Life used to be so simple when agencies knew their place! Ad agencies tended to rule the roost within the client hierarchy and concepts would trickle down to the other specialists – direct marketing agency, sales promotion agency, digital agency and PR agency – who would then adapt and implement the campaign using their own specialist media. But does this model still work for clients in today’s increasingly fragmented world?
Well, if handled with military precision by a steely-nerved marketing director, yes it can. You have to create very strict demarcation lines regarding which of your agencies do what and encourage real collaboration to the greater good. Unilever, for instance, has an excellent track record of working in this way, with strategy and objectives very clear right from the start, combined with processes and guidelines in place so that everyone knows what is expected right from the start. This stops the agency land-grab for the best bits!
However, with today’s leaner, faster client marketing teams that are now a fact of life for many companies, not least as a result of the hard times of the past year, this siloed way of working is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. It’s also potentially blinkering clients by pushing them to decide up front which route to take and therefore which specialist agencies they need to employ. As customer centricity is becoming more and more important and competition is fiercer across all market sectors, marketers should perhaps be looking outside their current expectations and unfetter themselves from traditional thinking.
Offering a real alternative to the traditional approach are today’s full service communications agencies who have embraced the opportunities offered by both long-established and new media channels. Only an agency that is truly media neutral can look beyond the brief and beyond marketing disciplines at what business challenges a client is facing – rather than focusing on what digital marketing can do for them, for instance. Clearly a mobile marketing agency will come up with an exciting mobile strategy and an advertising agency will create an impactful ad strategy. But what if the best way for a business to achieve its goals is neither of the above?
It’s hard these days for clients to have expertise across all marketing disciplines, but this is where a full service agency can help. They will have an overarching planning department, fuelled by media-neutral data insight, to help them formulate the strategy and then call upon the appropriate specialists in-house to implement the resulting campaigns. This joined up thinking also then comes back full circle in terms of tracking and analysing activity to understand exactly what’s happening across the whole campaign and the whole customer journey. It’s only by working with this 360 degree view on a business that you can create a true culture of continuous learning and improvement and ultimately maximise your return on investment.
For clients with procurement departments, though, working with a full service agency can bring its own complications. Procurement departments play an important and acknowledged role within the agency/client relationship, and they bring with them recognisable benefits in terms of cost efficiencies and a clear understanding of what is expected of any agency on the roster. However, the flip side of this is the tendency for the procurement department to put the agency into a channel ’box’; so you are put on the DM, digital or mobile roster, for example, thus limiting the client marketer’s choices regarding who they work with on different briefs.
From the agency perspective, offering a ’one stop shop’ service to clients shouldn’t be about snatching as much client budget as you can – although clearly the opportunities for securing a greater share of budget are there. It’s about engendering long term client relationships. As marketing outputs become increasingly commoditised it’s more important than ever to add continuous value. If you can add ’cross-discipline’ thinking that focuses on the business challenge rather than the output, then you are creating a competitive advantage that turns your relationship into one of trusted strategic partner rather than supplier. That’s got to be a better place to be.