That's not to say that agencies are always in the right and never bump up bills or are guided by media deals and their potential rebates. Those are still issues to contend with. However, there is also the other side where brands can work more closely with their agencies to ensure the relationship runs more smoothly.
One of the main things that came out in my discussions -- particularly with a representative from a bank and an insurance company -- is that if brands keep agencies in the dark, at arm's length, they cannot expect a healthy relationship. One of the guiding principles is being open, honest and embracing a joint team effort in which data is shared.
The marketing director at a high street bank shared his thoughts with me as to why it has generally only worked with the same two or three agencies for the past decade or more. Far too many CMOs, in his opinion, do not share strategy and data with an agency, potentially setting them up to fail. This is, of course, pretty fortuitous because it means the agency can be blamed for any campaigns that fail to deliver. The bank's answer is to treat the agency as a long-term partner that constitutes an everyday extension of the bank's internal team.
As a coincidence, it was a theme picked up Unilever's CMO, Keith Weed while opening the recent Festival Of Marketing in London. He joked that the only non transparent trick he embraces is never putting digital in the job title of any member of his team because it makes them harder to headhunt. Other than that joke, he repeated the words of the financial services marketers I had been talking with. Work closely with the agency, share strategy and data. Most importantly, make sure you get to to work with the sharpest people that the agency has to offer. Don't just trust the name on the door -- it's all about bagging the partner's best people.
The other aspect of transparency is an interesting point that involves marketers seeing the need to be more open about what agencies do for the business within their own organisation. Many organisations are often unclear about the input of marketing to the bottom line, let alone the positive impact that agencies can contribute. If successful campaigns are owned by the marketing team and failure blamed on an agency, it doesn't foster a helpful environment. A kinder, more informed internal dialogue is the way forward.
So my conference chats have convinced me that senior marketers truly believe that transparency is a two-way street they must play an active role in -- or the endless cycle of not fully embracing agencies, which are then changed annually, will just carry on. That has to be a cycle that's worth ending, doesn't it?