Here’s the trouble with many marketing agencies, according to Chief Marketing Officers. They talk a fine game, list prestigious brands they’ve worked for and emphasize their creative endeavors… but they miss what really matters to their prospective partners.
At its core, the CMO/marketing agency partnership is really about relationship building and connecting as business-minded people. It’s about how an agency can add value to a business by providing hard numbers, facts, customer insights and marketing growth opportunities.
It’s about intelligent discussions about tackling the challenges ahead with new solutions and technology. There are many agencies out there that completely miss the mark for their clients, but nothing beats finding that sweet spot of collaboration with the right partnership.
What follows is a discussion of the strengths of a CMO/marketing agency pairing, the trouble of working with the wrong partner, and how to outsource some of your marketing tasks to a firm that truly understands your business model.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: most marketing departments are stretched way too thin. It often takes a lot of work for CMOs to justify marketing expenditures to Corporate, let alone convince them that the hassle and expense of adding necessary personnel to an existing team is worthwhile. An agency partnership can not only save a ridiculous amount of money (we once estimated we save our clients a good $337,000 a year or more), but also circumvents issues like retention, learning curve, training, managing additional staff and benefits packages.
Kissmetrics wisely speculates that major brands will seek to capitalize on the advantages of partnerships, going one step further and buying media companies to fulfill their marketing needs. Content houses and technology providers may find offers on the table from clients with money who want to make a high-profile acquisition of their companies. Furthermore, brands will be looking for YouTube celebrities and high-profile influencers to partner with so they can tap established networks of prospective buyers.
CMOs excel at managing campaigns, but agencies offer “big picture” perspective. Tunnel-vision happens to the best of us. A modern marketing firm is adept at spreading consistent messages across all platforms, identifying areas of strength and weakness by looking at the data and finding ways to help CMOs justify the budget with ROI numbers. As CMO.com put it: “Marketers are more reliant on their agencies and other outsourced partners to help them succeed in a business landscape that has become far more complicated, as well as highly technology- and data-driven.” Successful digital marketing requires cohesive storytelling (including corporate-shared narratives and customer experiences shared socially) and cross-platform communication that builds and sustains relationships between businesses and the people they serve. The big picture can be complex and easy to lose sight of without many minds mulling over the data and making intelligent decisions on how to tweak campaigns, messages or imagery to better connect the dots between opportunity and sales. Agencies with decades of experience working with different clients can identify common themes that breed exceptionalism in marketing and bring business savvy to the table that internal personnel limited to one brand experience doesn’t always possess.
The best agencies specialize and make it their business to eat, sleep and breathe the freshest industry news. Within a company, you’re likely focused on the daily grind, corporate news and overseeing existing campaigns. You’re likely receiving data and updating your strategy as you go — to some extent. What CMO honestly has time to scour the headlines for every relevant news story related to dozens of niche marketing topics? Google’s got a new algorithm; there’s a new knock-out tool that makes content curation more effective; Twitter is offering new features to their paid advertising platform; this new technology is converting more sales than anything you’ve seen before. CMOs rely on agency partners to sort through the clutter and bring the most relevant news to the table. They bring the spice to the soup that will turn a bland, stale strategy into a growth engine for the future.
It’s All About Finding The RIGHT Partnership
So a lot of what we’ve been talking about thus so far is the ideal case scenario. You found an agency you love and they love you back. Communication is excellent and all parties are thriving together. Unfortunately, this type of CMO/agency relationship is more the exception than the rule. One survey found that only 5% of respondents (who spend more than $10 million on media per year) said they were confident in their agency partner’s performance.
he problems cited are many, especially since the role of agencies has been largely shifting from providing creative functions to providing more data-driven solutions within the last five years. Last year’s Client/Agency Relationship survey conducted by Forbes found that issues included:
- Poorly trained personnel
- Inability to come up with genuine consumer insights
- Insufficient knowledge of the issues that impact client business
- Lack of integration between online and offline marketing solutions
- Under-staffing, turnover and inexperienced junior associates working on accounts
- Struggles to evolve digital marketing capabilities based on new trends
Not surprisingly, a whopping 81% of companies favor working with more than one agency (whom they consider “vendors” more than partners). You may be hesitant to put all your eggs in one basket, but asking a few questions before partnering up can go a long way in finding the right agency.
Ask The Tough Questions Before Making Your Decision
A few questions can help you gauge an agency’s fit early on:
- Who will we be working with and what do you need from us? Ideally, the CMO (or another designated point person) will work directly with the company founder or agency CEO on the account. One source of frustration for many CMOs comes in seeing the people who landed their account leave the agency, putting inexperienced people in charge. High turnover for your account spells disaster for the consistency of your marketing strategy and messages. Find out how long staff has been working for the agency to gauge the firm’s stability.
- What scope of work can you provide? Multinational companies may require the expertise of multinational agencies. Medium and smaller budget firms may need a boutique agency that can deliver the precise services needed, without having to pay for extra fluff and filler that may be included with the bigger agency packages.
- Is it possible to do a trial run? Before committing long-term, seeing how an agency runs a particular campaign or project can help you see precisely how they work. Assess their quality and level of communication to ensure it’s to your liking. Ask which benchmarks and KPIs are measured. Look at reports they furnish to you and consider how these documents might function at your next meeting with Corporate.
Find Your Perfect Match
We still believe CMOs can find everything they need with one agency, but it requires honest communication and feeling each other out before any work begins. Over time, we’ve identified common threads of our most fruitful partnerships and determined which industries are truly our forte. We don’t take every client that comes our way. There is a lot more to life than landing a big account or making a lot of money. We want to enjoy coming to work each day and work for brands that we are passionate about and brands we know we can help.
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