Twenty years ago the conversation about the agency/marketer relationship would have been about the relationship. Nowadays, it seems to be about — and defined by — media. Media cracks the whip. Media is the tail wagging the culture, culture however you define it, including corporate. If you can explain a comprehensive marketing plan to me in the context of creative and strategy, you can damned well explain string theory to me, and I’ll understand that, too.
Sure, some things don't change. Things like battling egos, communication, the importance of collaboration, oversight, and consistency of marketing strategy and brand equity and how well the agency "gets" the client, and whether the client trusts the agency enough to let it do what it does best. And when both parties should just get a divorce.
But those perennial issues are today exacerbated and sped up because of the nature of media. Change isn’t just happening in technology and channel proliferation, it’s happening in the organization. Just look at agency and marketing CMO tenures, especially for CMOs. Don't deliver on ROI, and you're gone quicker than an underperforming football coach at a Big Ten school. Consider that back in the day — which, at the rate things are changing, is probably three weeks ago — an agency relationship lasted for seven years or more, on average. Now, I don't have exact data, but word is, it's about three years.
What's the tenure for a marketer now? It’s actually up, from 19 to 26 months. Well, shiver me timbers, that's one hell of a way to build agency/client collaboration and trust. Nothing like agency and marketer churn to develop brand purpose, brand equity, or brand anything.
And pity the replacement: the learning curve for someone filling the boots of the CMO who has “just left the building” is steeper and shorter, and the pressure to show proof of strategy, like, right now, is always on, thanks to the never-off data firehose. Instant buzz means a trigger-finger mentality for marketers. You have to react fast to both good and bad buzz. Consider Chevrolet's Colorado campaign, using "Technology and Stuff," which came from this. Talk about fast turnaround of the lemons-to- lemonade variety.
I had lunch with a former Toyota marketer this week. He made the point that, in addition to the above, marketer replacements are often coming not from the marketing side, but from the sales side or elsewhere. That makes the curve pretty much vertical. You have to be the Alex Honnold of marketing to succeed off the blocks today, thanks to the ever-fragmenting and protean media world. And, he notes, when you shift gears to a new agency and marketer, you're really downshifting for six months. Talk about a long model changeover.
What do marketers and agencies think about all this? A survey of 140 agencies and marketers in the U.S. done by Honda’s AOR and USA Today, found that clients and agencies pretty much agreed that successful advertising requires long-lasting relationship, collaboration start to finish, and clients who trust their agencies. The agencies who said they did their best work with a client also said they understand how to drive sales. And they don't have a problem speaking their minds with clients. But reaching that point in a marriage takes patience, compromise, dinner dates, and some introspection. Screw that, who has time?