Shifting sands for agency intermediaries

While there might be some healthy rivalry in the market, the intermediaries believe there is enough room for them all at this point. However, some are increasingly focusing on areas such as relationship management and training as the number of big domestic above-the-line pitches has declined and clients’ needs have changed.

The agency intermediary market has become increasingly competitive in recent years with a proliferation of matchmaking services now available to a marketing director seeking to appoint an agency to handle anything from a traditional TV campaign to a digital media account.

The alliance between The Haystack Group and Agency Assessments International (AAI) to handle UK and international search and selection may take one player out of the market but the launch of The Observatory, by former AAI partner Stuart Pocock and Agencyplaza.com, an online service aimed at smaller clients, means that space has already been taken up.

Finding a space in the market
While there might be some healthy rivalry in the market, the intermediaries believe there is enough room for them all at this point. However, some are increasingly focusing on areas such as relationship management and training as the number of big domestic above-the-line pitches has declined and clients’ needs have changed.

Suki Thompson, co-founder and managing director of The Haystack Group, believes the market is splitting, with an increasing number of companies calling global pitches, while others look for specialist agencies. But she says that marketers do not have the time or money to devote to advertising that they had in the past, and need help to work out how new areas such as digital can work for them. “Budgets aren’t getting smaller,” she adds, “you just don’t see where it is spent as it’s being distributed in a different way.” Thompson says that while search and selection is “still important”, it is now the smallest part of the business with 60% of her work covering auditing, evaluations and consultancy.

Pocock, who has been operating independently since mid-November, believes that “relationship repairing” is also a new opportunity. He adds: “Even with consultants, you don’t always get results just by changing agency.” But both Pocock and Thompson also see the growing potential of international business, and Pocock is seeking alliances in Europe and the US.

Meeting the clients’ needs
Martin Jones, director of advertising at the AAR, says that 80-90% of his business is still search and selection, which he believes is due to having experts in the different disciplines, such as digital and direct marketing, working in house. However, he adds that the AAR is involved in areas such as workshops, critiquing agency credentials and advising on TUPE.

But as clients are looking for more specialised agencies to handle new projects, intermediaries such as Creativebrief and Agencyplaza.com have launched services that aim to be more efficient for clients. Using different technology, both offer secure online databases of marketing services agencies which clients can access when they have a live brief. This can help with search and selection at a longor short-list stage.

Agencyplaza.com also believes that searching online is a more efficient way of getting to a list of agencies. Founders Pete Burgess and Denise Pritchard, both former marketers, believe that their service can offer smaller clients and agencies “a level playing field”. Both the client and agency remain anonymous until a list is selected.

There are some observers who believe nothing will replace face-to-face contact and understanding the nuances of client/agency relationships. “It is not just making a decision for now,” points out AAR chief executive Kerry Glazer. “It is for four to five years, and if you have £5m a year, that is a £20m account.” But Paul Duncanson, managing director of Creativebrief, points out that today’s graduates will be “truly digital” and will expect an online service.

As marketers have less time but need more specialist advice, the future looks bright for intermediaries. As the market becomes more competitive and TUPE kicks in, the ability to keep a relationship healthy is going to be as important as managing a pitch.

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