17.01.19 / Jo Porritt
Evolution of the Agency Model – It’s still about the relationships!
Over the past twenty years I have had the pleasure of working both client and agency side.
My career in marketing started back when digital was referred to as “e-business” and websites were squeezed into “above-the-fold” print methodologies.
During my time client side, I managed multiple agency supplier relationships. I remember getting disillusioned when I discovered our agency print mark-up was around 45%. This and other below the radar billing tactics undermined the relationship and the trust was gone.
When I then made the switch to agency as an Account Director managing multiple clients and internal teams, I was frustrated again with the lack of transparency; but this time it was from within the agency.
As an Account Director it was my job to “guard” my client with my life and not allow them access to the people in-house that were working on the briefs. It was a very long winded chain of communications, often resulting in a case of chinese whispers, which of course meant longer lead times and many layers of costs, which would of course be marked up and passed to the clients.
In my mind, these processes were often too slow with too much room for miscommunication and ultimately not delivering on brief or on budget.
“Consumers today want brands to connect with them where they choose to engage. You need to ensure your client’s marketing strategy is a living, breathing thing.”
These were the driving factors for me to found Crowd as a new breed of agency, that flattened the internal team hierarchy, gave clients the truth (yes, that included third party mark-up percentages) and delivered nimble, measurable solutions across multiple channel strategies.
The advent of social media had dawned and the power was shifting from brands to consumers. User generated content got marketing and PR professionals hot under the collar and up in arms about losing control of the message.
The agency professionals that I spoke to at the time were horrified at the prospect of social media.
Many told me their clients would never use these platforms; they were far too important and Facebook was for kids, right? And more than that, how on earth could an agency monetise any activity on these platforms that were free and accessible to the client?
What I grasped and my competitors didn’t at that time is that it was never about social media. It was about the changes this forced on the agency/client relationship.
Ten years on and where do I think the agency model is in 2019? Generally, I think we have to be faster, better, always-on and never complacent. But specifically what I have learnt since founding Crowd:
- Every member of agency staff needs to understand multiple disciplines. Everyone needs to be a thinker and a doer! You can’t hide the developer or the videographer behind an Account Director anymore. As client in-house teams grow in confidence and digital natives move into key management positions, they need to know you not only get where they’re at but that you can provide added value.
- The agency/client relationship has evolved from uninformed client/engimatic account director to savvy client/collaborative agency team. Because today your account director may have twenty years experience, but the digital exec understands how the client’s customers need to be marketed to.
- The agency team of today needs to not only understand the client but has to get under their skin and be able to communicate their human story. Today’s audiences want and expect authentic brand stories from everywhere they experience your brand. They want to know how your brand makes them feel and who else is talking about it.
- To attract and keep good staff the best agency model not only adopts a flattened hierarchy, but rewards the key team players with ownership in the business. Retaining clients today is more challenging than its ever been, so if your team works, ensure bottom line stability by making them feel a sense of belonging and accountability, which is ultimately reflected in your ability to provide consistently high end customer service and added value.
- When was the last time you recall buying a product because of press or TV advertising? Your clients want you to be able to justify ad spend, but also keep them informed of every latest technology update. So whilst that CIM certificate you got fifteen years ago still has relevance, gone are the days when you and your teams stopped learning when university ended. Innovation demands a constant cycle of learn – apply – measure – repeat and thats on top of the day job.
- Algorithms, data and more data. Did we ever have to think about Google’s latest algorithm update or Facebook’s latest move to invest in messenger marketing twenty years ago? Today, we need our teams to not only stay ahead of these micro changes, but be able to come up with ongoing storytelling strategies that bypass the latest punishing algorithm updates and still succeed.
In short, consumers today want brands to connect with them where they choose to engage. You need to ensure your client’s marketing strategy is a living, breathing thing. It needs to evolve; sometimes as frequently as daily.
We need to be brave and tell our clients from the get go the type of relationship we want to create with them, because ultimately, the best success stories in marketing today are borne from genuinely authentic agency/client collaborations that have the ability to evolve quickly whilst protecting that sacred union.
There simply isn’t time to be any other way.
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