I have worked with hundreds of marketers and have seen the spectrum of relationships they have with their agencies. I’ve hired and managed agencies to accomplish brand and business goals. I’ve talked with marketers about the pros and cons of full-service agencies verse specialized services. And read many articles over the years about the same. There are compelling reasons for both especially in today’s technology revolution and media proliferation. Every time the discussion comes up it always ends with a common sense truth. A single agency partner who is responsible and accountable for strategy, creative and media outperforms any configuration of specialty vendors and makes the working relationship a much better experience for both. My experience, on both sides of this subject and in both the client and agency role, has affirmed my conclusion about the relationship quandary. It's just common sense.
Time is the currency
A marketer’s time is always strained and often spent in the weeds rather than on leadership or innovation. It only makes sense that having multiple vendors will come with multiple personalities, different work and communication styles, different time zones, and the marketer will have to orchestrate all those different people who are responsible for their part of the marketing campaign. Each provider will be part of an interdependency of services as well as the marketer’s success. Any single link in the chain can have a significant effect on the overall outcome.
With a single partner, you have continuity and consistency across everything. That makes the marketer’s life so much easier and gives the agency full control and accountability over all the essential building blocks of the campaign. More importantly, it enables a relationship to develop between the two partners so that the agency can anticipate needs, be empathetic and proactive, and the marketer can gain a higher level of trust in his or her partner. With a single partner, a marketer can focus much more time and energy on the important tasks of leadership, building consensus, innovating and ultimately growing his or her career. When your agency gets to the point in the relationship where they can complete your sentences, the time required to manage them is much less. If you have three, four, five or more vendors, your time requirement (and stress level) is exponential. Considering that a marketer’s time is their most valuable currency, why divide it among so many needy partners?
Omnistrategy drives omnichannel
One of the popular buzzwords in marketing is omnichannel. It’s a bit of a chuckle because we create our own Frankenstein. In our zeal to leave no customer untouched, we've established so many more media channels and even more ways to engage and motivate. In the process, we caused a fractured and inconsistent labyrinth of touch points intended to catch up with the increasingly elusive consumer. The result has made it harder to manage and optimize across all these channels. Marketers seeking to reign it all work toward an omnichannel strategy. It certainly isn’t a new idea but has gotten heighten attention lately because of the desire to properly manage all the diverse activities in a campaign. Today the industry understands the value of all parts of the marketing plan working together so that every touch with the customer is additive and complementary. If a marketer is employing multiple vendors for each of their specialties they are in fact adding greater complexity to an already complex system. Achieving an omnichannel presence becomes even harder. If the strategy, creative and planning agency isn’t “omni”, the separate channels will never be.
Accountability is clear
How many specialty agencies does it take to screw in a light bulb? That is the marketer’s choice. What I know is that when you get all those specialty service providers in a room the finger pointing begins. I know because my agencies have pointed fingers too. It becomes that classic tune, and we all know the lyrics. No one is downloading the app because the search terms are wrong. The message doesn’t drive traffic to the website. The strategy doesn’t address the right consumers. The data is flawed. And it continues verse after verse. No vendor is going to admit his or her mistake willingly when a campaign isn’t performing. Add to that the complexity of today’s marketing tactics and the variety of left brain and right brain vendors and it becomes increasingly harder to see where the weak link is let alone understand any underlying problems. Egos play a big role as well as insecurities. When a single partner controls the entire process accountability is clear, and they are fiercely motivated to solve any issues at any stage to improve, redeploy and optimize without ego. Their success is solely dependent on the marketer’s success, and there is nowhere to hide. The marketer has a level of visibility not achievable when multiple vendors are involved. And, the time and effort to diagnose and solve any single problem is much more focused and efficient.
To me, it comes down to common sense although I know there are many colleagues who will argue otherwise. I acknowledge there are good reasons to have additional partners such as technical expertise, research expertise, channel access and more but don’t think I am contradicting myself. What makes no sense is lunging for the newest or shiniest service provider without regard to the omnichannel strategy or the unintended consequences of multiple partners. I just don’t think that the individual parts are somehow greater than the whole, not to mention the incremental stress and strain to an already stressful job. Maybe that’s why senior marketing leaders have such a short tenure these days. Regardless of your point of view, investing in, building and optimizing one relationship is easier. Growing that relationship will ensure that success will constantly improve.
I think we can all agree that achieving marketing results will continue to get harder. Common sense tells me that throwing more bodies into the battlefield results in more cost, more uncertainty, and ultimately more casualties. Don’t be a casualty. Find one great agency partner and grow.
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