Trust has eroded between many large agencies and their clients to the point where it will have lasting ramifications for everyone in the marketing ecosystem. But real change won’t happen until client leaders stand firm – proving the checkbook is ultimately mightier than the pen and the sword.
And while we’re beginning to see CMOs change the legalese governing their spends or, in some cases, swop out partners completely, there’s much more to the story. Yes, shady behavior does come down to dollars and cents – and every penny counts towards the bottom line. But also agencies have to start thinking about billing their hours toward more effective marketing strategies. If we’re all to move forward as an industry, we have to understand the larger implications at play concerning the issue of transparency between clients and their agencies.
Let’s look at the legacy planning process of media agencies. Too often it’s fixated on marketing outcomes versus business outcomes. Agencies sometime make the mistake of focusing on impressions and scale first, which distorts the entire planning process and allows the distraction of conflicts to enter the picture. To counteract this, agencies have to apply more rigor around solutions that directly impact the health of their clients’ businesses.
What’s the best way to map everything to a client’s business outcome? Let’s stop talking about reach and frequency and start discussing audiences: engaging the specific groups of customers with the right message at the individual level at the right moment to solicit the response or action we want.
When we focus more exclusively on media outcomes, it also hinders channel agnosticism. We know today that the people we want to reach are everywhere with their digital habits. But how do we reach them – on their terms? Agencies need to offer customized plans where they are optimizing across all channels and different audiences on a continuous basis. Solutions developed based any other way won’t work in modern marketing. It’s also a crutch when we as marketers say, “It’s not digital, therefore it can’t be done.” With all of the rich data that is available, it’s our job as agents working on behalf of clients to uncover marketing insights and apply them to all channels—while discovering new audiences and ways of connecting with them.
At the core of the challenges of the current client/agency relationship are progressive, tech-enabled media planning and buying practices. Programmatic abilities via trading desks have proven to cause as manyproblems as they do benefits. However, a well-designed technology stack is still vital to the success of any marketing program. We must not allow the problems these single-media technologies have caused to deter brands from empowering technologies to help them organize, power and measure how they connect with consumers and drive their businesses forward.
Finally, we can’t ignore the larger idea of trust. Agencies and brands exist in a symbiotic environment—we both need each other. Because we live in extremely complicated times and digital marketing has become so arcane and complex, brands will continue to need agencies to act as brain trusts for them, as marketing transforms to put people at the center of the equation, and new ways of engaging with people burst onto the scene. Far beyond their media plans, marketers are going to need their agencies to win in the future. To strengthen their businesses, clients need to forge strong, mutually beneficial relationships with the agencies on their roster—while agencies must focus on the most effective marketing strategies that demonstrate an enhanced bottom line.