Agency searches are becoming more specialized in order to keep up with new media and advancements in technology; but at the same time, marketers want agency partners that can work together on integrated teams and support marketing departments.
“With the acceleration of trends we're seeing, as digital and new media come more heavily into play, marketers need to have the right resources to keep up with the speed of what's going on,” said David Beals, president-CEO of agency-client relationship consultancy R3:JLB. “With advancements in digital, mobile and social, there is continued anxiety around that, and that is a key point of discussion [in agency searches].”
Social media services, for example, are being provided by a variety of agencies, and marketers are pursuing different models to handle this need.
“It is all over the map,” Beals said. “Some [marketers] are employing social agencies, and others have delineated certain outbound social activities. Facebook may be with one agency, and monitoring the flow of communications might be handled by the PR agency.”
While marketers often seek specialized partners, they also want agencies that can work effectively on integrated teams, Beals said.
“The integration of agency teams and resources is still a holy grail,” he said. “Whether they have a one-stop-shop agency or a lead agency with multiple partners, marketers are driving for greater integration, both strategically and tactically.”
To help foster this integration, IBM Corp. last year launched the M&C (marketing and communications) Lab in New York, with a team of approximately 130 people from the company's marketing and IT organizations and its lead agency partners, including Ogilvy & Mather, Havas Media Group and VSA Partners.
“M&C Lab is the intersection point for how we engage with our agency partners and partners in our own IT organization to deliver marketing outcomes,” said Ben Edwards, VP-global communications and digital marketing at IBM.
“We are driving toward a much more integrated model. We literally all sit around the same table.”
IBM plans to introduce a global network of M&C Labs over time to create innovative solutions and engaging experiences for customers, based on collaboration and data-driven technologies.
Marketers that have recently conducted agency searches said they are looking for more specialized services in social media, SEO and content marketing, as well as partners that can provide strategy and support for internal marketing departments.
Higher Logic, a collaboration software and social CRM company, recently searched for an agency of record to serve as an outsourced marketing department. “We only had a staff of three in our marketing department, and marketing was not getting the attention in the company it needed,” said Rob Wenger, CEO of Higher Logic.
Wenger had been overseeing marketing and last month hired Hunter Montgomery, formerly VP-marketing at Vocus Inc., as CMO. “We now have four on the marketing team, but we needed help in other areas, including content writing, SEO and events,” Wenger said.
Higher Logic did not conduct a formal search. Instead, it networked with industry peers to get recommendations for agencies that were familiar with the collaboration software space and conducted phone interviews before inviting agencies to pitch.
“We were looking for a boutique firm,” Wenger said, adding that location was not important but that a cultural fit was.
Higher Logic selected Altitude Marketing, Emmaus, Pa., making it responsible for integrated marketing, PR and events.
“We had used them before for projects such as videos, and they did great work for us. We get along really well culturally. We have similar outlooks on business, and we are not just one of thousands of clients,” Wenger said.
ProQSys, a network security software provider, this summer conducted a search for a PR agency of record that could also handle digital communications and social media.
“We had been using a freelance independent agent associated with a marketing firm we did business with, and we did some things on our own,” said Larry Nuttall, head of business development at ProQSys, which develops FlowTraq network security software.
“We had a PR account with PR Newswire, but we weren't doing a great job at that.
“We were distracted by a lot of things involving running the company. So we started looking for a professional agency that could take us to the level we wanted to be at in the industry.”
ProQSys used peer referrals, LinkedIn searches and industry networking to identify four agencies that participated in the review.
“When we first started doing the review process, we were interested in looking at the agency's capabilities and whether we would be compatible,” Nuttall said. “Another thing that was really important is finding someone who knows the industry really well. Sometimes marketing people are too general about a product or its use. We were looking for a partner where we didn't have to explain the technology and how to use it.”
ProQSys selected Lewis PR, Washington, D.C. Lewis PR will be responsible for media relations, social media and SEO. Rain Advertising and Interactive, Portsmouth, N.H., will continue to serve as lead creative and interactive marketing agency for ProQSys.
“We have had several meetings together, and the agencies have worked together on projects such as improving our website, navigation, keyword optimization and blog posts,” Nuttall said, pointing to the need for agency collaboration.