What Agency Model Do You Need?

As marketing gets more challenging and talent churn accelerates, agency selection takes on more urgency. The conventional approach -- picking agencies for the moment in reaction to leadership or market changes -- can put a company’s institutional knowledge and marketing rhythm at risk. Instead, marketers need an agency model that supports long-term, strategic planning and execution.

For most, that means either a full-service, single-source agency or an integrated agency team (IATs) of assembled specialist agencies. Both deliver results in the right fit. But they’re very different models with benefits and challenges. What’s the right agency model for your business?  Ask yourself these key questions early and often.

How complex is our challenge, really? The complexity of the marketing problem determines the jobs to be done and the depth of agency resources to develop the work. Do you need a new brand foundation, fresh creative, a different media mix, or a new way to win the intensifying retail environment? Eager marketers often want to take it all on, when it’s more useful to focus on what’s essential. Too many objectives and tactics overstretch internal and agency teams.



What do we have the resources for? IAT models provide depth of expertise, but come with high non-working agency costs. They also require considerable internal management expertise and time, including coordinating agency selection, contracts, workflow, invoice payments, annual reviews and more. It takes a sizable, collaborative leadership team to handle  IAT management and provide the ongoing direction needed to align creative output.

What kind of culture do we have? Is your organization more collegial or competitive? Agencies deliver the best results when the model matches the culture. If you have centralized leadership oriented toward long-term partners that act as confidants across functions (e.g., marketing, sales, product innovation), lean toward a single-source agency. If you have competing leaders with different goals and budgets, then cohesion comes best from an IAT. One agency will be more broadly strategic, while a portfolio of specialists will support a volume of initiatives.

With CMOs on a short leash and organizational resources in shorter supply, many marketers are leaning more heavily on agencies for both brainpower (insight, creative, analytics) and horsepower (hands to get more done quickly). How much momentum the client-agency relationship can generate depends largely on how the model matches the organization’s realities, not just an individual brand's desires.

2 comments about "What Agency Model Do You Need?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 31, 2023 at 10:10 a.m.

    Good points, Dan.

    I would add that advertisers should also evaluate their own ability to fully use the skills and expertise of the "creative" and media agencies they hire---as this is what most national branding compnies do---they get acount handling/creative from one shop and media from another. And this is where the great disconnect occurs. The account handling/creative shop knows very little about media---in particular what types of new and potentially singificant alternatives are available and the media shop knows very litttle about how the brand's positioning strategies and creative were developed.

    In theory, the client's media exec and staff---if there is one---is supposed to bridge this gap---but this rarely happens and the main fuction of the media exec is to keep boring sales reps away from the brand people and CMO while acting as a watchdog over the media buys---especially the upfront negotiations. OK, maybe there are some exceptions to this ---but very few---but as a rule the advertiser media exec has little to say about what media mixes are employed by the brands. Yet there are things that the client and agency media people could do regarding refined mindset targeting as well as tracking ad attentiveness that would be  of great interest to brand management---if it was aware of them.

  2. Dan Eisenberg from Blue Chip, February 1, 2023 at 9:12 a.m.

    Thank you for your comments Ed.  We appreciate your engagement on this topic.  Managing multiple agencies, mindsets and workstreams is an important skill for client-side marketers.  Certainly an important consideration when evaluting agency models.

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