I read a series of posts today that made me want to write about agencies, digital or otherwise, and partnerships from the client's point of view. The series titled If I Were a Client Today is authored by The Kaiser. [hat tip to Kris Hoet]
Gavin Heaton writes in the comment to Kris' post (emphasis mine):
I strongly believe that the Agency World is well overdue for an overhaul. In fact, I fully expect a wave of business consultants to descend on the rich agency pickings any day now… once they have a model that can demonstrate the linkage between brand value, activation and the balance sheet, McKinsey & Co will cherry pick the brightest minds and wipe the floor with what/whoever is left.
This will also solve the problem of budgets — accurate measurement will show the correlation between brand value and share price etc. It won’t all be science at the expense of emotion, of course, it will just be a whole lot more accountable.
Same for outsourcing… at a certain point you lose ownership of the execution. As and when agencies start putting some skin in the game they will also be more judicious about which parts of their strategy/creative/technology they relinquish to their disjointed and unresponsive supply chain.
Finding an Agency
I admit that finding the right agency today is a daunting task. Have you ever hired an agency from a blind pitch? How about from a list? The first problem, of course, is that if you've got a marketing department of a decent size, you have potentially two to three recommendations from people in your department who know of an agency. You could start interviewing from there. The problem is that each agency would then pressure your colleague to put in a good word through various means. It can get ugly in a heartbeat -- and create animosity in your department.
As well, an agency that has done good work for your before in another company may be completely wrong for the work that needs to be done in this company. The markets may be different (for example, if you went from chemical manufacturing to technology) and the brand needs may be completely different. I agree with The Kaiser that my responsibility is to my brand, the company I work for and the people who buy our services.
We haven't gotten to the point of having business consultants descending on the opportunity, as Gavin describes, just yet. And talking with a number of agencies can get old quickly and time consuming due to endless capabilities presentations. Time you may not have. If I were an agency today, I would want to be known by companies like SMARTi whose entire work is based upon matching companies with agencies intelligently -- on the basis of a strategic brief designed with the client. Sending generic emails and making immediate follow up calls all about tactics and capabilities do not work. I wrote a post that kicked off a nice conversation at MarketingProfs Daily Fix about the dos and don'ts of corporate pitching.
Hiring an Agency
Is a process, not a one time deal. If I were an agency today I would not take my clients for granted. Even when a retainer or contract is arranged, there is a need to continue to provide value as perceived by the client. It's human nature to want to go with the flow and follow the path of least resistance, yet the very reason why you were hired in the first place was because the company needed to keep the conversation about its brand fresh and relevant.
This applies to marketers on the client side, too. We have the inside scoop on the company and its culture and need to remain in the driver's seat as brand navigators. Which means that if there are a couple of agencies at work, the coordination is very much the client's responsibility. In many companies this also means educating the organization on the value of the brand's equity for the business and its bottom line.
Right along the lines of what The Kaiser writes in his post #4, I am not one bit interested in capabilities presentations. Once we sat through one that lasted three hours and told us nothing of how it would work for us. We are not really interested in creative work done for other companies, nor in the technology as shiny objects. What we generally want to learn is how the agency would develop ideas that would benefit the people who bought our services and have a positive impact on our business.
Is the answer a joint venture?
Is it perhaps what Dell and WPP just announced with Da Vinci? When I shared the news with my team, some said it had been done before. Which is also part of the commentary Da Vinci garnered "Most of the cynicism had to do with the subpar history of marketing-holding company integration and Dell's rapid plan for implementation."
Jim Garrity wrote at Jaffe Juice that it takes tremendous courage and a fair amount of patience to make such a dramatic change. I would add it also takes discipline and a willingness to shift some of the work that was done by local vendors to in-house staff to support the transition. That may be part of the inertia Joe talks about. This conversion can take place only with visible support from the top and, even then, with constant vigilance.
There has been talk of digital agencies leading overall brand strategy. AdAge just published an article about that [hat tip to Mitch Joel] I suspect that the data cited is heavily skewed towards B2C; I operate in B2B. In fact, having never worked at a consumer goods company I can pretty much predict that I may not work at one in the foreseeable future.
Which brings me to hiring philosophies and the state of advertising today. Just because a person has done something hundreds of times, it doesn't mean they are very good at it or that it can work for a new product or service. Especially if you are looking to think differently and move away from the "pack mindset."
If I were an agency (and a company) today, I would seek those who have consistently demonstrated a hunger for learning, experimenting and doing throughout their career, putting their skin in the game and being fanatical about results.
[the chart shows the most important marketing trends -- the return to basics is not surprising.]