‘Retail is a young man’s game’ - putting a value on experience

Don’t tell HR but…

I was sitting with a senior retail client (in rank rather than age) just after the Monday morning trading meeting, when he uttered the immortal words ‘Retail is young man’s game’. As the oldest male in the room I looked at him nervously. Fortunately (for me) on that particular day I wasn’t the object of his insight.

It was a comment that he had the sense never to utter in front of HR, but I have no doubt it was a sincerely held view. I don’t think this view is limited to retailers, increasingly in the world of print management and marketing services, experience is being viewed as a cost rather than a benefit.

What’s being lost?

In simple terms people on the ground who know what they are doing, who have been there before, made mistakes and learnt from them. People who have a perspective and other motivations than career advancement. People who want to do the right thing and leave a legacy that benefits others now and in the future.

I am not suggesting that age and experience are synonymous. I would argue that it is the process of reflecting on and learning from experiences bad or good that provides the benefit, clearly just doing the same thing in the same way every day is not broadening your experience.

It seems to me that many businesses are not making a distinction between tired and/or cynical older employees and those who have the experience and have learnt from it. I recognise that a 20 something marketing manager would rather work with an account manager who is closer to their age and outlook, than one who is 50 plus, but how much more effective is the account team if they have the wealth of experience in their corner to call on when they need it?

The benefit of hard miles

When reflecting on how I learnt about Direct Marketing, I realised that it started by making just about every mistake you can producing direct mail for clients. I learnt about management by watching and experiencing the approach of other managers and trying to extract the good and avoid the bad when it was my turn to manage. I am still trying and still learning after 30 years.

A story that brought this home was from an older experienced salesman from a POS company who had been servicing the same client directly for years. The client brought in a marketing services company to deploy technology and provide a managed service for their studio, production and print buying.

The salesman carried on serving the marketing services company as he had the client; providing ideas, innovation and hands-on project management as he always had.

Talking to the 24-year-old Account Director one day about the client’s POS requirements, the Account Director lowered his voice and said ‘the trouble is the client doesn’t really know what they need, they rely on the people who know the most about POS and that is you and I.’

The way the story was told conjured a vision of the Account Director proudly puffing up his chest, secure in the knowledge that he that he had all the experience to cope with whatever the client could throw at him. I hope for the client’s sake the Account Director was experienced enough to know what he didn’t know and call on that expertise when needed.

So what’s the problem?

Accenture’s Interactive Operations President Nikki Mendonca stated in an article in the Drum in July 2018 ‘There is a lot of incompetence within the current marketing services industry’

I agree with her and believe the root cause is of lack of knowledge and experience. For example, in the early days of print management, we were selling client-facing production people who understood how the printing industry worked and helped clients navigate it cost effectively. Pressure to reduce the cost of service, ease of online communication, digital artwork, online proofing and increased automation has reduced the perceived need for the onsite expert support.

Onsite support is increasingly made up of generalist account teams managing a range of services for a client or administrators who process email requests, get quotes and project manage without specialist category knowledge. Inside the better Marketing Services companies category experts still sit in the background managing supply chains or production, but even then, there are notable changes happening; in November 2018 outsourcer Konica Minolta Marketing Services made its entire UK based Print Procurement team redundant.

Whilst Marketing Services companies like Konica are focussing more on other services like ‘marketing activation’ and automating processes, a vast amount of their revenue still comes from managing print.

What message does it send to the market if they feel they can outsource print without print expertise? Will they behave differently when moving in to other categories like social media or data analytics? If they are not providing knowledge and experience what are they providing? Technology and project management?

What can we do about it?

A rethink is required about what service and experience is really required and who is the best person or company to provide it. The following three things could help:

  1. Carefully define the service you require – for example, if the service requires no category expertise or experience should you buy the technology and employ the project managers yourself or contract differently with the Marketing Services provider to reflect the level of the service and expertise being provided?

  2. Consider where there is a need for, and put a value on, knowledge and experience – when evaluating a service proposal look carefully and the team being offered and what sits behind them. Can they demonstrate that the knowledge, experience and expertise is evident (and of value) in their organisational structure? How does that experience benefit you and what is that worth.

  3. Create a work environment where learning from experience is positively encouraged – Behavioural scientists in Australia found firefighters exposed to error-based training (learning from the mistakes of others) made better decisions than those exposed to error free training. How much better will your people be if they are in a culture when mistakes are leant from rather than hidden or punished?


Help is at hand

At theSPC we value knowledge, experience and expertise. Our raison d’etre is to leverage our experience to plug the production skills gap for Brands and Agencies. We provide strategic production advice and support, making sure our clients get the right production process and partners to make their marketing happen effectively and efficiently. If you need any advice please just call and we will do our best to help and if we can’t help, we probably know someone else who can.

#marketing #marketingservices #buying #procurement #print

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