Rarely has a sector questioned itself so much as that of marketing and advertising agencies. Many models have been created, ingloriously disposed of until declared completely dead. Every day somewhere in the world a new agency starts up that wants to do it “completely differently”. Old wine in new wineskins? Or is there more going on?
The fact is: since the turn of the century the world of marketing and communications has been exposed to one disruption after another. Technology giants Google and Facebook and extensive communication consumption on smartphones and tablets have profoundly changed the way we communicate with customers and prospects. The role of the agency must therefore be different, in line with the new vision that marketers (the customers of the agencies) have of agencies.
The Mad Men series took us back to the origin of the ad agencies who all then profiled themselves as a full-service partner for the advertiser. In the second half of the last century an advertising agency was by definition an all-rounder and they offered a wide range of services. Until the early 2000s, when the marketing complexity steadily began to increase and technology started to have an increasingly disruptive impact on the sector.
In the first phase, agencies reacted to the technological disruption by fragmenting their business model. One or more spin-offs were created, often around online marketing, web design, social media, events or PR. But newcomers to the agency market also increasingly opted for a niche activity. The social media agencies, search agencies (SEO/SEA), Internet marketing agencies and consulting agencies mushroomed out of the ground. They profiled themselves as doers and thinkers as opposed to the 'old school' agencies that were stuck in creativity and media buying and planning.
In the chart below, I briefly share my thinking logic in which I divide agency service providers into four main groups:
At the bottom right are the creatives, the agencies that are alive with hyper-creativity in marketing and communication. Like no other, they can translate brand strategies into creative metaphors and campaigns, with which they would rather win prizes and awards. They abhor mathematically-based planning, keep a long way away from strategic consulting and gladly let their customers go again after delivering the campaign (they are not doers who take ownership over the course of the campaign).
At the bottom left are the planners who are masters in distributing marketing budgets over dozens of analog and digital media. Here you will find, amongst others, the social advertising experts and media agencies. Do not judge them on the development of creative campaigns, nor can you ask them to provide strategic direction for your brand.
At the top left are the drivers, who like nothing better than to roll up their sleeves and implement campaigns. A lot of online agencies lie in this area, where they don't just focus on delivering a nice website. On the contrary, they focus more on the post-project which they start with the website and then apply techniques such as SEO, SEA, User Experience, lead generation, inbound marketing and video marketing. These are real doers who step out of their comfort zone as they have to come up with creativity or when they have to share in the global strategic thinking. This segment also contains the growing number of marketing outsourcing agencies (interim marketers), who take over partial or complete control of the operational marketing strategy within a company.
At the top right are the consultants, who specialize in partnering in strategic thinking with the marketer. They unravel knots, give new direction and vision, write an action plan or provide know-how that the marketers don't have. These thinkers are rarely good creatives, rather leaving the do-work to others and keeping themselves a long way away from planning and buying
As you can see: marketers have a menu of bureaus and agencies like never before. Each piece of the marketing puzzle will be completed by either a niche agency, an agency that cleverly combines multiple disciplines or by an agency that adheres to the full-service concept. In itself, a lot of choice is not bad, but in this case the fragmentation has been the cause of much miscommunication and lack of uniformity in branding. The marketer was reluctantly pushed into a new role of coordinator and guardian of the corporate identity.
As said, the marketer is spoiled for choice today. But that is also a stress factor since the choice of 'the ideal' bureau has never before been so complex. There are two clear strategic tracks on the table: as a marketer you either choose cooperation with a full-service agency (who is a partner 'along the road to branding success'), or you very intelligently choose creatives, planners, consultants and/or doers in devising and implementing your marketing campaigns.
The key to the ideal choice lies in answering the question: 'What do I want from my agency?' The marketer who does not have clear goals, or the strategic vision of the future of the brand is missing immediately creates the foundation for a failing cooperation with an agency.
Put bluntly: the agency that can best meet your requirements. However, it is my opinion that working with multiple long-term niche agencies is detrimental to the quality of your brand. That going through a new filter every time erodes the uniformity and consistency of your corporate identity.
My dream agency? An agency where creatives, planners, doers and consultants work together seamlessly on the success of my brand (Husky in my case). Where a project manager understands my brand and professionally translates the brand values to the various disciplines within the agency. An agency that has professionals for every discipline: the creative creatives, the most systematic planners, the most extreme result-driven doers and the most brilliant consultants.
Is this (still) a dream? Or is it feasible? My opinion: it is a complex challenge, but it should be a quest for each full-service agency to be able to deliver quality work in the four disciplines. And that doesn't have to happen at a single physical workplace. There's nothing stopping a dream team that works in different (international) business units. It's up to the agency project manager to lead the cooperation in the right direction. An extreme example of this is FreelanceFirm from the Netherlands that acts only as a coordinator between the customer and various specialized freelancers.
That's a hard one. Over the years, advertising agency has been burned into our minds as an agency designation. But it doesn't cover everything because advertising is just part of the marketing strategy of a company. There are even brands that have grown big without advertising, while they do amazing marketing. A marketing agency then?