Friday, August 12, 2011

Do You Need An Agency?

This week on Twitter, Deloitte posted a link to a co-sponsored study.  The tweet read “Do you need your agency?” and provided a link to the study from the CMO Council on the 2011 State of Marketing.  While the actual study did little to convince me of a need for an agency (or lack thereof), the tweet itself did enough to raise my blood pressure a few points.  As someone who worked for a large agency during the lean times of 2008-2010, it always made my blood boil a little when a consulting firm called for companies to abandon their agencies for one reason or another.

I saw many of my clients cut budgets during the recession.  Programs that had taken months of selling and preparation were being tossed aside to “review when times were better.”  Client organizations were pressing our agency to get better results from a smaller campaign.  Nearly ten percent of my colleagues were let go, an indirect result of the lower overall revenue.   It should be easy to see why the simple question “do you need your agency” can stir up a few emotions from me or anyone who has worked in an agency in the past few years.

I was not expecting this study to be in favor of agencies.  Thanks in part to “Office Space” consultants have the reputation of causing firings and layoffs in the name of “efficiency.”  “Mad Men” has probably not helped the view that agencies are a vital part of today’s business economy.  I promise you, I have never smoked a cigarette in my office, and any alcohol consumed was for a party or celebration.  While there is certainly some overhead and what may be seen as frivolous spending, these should not be used to overshadow the real value that an agency brings to the equation.

What I found interesting about this study is that it all but said that not only do firms need their agencies, firms need them now and firms need agencies to do more.  A survey in the study revealed that most marketing executives are struggling with customer data that is siloed, inaccessible, and overwhelming.  Additionally, the same respondents indicated challenges with online/offline integration, maintaining brand identity, and not understanding search marketing practices.  As we continue to allow technology to be a larger part of our lives, these issues are going to compound and make an executive marketers job more challenging.

Referring back to Finance 101, an agent is defined as one party authorized to act on behalf of another.  This is the spirit of what an agency is; a group of experts with authority to act on behalf of those lacking the same knowledge.  Marketing executives are practically begging for help, and agencies need to step in to offer services.  This is not to say that any agency will be right for every job.  Now more than ever an agency needs to become a trusted partner and ally to the firm.  An agency needs to understand the firm as if it were their own company.  The agency or agencies that can address the challenges and fears of the executives will be the agency or agencies that are successful.

This is going to require a lot of change for both parties.  Agencies need to start viewing themselves as allies to the firm and less as a vendor of services.  Firms need to open up a bit and accept that help is needed (with very careful selection of course).  While technological advancements are happening every day, with the right partnership firms will be able to successfully conquer their fears.  It is my hope that at that point, even if the economy is again in a lean time, firms will unabashedly say “Yes I do need my agency.”

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