Spark44 – breaking the conventions of global marketing with Jaguar Land Rover
Anthony Bradbury, Jaguar Land Rover's Marketing Director, writes of his experience working with Spark44.
I was hugely proud when the news broke that we’d won the Greater China Silver Effie for the Jaguar F-PACE “Challenge the Impossible” campaign. Having been with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) for 20 years, three of those in China, this Silver Effie has a special meaning to me as it’s the reward for all the hard work done by so many different people at JLR, and our advertising agency Spark44. We have come a long way, and it has been a fascinating journey - especially since Tata Motors took over JLR in 2008.
I recall a lot of raised eyebrows when we broke with conventional marketing wisdom that a global company like JLR, with its two premium brands, should work with one main global advertising network agency, complemented with specialists and boutiques (often from the same holding company). According to many, this was the only way to successfully implement global marketing and advertising campaigns. But we couldn’t find the offering we thought we needed in traditional ad land, so JLR decided to create a new agency – Spark44.
Spark44 is not an in-house agency. It is a distinct global consultancy across all marcomms disciplines, with its own vision, mission and values. It operates its own P&L, and has an independent, diverse management team who are focused solely on delivering outstanding work for JLR. Why is it unique? It is a 50:50 joint venture between us at JLR, and Spark44’s partners. The company is entirely independent, and governed by a board consisting of three top representatives from Spark44, and three executives from JLR, and an independent Chairperson.
Transparency and breaking the silos
I am quite often asked by people from other premium brands, “What is the main difference of working with an agency/client joint venture?” And my answer is always the same: absolute transparency, complete focus, and the breaking down of silos.
The transparency stems from the fact that Spark44 is operating with one global P&L, so there is no competition between countries, units or disciplines. And JLR owns 50% of the agency, so client and agency share all financials. This means that campaigns can be planned solely according to the client’s need, and not according to agency dynamics or priorities. This removes the natural tension between client priorities and agency profits, and allows us to constantly create the best work together. JLR gets dedicated creative services, born from a deep understanding of our business, delivered with outstanding value.
Changing the marketer’s role
Of course this close relationship has changed how we work, and my own role as the Global Marketing Communications Director at JLR has changed a lot since Spark44 took full responsibility for all global JLR marketing communications contracts in 2014/15. Spark44’s global presence and multi-disciplinary brief means that I don’t have to spend time meeting different agency teams with distinctive cultures, dynamics and agendas. In other words, I can focus on our brands rather than on managing agencies.
I have also found a striking paradox in our work with Spark44: we are challenged more than we used to be by external agencies. This is interesting, as one would expect a traditional agency set-up to challenge a client’s position – they are the independent experts of course – and you would think that they would stand firm behind their point of view. But in fact, I often found the contrary to be the case, with traditional agencies sometimes not daring to challenge the client too much for fear of losing the contract. That is not a fear for Spark44 since we succeed or fail together, leading to some quite robust conversations at times! Their values are “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Honest”, and they certainly live these values. But we always mutually seek to find the best solutions for the Jaguar and Land Rover brands – which of course means joint successes like the recent Effie award.
Our agency model has also helped us at JLR to work better together. JLR is a large business with over 40,000 employees around the globe. Because of our size and geographical spread, silos sometimes inevitably develop. But having a mutual external point of contact across teams in Spark44, who know us and our business intimately, has led to the breaking down of silos between teams internally.
Traditional agencies need to adapt
I don’t subscribe to the view of those who strike a swan song for the traditional international advertising agency model. The model will remain. However, as lines between all marketing disciplines and channels blur, and the focus is on creating engaging and shareable content promoted throughout the customer journey, these businesses will need to adapt their offering, and innovate in how they operate. And sooner rather than later.
The agency/client joint venture is an exciting alternative model that works well for JLR. Companies which consider a similar approach will need to accept that they will have to break with convention, and change the way they run their marketing and advertising operations. If they are bold enough to do so, the return will be rewarding.