Why marketers have the toughest job in business today - and how agencies aren’t helping

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Transformational pressures have broadened the senior marketer’s role further than ever.

Following the recent commentary from senior marketers at Unilever and P&G, along with the continued slide of the WPP share price, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on why senior marketers have the toughest job in businesses today, and what agencies need to do to better partner them.

Across all sectors, businesses are having to transform the experiences they provide customers in order to save themselves from being disrupted by competitors. The transformational forces of technology and digital media have fundamentally changed the role of senior marketers, making them the agent for change in today’s businesses.

In years gone by, there were debates about whether the chief marketing officer (CMO) should be involved in sales as well as marketing. We now know that they absolutely must be. But transformational pressures have broadened the senior marketer’s role even further; today’s CMO is shrouded in data, is concerned with every touch point that a consumer has, is involved in the overall consumer experience, and they’re now involved in product too.

This wider and diverse set of challenges for marketers means consultancies have become more natural partners for them. Consultancies have leveraged these partnerships by diversifying their offering, taking market share in creative, with in-roads on media becoming inevitable.

At best, agencies failed to react to this quickly enough; at worst they didn’t see it coming. Either way, agencies have failed to be recognised as the partner senior marketers need. Agencies have remained anchored in the doing, rather than developing the talent and offering to be valued for their thinking.

Supply chain complexity for clients

The growth of digital media has left clients handling an increasingly complex supply chain. Not so long ago we had full service agencies. Imagine being a client then – account management and conversations would be leaner. The agency would feel like a natural extension of your team, with a deep and integrated knowledge of your brand.

We then decoupled creative and media agencies. There were some delivery and business reasons for doing this, however it resulted in a fragmentation of dialogue for clients and caused debates, such as whether creative should define media selection or whether media selection should define creative. We created two forces that didn’t always pull in the same direction for a brand.

Now, due to digital, we have a vastly complex suite of partners for brands. These partners span areas such as creative, media, data and technology. Clients today spend their time coordinating and integrating agencies rather than obsessing about brand strategy and growth. This is why Marc Pritchard recently called for an end to the ‘archaic Mad Men model’, and for client-side marketers to return to being ‘brand entrepreneurs, not project managers’.

I feel we now have an unsustainable fragmentation of agencies. Agencies need to be bold and diversify their offering, joining up more of the dots. This should start by reuniting creative and media.

Data and the GDPR speedbump

Clients are charged with creating data driven organisations and GDPR is a possible opposing force to this movement. Clients now face a challenge to collect and use valuable data.

I’m stunned that we, agencies and clients, have spent most of our energy discussing GDPR compliance for over a year now. We are three months away from GDPR enactment, and we’ve failed to move the debate on towards how we help clients persuade their customers to give them full, unambiguous consent. We need to reframe the discussion.

The strategy needs to be defined in three ways, not one of compliance. We need to help clients develop a customer experience that provides the kind of value likely to develop an opt-in relationship. We then need to protect the data through compliance, and finally we need a strategy to develop the relationship and retain permission.

People-based marketing

One of the more recent, but most fundamental changes, is the move towards people-based marketing. Put simply, this means buying ads to target a specific person rather than buying ads as a proxy for a large audience, some of whom are not relevant to the advertiser. Very few agencies have reacted swiftly to this fundamental shift in marketing and client needs. Evidence of this critical change can be seen through the growth of agencies that specialise in this, such as Merkle, versus the declining share price and restructuring we are witnessing at WPP.

Clients need a new type of agency. Partners that afford them expertise in data strategy, audience modeling and measurement; helping them with the technical plumbing, not simply the activation of campaigns.

Agencies are still giving clients the wrong deals

Digital has caused marketers a number of challenges and done so at a time of great uncertainty for businesses. It’s now a decade since we woke up with the monster of all hangovers – the credit crunch. Thanks to quantitative easing we cured this hangover with another few drinks, averting a depression in the process.

Today we face a level of economic uncertainty not seen since the credit crunch. From Brexit, to the threat of trade wars, to geopolitical unrest – the warning lights on the dashboard are flashing. Amid this uncertainty businesses bravely continue to invest in their brands, and they need agency engagements that share the risk. Engagements that indoctrinate the right behaviours, the ‘if we win you win’ type deals that Unilever have focussed on crafting. This means outcome-based engagements on projects and transparent performance-based deals on campaigns.

In summary

Digital media and technology have created transformational pressures on brands, adding complexity to the marketing supply chain in the process. It’s time for agencies to offer a more integrated service, simplifying the landscape for client-side marketers, becoming more effective as a result, and doing so within engagements where the risk is shared. Those that fail to step up will face disruption of their own.

Sam Garrity is managing director at RocketMill

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs