Some say the big quit — a wave of job change during and after the pandemic — came about because employees rethought what matters in life. Latent frustrations have surfaced and we realize that life is too short to be lukewarm.
This, it has been suggested, has extended to the agency-client relationship, where commentators believe there is dissatisfaction and disillusionment among agency staff. Why? Because the agencies are no longer at the top. They have been relegated to factotums when to be truly effective they should be the company’s strategic partner (not even just the CMOs), helping set the direction of the company from their unique understanding of the levers to pull, channels on which to pull them and, of course, the customer.
“People confuse marketing with communication. Most agencies never ask the client, “Why are we doing this?” says Claire Humphris, CEO of Iris London.
Understanding what marketing, and therefore agencies, bring to the table remains uncertain. It helps to have a CMO who champions the cause and can show the company the value of the agency, and then a CEO who leads the organization to embrace it. It is not easy. Recent research suggests that while 86% of CEOs said CMOs have the power and credibility to influence their decisions, only 34% said they trust their CMOs. An additional 38% said their CMOs lacked the skills needed for the changing marketing environment.
But CMOs can’t be both jacks-of-all-trades and experts in every one of them. Which means that the drive to be truly client-centric depends on more agency involvement, not less. Customer centricity is one of three key trends defining today’s market, along with digital transformation, including how it is reshaping customer interactions, and the service-driven economy.
Laurence Parkes is CEO of Rufus Leonard. He explains why now is the time for marketing and its agencies to break free from their shackles: “Services, digital and the rise of the customer-centric mindset have allowed marketing to become a complete concept: understanding the customer and creating value for them through created experiences is the only true definition of marketing and it is what has allowed good CMOs and their agencies to expand their mandate.
Even industries focused on physical products, such as manufacturing and electronics, have shifted to offering services to add value and differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. To leverage all of these disciplines, CMOs need partners. André Dimitriou, EMEA CEO of VMLY&R, insists: “A good agency is involved in all aspects of a client’s business, sitting on product innovation boards. There, day after day.
This is especially important today because, as Humphris adds, client issues sit outside the silos, and therefore the agency must sit outside of them as well. This can be culturally difficult for client organizations to accept. It is the job of leadership to open doors for agencies and encourage people to work together to solve problems. But the support must be firm. “The primary responder needs to establish this from the start,” warns Humphris.
Some client organizations already see the value of an agency by taking a holistic view of their business. The trend towards agile and responsive marketing means companies need to react quickly to changing customer expectations – never more so than during the pandemic.
Even today, post-pandemic, the landscape is changing rapidly. Customers lack the internal capacity to engage with all the latest trends – the metaverse, for example – to assess their value and plan how to integrate them. But without it, they risk being left behind. “Our job is to understand this world [the metaverse]what’s new from the consumer’s point of view and integrating it into the business, and how that creates value,” says Dimitriou.
Agencies could spur innovation and experimentation without significant retooling by an established company. Could the idea that agencies are simply the “creative” arm prevent organizations from adopting them? If so, they are absent. “Creativity is about finding solutions that help a company interact with its potential customer in a simpler, more fluid and differentiated way. If more people saw themselves as creative, it would be liberating,” admits Humphris.
Even so, with the wide variety of skills and disciplines involved in building a client-centric business, it’s unlikely that a single agency can become a one-stop-shop for a client. This is where excellent networking capabilities come into play.
Parkes says, “It’s hard to have a large capacity in a 65-person agency. It is a challenge for agencies to manage this magnitude. We take the ecosystem approach – it’s a great solution to the problem.
Of course, when agencies and internal departments all start breaking out of their silos, there is enormous potential for chaos. Keeping agencies in boxes and restricting their influence to direct reports was an easier – if limiting – relationship to manage. Working with agencies across the organization presents new challenges for the business: Whose responsibility is this alliance?
“Some customers are already there with marketing operations, reveals Dimitriou. Marketing Operations, or MOps, while seemingly still siled in the marketing department, is a solution to help functions – technical, intellectual and otherwise – engage across the organization in a coordinated and effective manner. Marketing software company Hubspot has an interesting analogy for defining MOps. In the school of rock movie, in which a ragtag group of students and a renegade teacher form a band, actor Jack Black approaches the class president and says, “Summer, you take care of everything.”
It’s not just that agencies deserve a place at the top table, although they certainly do. It’s about realizing that while an organization is committed to breaking down its internal silos to become truly customer-centric, it must also break down its external silos and open up to the potential that agencies have to offer – to all levels.