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“Many marine businesses still struggle with the concept of ‘marketing’… and it’s costing the Australian marine industry, as a whole, billions of dollars in lost revenue.

As a core business activity, the infinite value of marketing cannot be ignored. It’s an integral part of all successful businesses, from small family-owned companies to large multinational corporations.
To many businesses, marketing is an ill-defined concept… a cost rather than an investment. Very few businesses are structured with market orientation, rather with sales or product orientation.

The world’s leading body for professional marketing, the Chartered Institute of Marketing, defines marketing as:
The strategic business function that creates value by stimulating, facilitating and fulfilling customer demand.
It does this by building brands, nurturing innovation, developing relationships, creating good customer service and communicating benefits.

With a customer-centric view, marketing brings positive return on investment, satisfies shareholders and stakeholders from business and the community, and contributes to positive behavioural change and a sustainable business future.

As a basic practice, marketing encompasses the strategic coordination of four key elements, known as the 4Ps: Product – the tangible good or intangible service; Price – what customers will pay for the product; Place – distribution channel(s) to sell the product; and Promotion – all of the communications strategies/techniques used to make customers aware and encourage them to buy the product.

Recently, three more Ps have been added to the mix: People, Process and Physical Evidence – but we’ll leave this for another article.

Effective Approach

Despite the broad and very involved scope of marketing, the sum of most marine businesses’ marketing departments (if they have one at all) is just one person – and it’s not always someone with formal training and related experience. The reason for this is usually the size of the business and its budget, as well as the niche nature of the marine industry and its specialist knowledge requirement… but at least these companies are making an effort to incorporate this important business activity.

At the same time, an increasing number of marine businesses are opting to engage external agencies to manage their marketing/communications activities. The main reason for this is the business gets a team as opposed to one person, generally with a broader range of experience and the ability to offer an ‘outside in’ approach.

In dollar terms, many business owners also believe agencies deliver greater value for money. Smart operators realise that someone sitting in their office every day doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting more value. The key performance indicator is results… and for the cost of one intermediate in-house individual, a company could invest in a team of qualified and experienced professionals.

So, what’s best for your business? Employ someone internally so you can interact with that person everyday? Or engage the experience of an external agency? The world’s most successful businesses do both…

Jack Of All Trades

An individual with the knowledge and experience in all facets of marketing does not exist. While that person may have some experience in one area, there is no single person who can be everything to everyone.

Referring back to marketing’s 4Ps, even Sandman PR is just one of these – promotion. While we have a considerable level of experience across all marketing disciplines, promotion/communications is our core area of expertise and it’s for the diverse range of services we offer – public relations, media management and design – and our proven results that we’re retained by some of Australia’s leading marine businesses.

Not all of our clients have in-house marketing staff. In these cases we work directly with the business owners in an overall marketing/communications consultancy capacity to implement the strategies we develop together, which is very effective.

With our clients that do have in-house marketing departments, we have longstanding and positive relationships with the marketing managers and their teams. True to the adage ‘many hands make light work’, we all work very well together to achieve excellent results.
This harmonious example of an agency working positively with in-house marketing personnel, however, is quite rare…

The Line In The Sand

Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-common battle between in-house and agencies. To draw a similar example, in days gone by there was a supposed war that existed between the media and PR people. The media hated PR, as it was seen to be detracting from the so-called ‘editorial integrity’ of the magazine, newspaper or other media outlet.

Having worked on both sides of the fence, with many years as a journalist/editor and now working in PR, the jokes about the ‘darkside’ and other similar remarks are so old school that anyone who mentions them these days has really been left in the wake.

The role of journalists/editors and PR professionals go hand in hand, like a wetsuit and a surfboard – they both serve their purpose and assist each other in the end outcome. (Media outlets that fail to realise this are not worthy of any attention, let alone your advertising dollars.)

If, on the whole, these two groups of media professionals can get it right, then why can’t the same be said for in-house marketing people and agencies?

It’s a common situation: many in-house marketing people don’t like the fact an agency has been brought onboard as the ‘creative mind’ and attempt to show the agency who is boss by making things difficult. Revealing their unprofessionalism, such short-lived power trips don’t assist anyone, least of all the company.

Battle Stations – Not Necessary

The reality is the role of in-house people and agencies are both important to a company’s success.

Some agencies struggle to be across every internal step of a large company and a single in-house person can in no way achieve the same results as an agency, due to the sheer depth of experience most agencies offer. Working together, however, is the recipe for success.

Outstanding in-house people are usually meticulous with detail, planned, measured, have excellent systems and know the sensitivities of the company inside out. Honda’s Louise Antoniou and Navico’s Laura Kissin are two key people with whom we work closely every day – and who both do exceptional jobs. The efforts of these two intelligent, in-house marketing people make our role (as the retained agency) even more effective, which ultimately ensures incredibly strong brand presence for these clients. Superior Jetties’ Ross Meadows is another gun internal marketing person who’s a pleasure to work with on a daily basis.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Gen Y marketing coordinator who, with a year or so sideline experience, claims to “know the industry and everyone in it”, purports to have achieved all manner of things and generally sets out to make an agency’s job a challenge to achieve. This behaviour is most commonly driven by a lack of real experience and no understanding of the difference between the two roles.

Good agencies bring diverse experience, extensive media contact networks and think outside the square to offer creative new ways of doing things that will actually grow your business. A good agency presents every opportunity to its clients, isn’t bowed-down by overly influential/negative personalities nor by sticking to the “we’ve always done it that way” mantra. A good agency will make things happen.

Which one for my business?

If your business can afford it, an in-house person (or people) supported by a reputable agency is the best way to go. Our own experiences with Honda and Navico are testament to the success of an experienced agency working with solid in-house marketing personnel.

Many smaller marine businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to employ an internal marketing department as well as engage an agency… and even if they did, good people with the right experience (and good agencies, for that matter) are very hard to find.

While there’s an emerging trend to employ graduates to assist with internal marketing/communications activities, time often proves this isn’t a viable long-term solution. Companies end up paying full-time salaries (plus superannuation, plus holidays, plus additional training) for people who have only textbook knowledge. By the time many graduates gain some real world experience and become assets to the business, they often move on to further their careers… and the companies that employed them are back to square one.

A better long-term option is to employ an experienced person on a permanent part-time basis. As an example, one significant marine industry player has recently employed a 30-something person who has considerable experience in the marketing field. As a new mum, this person works internally with the company three days a week. The company still has some of its budget left over to engage an agency, creating the best-case scenario for ultimate success.

Then there’s the option of engaging an agency to handle pretty much everything, with no internal support other than that of management. It’s not a bad idea – and there are countless cases of its success. A good agency offers the benefit of remotely operating as a complete in-house marketing/communications department… significantly more effective than attempting to coordinate an internal division within the constraints of a limited budget.
In a specialist industry such as marine, just be wary of agencies that have very little, if any, knowledge of the marine industry – or the media, for that matter!

SELECTING AN AGENCY

  •  Engaging a marketing/communications agency to manage this important part of your business is a big decision. That said, it’s a valuable investment rather than an expense. A good agency will take your business to the world…
  • Search for an industry specialist – and don’t take an agency’s word for it! Ask respected media outlets and successful industry players for recommendations.
  • The most successful client/agency relationships are founded on mutual respect and cultural fit.
  • From a client’s perspective, the ultimate agency is one that is passionate about the brand and understands what the client would like to achieve.
  • From an agency’s perspective, the ultimate client is one that respects the agency’s advice and values its ability and achievements.
  • A good agency will want to work as an integral part of your extended business team, which will serve only to create a very positive and successful partnership.
  • Many agencies hide behind the lack of accountability that is so prominent in the marketing/communications industry. Ensure your agency is fully transparent and accountable to you.
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