I have worked with hundreds of marketers and 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 planning 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 sense of the relationship quandary.
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 multiple vendors will have multiple personalities, different work styles, unique communication preferences and the marketer will have to work with a multitude of people responsible for different parts of the campaign. Each of these service providers will naturally be part of an interdependency of services responsible for the marketer’s success. With a single partner, you have continuity and consistency across everything you do. That makes the marketer’s life so much easier and gives the agency full control and accountability over all the essential building blocks to grow the business. 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 one core partner, a marketer can focus much more time and energy on the important tasks of selling in, building consensus, innovating and growing his or her career. When your agency partner can complete your sentences, you only have to invest half or less as much time. When you have three, four, five or more vendors, your time commitment (and stress level) is exponential. When a marketer’s time is the most valuable currency why divide it among so many needy partners?
Omnistrategy drives omnichannel. One of today’s most popular buzzwords in marketing is omnichannel. It’s a bit of a chuckle because we created our own Frankenstein. In our zeal to leave no customer untouched, we 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 the increasingly elusive consumer. The result is that it is infinitely harder to manage and optimize across all these channels. Marketers are seeking a way to reign it all in hence the omnichannel idea was coined. 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 fully understands the value of all parts of the marketing plan working together in unison 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 service vendor channels will never be.
Accountability is clear. How many specialty service providers 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 or in earnest when a campaign isn’t performing. Add to that the complexity of today’s marketing with 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 and 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 the problem is much more focused and efficient.
Common sense. To me, it comes down to commonsense although I know there are many colleagues who will argue otherwise. I acknowledge there are good reasons to have additional partners such as technology expertise, research expertise, access and more but don’t think I am contradicting myself. What makes no sense to me is lunging for the newest or shiniest service provider without regard to omnichannel strategy or overall effectiveness. I just don’t think that the individual parts are somehow greater than the whole, not to mention that each vendor adds incremental stress and strain to an already stressful job. Maybe that’s why senior marketing leaders have such a short average tenure. 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 driving 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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