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By Leah Montebello
RightSpend’s CEO on why he led an MBO to driving marketing procurement efficiencies with tech and transparency.
Iain Seers joined RightSpend, formerly known as Beekman Associates, back in 2016 as Managing Director, and became CEO in 2017. After nearly 30 years in advertising, Seers’ industry knowledge meant his eventual role as CEO was the culmination of years of industry experience.
Seers’ career has seen him work at leading agencies BBDO, McCann London and Saatchi & Saatchi before starting an eleven year stint at WPP Agency Ogilvy. Having worked in the marketing industry in varied roles internationally, as well as on products ranging from banking to beauty, he now puts this wealth of experience to good use by working with global brands.
In 2016, Seers met the two RightSpend founders in New York and was offered the position of Managing Director Europe, becoming CEO a year later. “RightSpend was a small company with huge potential. We are 20 years old, but we are a new company. It has huge underdeveloped potential with a great opportunity to leverage substantial proprietary data that can offer new insight services across all marketing sectors and territories”, Seers says.
How marketing procurement can use RightSpend
RightSpend provides transparency and clarity for brands around their marketing costs. To do this, they give brands the ability to benchmark and track their marketing costs through real-time proprietary data and actual negotiated contracts. RightSpend has an extensive client list of global brands.
RightSpend’s focus on offering their clients additional value to their marketing procurement process via their online platform, providing a data-driven approach to marketing and procurement. In addition RightSpend also provides consultative services which are tailored to suit the individual clients requirements, including negotiation support and procurement transformation.
“No one has the level of our data”, Seers remarks. “Some brands may have internal spreadsheets that have been built up over the years and this is ok because it will give some guidance. However, marketing is changing all the time, whether that’s digital outputs or job titles. This means that those internal spreadsheets will soon be outdated”, he continues.
In contrast, RightSpend data can benchmark over 75 markets globally, and their online platform is updated and searched regularly. Assessing over $10 billion in marketing spend annually, across 10 different agency disciplines and hundreds of unique marketing deliverables, their data has a huge advantage over internal systems, which Seers’ describes as like “marking your own homework”.
Indeed with internal benchmarking systems, it is difficult to get the richness of data and a useful point of comparison as you are only looking at your own rate cards or agency relationships. On top of this, having transparency on figures also means that marketing procurement can reinvest money that is saved from making more tactical decisions. This makes marketing budgets go further: something that is increasingly important with the ever changing landscape of marketing, and demanding consumer needs.
Benchmarking encourages transparency – not a race to the bottom
Something that Seers is keen to note is that RightSpend “is not the race to the bottom”. The ethos behind RightSpend is that it is up to clients to decide what they want to pay for agencies, whether that is 5% or 30% above the benchmark.
He continues, “For me, it’s not about criticising agencies, but gaining efficiency. With any partner you want to work efficiently. It is entirely up to you to determine what that looks like. We are providing transparency around the process to make better, more informed decisions and to do this you need data and analysis”.
Like the ANA, IPA and ISBA, Seers has been discussing transparency and clarity in agency-brand relationships for decades, and slowly but surely is getting on the industry’s radar. “Post pandemic, I think there will be a change and we will hopefully move to an efficient era, where brands and agencies operate differently”, he says.
If transparency is achieved, both brands and agencies will be able to focus on what is important: the work. This will beckon a new period of good work with good people.
Navigating a remote world
With such a global presence, Seers has insight into how different marketing procurement teams operate across the world.
He says, “there are [regional] differences but marketing happens in the same way across the world”. In fact, the way that they differ is the ways in which they do the work, and the pandemic has been an enlightening period of change for global teams.
“What we are seeing and saw in Covid is that everyone was able to work remotely. Marketing teams, unlike other departments, were used to working remotely all around the globe. However, what we saw in a lot of clients was that everyone had to be transitioned online. So the finance team suddenly had to work out how to do purchase orders when they weren’t in the office. This was a huge change and something they hadn’t done before”, Seers explains.
Although there was an initial “stutter”, and teething problems, as Seers says, this move fundamentally changed client mindsets, which demonstrated how efficiently teams could work and how talent was not necessarily limited to geographies. For RightSpend, this meant clients would also re-evaluate their spending, and made their global benchmarking capacities even more attractive. “We can put the tech in place to show what’s good and what’s bad: what you should be paying in Romania versus Mexico. RightSpend provides clarity around the different numbers”, he urges.
Seers draws a comparison with the financial crisis of 2008, and the coronavirus pandemic. “We were working with lots of global brands [in 2008], but the financial crash saw big sea changes. People were made redundant and marketing budgets were cut. Agencies really had to sharpen their pencils and operate more efficiently. This is not too dissimilar to what is happening today with Covid. It’s changed client mindsets and agencies have to respond to that”, he explains.
Best kept secret. RightSpend Ambitions
With over 135 years of combined subject matter expertise as a firm, Seers had so much confidence in RightSpend’s potential that he actually led the MBO buy-out in September 2020. This has made the last year a “whirlwind” in Seers’ mind.
Since then, they have doubled their headcount and have invested more and more into technology and data services, including the recent hire of a Chief Product Officer, as well as dedicated marketing to expand their reach and presence.
As Seers says, “We’ve kind of been the best kept secret. People love working with us, but brands have never heard of us in the industry”.
Their client list is nonetheless impressive and they are able to blend global brands (including most of the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the world) with many subsidiaries of smaller brands; Seers emphasises how there is “no standard RightSpend client”.
Additionally, Seers is looking at how RightSpend can build technology even more into their product, and they are in the process of examining ways in which AI can be integrated into their offering. “We’re constantly looking at ways we can continue to add value to our clients, and also further enrich our datasets. Our plans are focused on catering for the everchanging marketing procurement landscape.”
There is a clear excitement about what they are trying to achieve, and the past 18 months has cemented the perfect foundations for a more transparent future for agency and client relations.