Agency Special Report: The Only Constant is Change
For both agencies and their clients, the marketing world is changing at a rapid pace. Existing technology platforms are always evolving, and new ones are constantly being introduced. The ways to collect, store and use data are ever increasing, and new social channels pop up seemingly daily. Couple this with increasing competition and shifting consumer attitudes toward how they want to be marketed to, and you’ve got a complex world.
To find out how agencies are keeping up, Chief Marketer interviewed industry pros from several of our PROMO and B2B Top Shops. Agencies on both the business and consumer marketing side of the fence agree that if you want to not only survive, but also to thrive, you need to move with the times.
“Things have been moving so quickly, making the marketing landscape so complex every day and agencies have to adapt,” says Bob Raidt, global president, Arc, the intelligent activation agency inside the Leo Burnett Group. “We need to help clients navigate this to make sure they are fully connected to consumers.”
“Many agencies have attuned themselves to be a machine that produces a certain type of product—and that’s no longer what clients need,” notes Yvonne Tocquigny, CEO, Archer Malmo Austin (formerly Tocquigny). “Companies need to take a broader, more strategic approach. You may have systems and processes and deliverables you think clients need, but business is changing and they may want a different type of help.”
In-house marketing professionals are savvier than ever before and this means agencies have to keep up. “They have the tools to do things themselves that in the past were the domain of the agency world,” says Mike Neumeier, principal of B2B agency Arketi Group. “If you’re not a progressive firm, you can quickly get pushed into being a tactical partner with certain clients.”
“Clients are smarter shoppers when looking for agencies,” says Anne Trompeter, principal/executive creative strategist at Chicago’s Live Marketing. “They want more of a partner, they’re time challenged and doing more with less.”
“The clients who get the most out of us welcome a consultative role,” notes Lori Field, president, west region of MRM//McCann. “Of course, what comes with that is accountability.”
To address the rapid change, several years ago Arc—Chief Marketer’s 2015 MVPro for winning the most honors in the PRO Awards—launched the LB SPARC Innovation Lab. The lab tests new technologies and creates real-time creative concepting environments for teams. It puts on a tech trade show, “FutureShop,” each year so clients can experience first-hand innovations in retail and shopper marketing. Exhibits can be from low-tech to high-tech to beacon technologies to different uses of RFID technology to the latest in corrugated cardboard for display.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis and resources behind innovation,” says Nick Jones, executive vice president, retail practice and innovation lead at Arc. “We have to be at the forefront of that change. Our clients have so much on their plates as it is with their own business challenges. We feel we owe it to them to be the eyes and ears of marketing innovation. It’s about what’s next.”
The ever-increasing use of data and technology has had a huge influence on agencies. “Data is systemic to everything marketers are doing,” notes Marty Smyth, vice president, strategic marketing, MRM//McCann.
Nevertheless, brands still depend on agencies to come up with big creative ideas, notes Neumeier. “It’s hard within a corporation and [bogged down] doing monthly and quarterly reports to let yourself step back and come up with big ideas.”
In many ways, the idea of one AOR owning everything is outdated, but being able to view the big picture gives an agency a deeper understanding of how they can help a client.
“We tell them we’re an integrated firm, so please don’t take offense if we’re just working with you on PR and we make suggestions for direct mail or social,” says Neumeier. “We know you might have other partners or in-house people [working on those things], but anything we can do to amplify our results is a win-win for everyone.”
The challenge to deliver across all funnels and channels has taken on new urgency. Clients demand it. The result has been increased collaboration—both internally and externally.
“We can’t operate in a vacuum,” Raidt says. “The ability to collaborate is key. Clients are expecting marketing initiatives to lead to financial results on a more immediate basis. We stand alone as an activation agency, but we can pivot quickly and connect with Leo Burnett.”
“Clients aren’t looking for that super agency that can do everything,” adds Amie Stanley, co-principal of shopper marketing agency Pivot Point Marketing. “They are looking for a roster of agencies that specialize in a particular discipline. One agency may act as the lead but there are significantly more agencies and partners working together on one client’s campaign than we’ve ever seen. Agencies that do that well will be the most successful. “
Another major change has been the ways in which agencies and marketers communicate with consumers.
“Now it’s an engagement message. Having conversations with consumers about what’s interesting to them,” says Stanley. “That’s been brought on by social media. Consumers are far less open to hearing broadcast messages that aren’t tailored to them or speaking to them directly.”
“We’re now living in the experience era,” adds John Simpson, CEO, One North. “It isn’t just about the most creative idea. You need to create experiences for the audience, and not just produce the best commercial or website.”
Simpson cited Comcast as an example. No one complains about their product or their marketing—but they do complain about their service, i.e., their experience, with the brand.
After several years of companies shying away from live events, brands are again embracing the power of face-to-face contact, notes Craig Erlich, CEO, of branding experience agency Pulse220, which was recently acquired by event marketing firm George P. Johnson.
“There’s nothing like sitting on a bar stool next to somebody and sharing best practices,” he says.
ABCI, which has many clients in the aviation industry, has seen a shift toward online marketing. In aviation, the majority of marketing was traditionally trade shows and marketing. “We’re recommending that clients look at doing a mix,” says Paula Williams, president, ABCI.