Whether you are a CMO at a global company or an account manager at an agency, marketers all around are feeling the pressures brought on by increased industry complexities. These include the heavy focus placed on customer experience, the impacts of data and technology, the heightened demand to drive brand and sales growth, and the need for a higher level of speed and agility.
Due to the environment that has been created by these coinciding and intensifying pressures, marketers have put a heavy focus on establishing agency partnerships that optimize their specific needs. This has forced agencies to change up everything from their pricing models down to their service offerings.
After reading a recent publication by AAR Group in the UK, there are eight pressing areas in which marketers are demanding change from their agency partners that will inevitably continue to transform and evolve the modern agency ecosystem:
1. A Move Towards Simplification
One of the overarching trends shaping this year’s agency ecosystem is the strong need for simplification. With a significant focus on reducing duplication and cost, marketers seek to generate greater efficiency in time and management.
Though many marketers are drastically decreasing the number of agencies on their rosters, this does not mean that the era of specialist, single discipline agency is over. Specialism, in particular areas such as performance marketing, conversion rate optimization and other outcome-related disciplines, is still required. Additionally, the wave of new technologies such as AI, Blockchain, and Voice are bringing further complexity that marketers will need help navigating. While integrated agencies are expanding their service offerings in this direction, specialist agencies are also winning their way onto the agency roster of larger brands.
The overlap between claimed skillsets amongst multi-disciplined, communications agencies and specialist digital communication agencies is another area in which marketers are seeking simplification. The need for multi-disciplined and single discipline agencies comes down to marketers determining how the different agencies can bring various kinds of expertise together in a way that reflects the brand’s unique needs.
2. Integrated Strategy
Marketers have begun showing a strong need for greater strategic integration, especially concerning creative and media strategy. What we are seeing is leading brands demanding their own “custom shops” which has resulted in the rise of cross-holding company single-client teams.
As Wendy Clark, (Past) Global CEO of DDB Worldwide mentioned in a recent Ad Age article, “With the macro marketplace demands for growth, efficiency, and speed, it makes sense that brand marketers are looking for partners that are specifically set up around the way their business works.”
We’ve seen this trend become more prevalent among major agencies. For example, WPP’s demonstrated their plans to move toward more integrated workings with the Walgreens and Boots alliance and IAG and Publicis ‘Power of One’, which attempts to put clients at the center and facilitate access to all its services in a fluid, modular way.
As more and more brands ask that their agencies form multiple holding companies to collaborate as their specialist agency team, the more we can confirm the need for integrated strategy, simplicity, and efficiency from the progressive agency model.
3. Taking Creativity To The Next Level
We live in a highly competitive and rapidly changing world, and with such, marketers are expressing a strong need for external creative input and demanding big, transformative ideas. While in-house content creation is on the rise, there is considerable value that external creatives bring to the table; they’re constantly exposed to inputs and challenges outside of those internal teams are experiencing. This allows outside talent to challenge the norm and give solutions to problems the clients may have overlooked otherwise.
Brands have noticed that stand out talent is attracted to the environment and culture that the modern agency provides. Additionally, agencies are aware of the changes that marketers are demanding and their account management teams find new ways to be creative by knowing their clients and their client’s industries inside and one. So while in-house marketing continues to grow, agencies are not only working harder than ever re-establishing their credibility and expertise but providing an extraordinary amount of value and creative opportunity to clients.
4. Improving Speed and Agility
While many brand marketers are struggling to adopt an agile methodology into their internal processes, they have challenged their agency partners to work in more agile ways to improve responsiveness, speed, and maneuverability.
Of course, this model takes two to Tango, but both clients and agencies are working together to make an agile system work. For example, some client marketing teams are working closely with their agency partners concurrently in sprints to benefit from greater agility. Co-location is also being adapted, with client and agency team members having increased face-to-face interaction and collaboration.
Marketers have been keen to the development of more agile ways of working but are often left frustrated by slow internal processes and decision-making, even when their agency team has the capability to move more quickly.
5. Proving Business Value
While marketers have always employed agencies to drive sales performance, data and analytics have brought an entirely different level of focus on attribution of value and ROI. Today, presenting your open and click through rate is simply not enough. Marketers now expect agencies to demonstrate real business value, not just communications or brand impact.
The challenges in attribution, however, arise when evaluating the complexity of many customer journeys and the fragmentations of touchpoints. We see a higher number of agencies investing heavily in more sophisticated attribution techniques and modeling by proactively working with clients to drive not only sales but cost savings that can be re-invested in new projects.
6. Improving Transparency And Rebuilding Trust
Transparency issues and ad fraud were two substantial controversies discussed by the media this year. We have seen challenges that are in danger of dissolving client/agency mostly trust through digital media and programmatic ad buying. These problems have taken place around ad placement, viewability, and measurement combined with blurry media supply chains involving multiple platforms each looking to have their piece of the ad budget.
When asking marketers about how agencies can fix these broken relationships, many responded with:
- The demonstration and application of knowledge and skill of the service the client needs, performance and results
- Consistency, dependability, and appreciation of the client’s needs
- No more surprises, if there is a problem, it needs to be brought up at the appropriate time
- Regular updates, frequent communication, and full transparency
- Respect for key priorities and senior level involvement
- The development of a more intimate, close-working relationship with the client over time.
Advertising and media are still very much a people business, meaning, individuals can have a massive impact on the working relationship between the client and the agency. Client’s are supportive of their agency’s making a decent margin, but ties are diminishing when there is a lack of communication that leaves the client feeling the agency is putting their personal interests first.
7. Maintaining Credibility
Many agencies are expanding their service offerings significantly to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of their clients. As agencies begin expanding into new areas of expertise, some are losing their overall credibility by moving too quickly and neglecting to adapt the shape of their talent as they evolve.
Agencies that have diverse capabilities can benefit from a more comprehensive approach for clients, but marketers have become leery of agencies putting a digital band-aid on old practices or unnecessary solutions. An example of this is the lack of mobile-first solutions or the risk of agencies pitching a creative platform for an ad campaign when there is so much more that is needed. Agencies have to be flexible with how they present themselves to clients as needs change just as clients have to be sure that agencies are not stretching themselves into areas in which they lack the required expertise.
8. Keeping up with the changes
As marketers are operating in more complex environments than ever before, there is now a heightened need for clarity in key decisions around investment, strategy, and technology. Additionally, there is an increasing need to continue learning new capabilities to adapt to the rapidly changing consumer needs and fast-growing competitive landscapes. Marketers are looking to their agency partners to help them make sense of complicated, uncertain environments and to help them continuously improve.
Marketers have recognized that in a digitally-led, technologically advanced world, there is no longer a need for complex agency structures. Instead, it is crucial to have an agile team that can quickly develop strategies based on the changing needs of the client. Client/agency relationships have been tested to their limits this year, but as we’ve seen in the recent months and will continue to see in 2019, agencies are working harder than ever to perfect these eight areas and deliver results that add extensive value to their client’s businesses.
Although there are constant pressures and continuous changes that need to be taken in order to stay up-to-speed and relevant for marketers’ needs today, it all starts with one simple word: self-awareness which is the ability to remain present and accounted for in any business (or personal) relationship. And without that, none of these qualities from a modern agency would be possible.