The proliferation of new marketing channels, such as social media, mobile and multiscreen engagement, is creating new opportunities as well as challenges for marketers working with agency partners.
Gone are the days when marketers used one agency to handle everything from creating a TV commercial to buying space in a trade magazine for a print ad.
Now, marketers are involved in a variety of different relationships with agencies—on the one hand, having one traditional agency to handle major integrated campaigns or, on the other, working with specialized shops for social media, website design, strategy and analytics.
Working with many agency partners requires marketers to define what each is responsible for and coordinate their efforts, as well as bringing agencies on as true business partners.
“We see agency partners playing a strategic role with our teams, not just executing,” said Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-CMO at Motorola Solutions and chairman of the Business Marketing Association. “The agencies that add the most value are the ones that sit at the table with us and help us define our strategies, and then help us implement them.”
Conrado said that over the last few years, Motorola has reduced the number of agencies it uses to give its preferred agencies a “line-of-sight” into the company's strategies.
Motorola Solutions—which serves business and government customers—has one lead agency for traditional marketing and specialized agencies for branding, PR and digital. The PR agency works closely with Motorola Solutions on social media, and the traditional agency works with the digital agency on interactive elements.
Conrado said the evolution toward more strategic agency relationships has been driven in large part by the technology Motorola Solutions is now using in marketing as well as the need to coordinate a higher level of functioning with its agency partners.
“We now have marketing IT experts—a role that did not exist in the marketing organization three to five years ago,” Conrado said.
Motorola Solutions has a dedicated team of more than a dozen marketing IT experts who work with marketing automation systems and other technologies to automate, deliver and monitor campaigns.
“You will see that more and more. In order for marketers to be successful, it will involve a heavy element of IT systems that allow for delivery. In order to be able to get there, the marketing team needs to have expertise, and the same thing with the agencies,” Conrado said. “Agencies that were creative only in the past now have to touch all components—strategy, execution, how do they work with systems, and how do processes evolve between the agency and the client. The agency will need to have more technical marketers.”
Sharon Crost, integrated marketing manager at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), said her company works with two lead agencies and several specialized shops for “cloud” services, which are retained on a project basis.
“If we need help with a specialized online brochure, we might contract an agency on a one-off basis, more of an a la carte service,” Crost said. “For the longer-term, strategic-alliance agencies, we have agencies that really know our business, understand our strategy and are able to provide us with information we need for our integrated strategy.”
HDS has a strategic relationship with a PR agency, which also handles the company's social media, in addition to an analytics agency, which develops metrics and dashboards to monitor HDS' marketing campaigns.
“Twice a year, we do a really deep dive into our social conversations, looking at who are the influencers, what are they talking about and what are the key topics,” Crost said. “We need to work with agencies that really know the storage industry, understand the key influencers and know the main topics being discussed,” Crost said.
HDS holds teleconference meetings with its lead agency partners to discuss strategy and implementation, and communicates essential information to its cloud agency partners. “The things the cloud agencies create have to fit into the bigger picture, so they have to understand the bigger picture,” Crost said.
One of the most important things in working with agencies, she said, is having a good relationship with a partner who is responsive to her needs.
“It's all about the relationship,” she said. “If we have a really good account director, it's great. That person will be completely on top of what needs to happen within their agency and also on top of what we need to do as a client to provide information to them on a timely basis.”
She said another important element is being able to negotiate timetables for content delivery between the client and agency.
“They give us trade-offs,” she said. “For example, they might say, "Here is alternative one and what it would mean. Here is alternative two and what it would mean. When they give us alternatives, we can make decisions as a client. They give us layers of feedback and layers of decisions, and that is what makes a great agency for us.”
Kathy Button Bell, who has served as CMO at Emerson Electric Co. for 13 years, works with a lead agency for traditional advertising, a lead agency for digital and a lead PR agency that also handles social media.
“One of the biggest challenges since I've been in my job is dealing with all the agencies. They all contribute things that are different, and they are all good at different things,” Button Bell said.
“Our traditional agency is extraordinary at creating high-quality content. They make things extremely beautiful and polished, and they are really good at strategy. Our PR agency is great at writing, content creation and communicating from a verbal aspect, and our digital agency is extraordinary in their ability to use the medium well and do things differently on the Web, as well as attract people to look at our videos.”
Several times a year, Emerson's three lead agencies meet at the company's St. Louis headquarters for strategy meetings and dinners together, and the agencies often meet without Emerson to collaborate.
“They all get along and they are really a team. They act like one large agency,” Button Bell said. “I have a very lean corporate marketing department. That is the corporate marketing department—all those agencies. It's a double benefit. I am able to keep a small corporate marketing department because they can all work together so well.”
Neal Campbell, CMO at CDW Corp., also said having an agency that understands the company's business and strategy is essential.
“First and foremost, having a real working knowledge of us as a company and the products we bring to market” he said, of his top criteria in agency relationships. “They have to understand the customer intersection and interactions to efficiently market to our customers.”
CDW has a lead agency based in Chicago, near its Vernon Hills, Ill., headquarters.
“We have [agency] people on site with us a few days a week; they live with us,” Campbell said. “They have a great understanding of us as a company. They listen, and often have differing opinions. We find a good middle ground to stand on and take their considerations into account.”
Campbell pointed to a recent ad campaign featuring basketball legend Charles Barkley that was introduced in March during NCAA championship games.
“The Barkley campaign was developed very collaboratively and very quickly,” Campbell said.
CDW also works with smaller, specialized shops for email campaigns, white papers, market segmentation and vertical-specific efforts, such as those aimed at the healthcare sector.
“We have good coordination between our large agency and the smaller ones,” Campbell said. “We set the tone with respect to the campaign with our large agency, then leverage the work with smaller agencies around the campaign.”