the new 'a' word for marketers

Noelle McElhatton: Forget austerity. 'Agile' is the new 'a' word for marketers
Noelle McElhatton: Forget austerity. 'Agile' is the new 'a' word for marketers

The 'a' word much in evidence amongst marketers these days, is not austerity, but 'agility' - as in yesterday's packed Agile Government Communications Strategy Conference, attended by more than 400 agency chiefs.

The word 'agile' conjures up images of health and wealth, but might it have a hidden pejorative meaning for marketers?

Agility in the brave new world of coalition marketing, as unveiled to 400 or so agency chiefs at the pivotal Agile Government Communications Strategy Conference on Monday (see page 4 of today's Marketing), means lower costs and ‘efficiencies’.

Should we be surprised? The intentions behind the government’s plan are clearly good, banishing bloated practices of the past. Agencies can expect shorter, more flexible contracts and there will be less reliance on paid media.

The plan recognises that while digital and co-creation will be ‘the default in future government campaigns,’ traditional media like outdoor, TV and direct are still in favour for reaching certain demographics.

In fact, the ‘agile’ world of government communications feels more like, well, the private sector where agility means a brand manager role altered beyond recognition since the first serious attempt to define the position back in the 1930s (see Marketing's main feature, page 28).

What a young Procter & Gamble brand manager called Roisin Donnelly did in the 1980s, bears no comparison to her 2012 equivalent, thanks to social media, retailer power and globalisation.

The brand managers that populate her team today need to be ‘far more agile’ than she ever was, Donnelly now says, admitting back in her brand manager she would wait "months" for market share data.

For both brand and government marketers, being expert in all things from customer insight to managing a brand’s social life looks exhausting, undoable even.

This tall order was neatly summed up by Diageo Western Europe white spirits director Philip Gladman at ISBA’s conference in March, when he argued that brand managers would have to become like ‘Swiss army knives’, so multi-faceted is their role today.

In an agile world only the best and most flexible marketers will make the cut.

Noelle McElhatton is editor of Marketing
Twitter: @n_mcelhatton


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