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You may have heard the quote…John Wanamaker famously and humorously stated, “Half my advertising is wasted, I don’t know which half.” This quote is over a century old, but still resonates today.

Ask any CFO or accountant and they will tell you that marketing is an expense. It’s one of those line items that can be easily cut when times are tough and sales are slow.

Ask any CEO or business owner and they will tell you that marketing is an investment. It’s the last thing to cut in tough times

So who is right? It’s an age-old debate that in the digital age is becoming much easier to discern.

If you sell products online, you can measure and monetize your digital marketing effort with sales. “Click, order and ship” makes tracking dollars-spent to dollars-made any easy calculation. Few bean counters will argue that point. Package the promotion of any product or service with discounts offers or online support and the direct revenue typically increases by severalfold.

Under these scenarios, a performance-based contract with your agency is a wise investment. Setting performance benchmarks and establishing incentives for sales revenue is a recipe for success. Most marketing professionals live for this opportunity to show their stuff and prove their worth to you, your business and especially, to your CFO.

The same can be said for direct marketing that gives customers a direct response path like a special offer, coupon or loyalty card. That way the process for tracking and measuring performance and ROI is baked in the souffle.


However, trying to apply the same contractual approach across all your marketing efforts is where the souffle falls flat.

When you move beyond direct response advertising, the marketing and sales channels are more complex, less manageable and harder to track revenue performance. Too many cooks in the kitchen…sales coverage and response time, closing skills, product quality, customer satisfaction and pricing complicate the meal and ultimately, the entire deal.

Who gets credit for new revenue is less clear. Tracking it back to a single mailer, radio spot, native ad, online video or display ad is less valid. So unless you want to give your agency control of all four P’s, (product, place, promotion, price), then you can’t give all the credit or all the blame for your revenue performance to one source.

Here is where…CTR, organic search rankings, leads, lead quality, online engagements and impressions become the end game for your agency. Business owners and marketing managers should hold their agencies to these key performance benchmarks and indicators. These metrics are known to have an impact your market awareness, brand value and ultimately, to revenue performance.

No company and no brand can afford to be altruistic without producing return on investment.

So if you’re not tracking and holding your agency accountable to clear objectives and metrics, then John Wanamaker is right and your CFO will continue to win this argument.

In 2015, Franciscan St. Francis Health not only expanded its physical footprint, but we led the efforts to greatly expand its digital footprint. For seven service lines and two of their hospital campuses, our digital advertising programs outperformed industry benchmarks.

By optimizing our secondary metrics, our digital media placements and creative work surpassed the industry benchmarks and our goals for Click-Thru Rate (CTR) and Cost-Per-Click (CPC). We achieved double and in many cases triple the CTR for display ads, mobile ads, native ads, pre-roll videos, Facebook video ads, and Pandora display and audio ads.


But our ultimate metric and objective is to maximize ROI. By including special call-to-actions and aligning them with operations, we know that our campaign for Women Services delivered even more. It generated over 5-times more in potential revenue than the media dollars invested.

Have you and your team ever spent weeks working on a solution that is enthusiastically embraced by your client, but after a few weeks in their halls it becomes watered down or totally unrecognizable?

I’m sure you have. It’s a safe bet that it happens daily somewhere in the world. But why is that?

It’s pretty simple, really. We answer to our client contact. But they don’t have the final decision. Often, they answer to supervisors, management and/or internal clients. Can you say committees? The whole thing quickly becomes an exercise in group decision making.

So looking to take the path of least resistance and appease as many as possible, consensus building becomes the name of the game.

This is where things can go awry, and your thinking and great work can get lost.

In today’s work environment, enthusiasm for even market-changing or award-winning ideas can fade rapidly. So if your client isn’t 100 percent invested, then how hard do you think they will defend it? If they weren’t engaged in the development process, then how likely are they to fight for it? If you didn’t collaborate with them so “Devil’s Advocate” questions can be quickly dispatched and discarded, then how prepared are they to keep pushing it?

The same can be said for presenting ideas in-house to your colleagues and boss.

Instead of leaving it to consensus building and compromise, strive to create champions or advocates for your ideas. Bring everyone into the process, early and often, so they have ownership. Use collaboration so they own it like you do.

The phrase Own It in magazine letters on a cork notice board

In our business, like many others, there is no avoiding the approval chain and hallway polling so you need to make it easier for solutions to be validated and celebrated. If not, you’re leaving the door open for people who need to leave their mark on it. Not necessarily to make it better, but because they see and sense a lack of conviction and commitment to it.

In an election year, we see how waffling hurts politicians, but it’s equally damaging with office politics. It’s our job to not only own it, but to keep the mojo strong for others so mud doesn’t get tossed on the work.