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Agencies Agency Culture

How agencies are evolving to better serve CMOs


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

April 18, 2024 | 14 min read

Leaders share their thoughts on how they are seeing the role of the CMO changing and how it’s impacting the way they operate and develop services for the future.

Agency evolution

The shape shifting agencies keeping up with the future CMO

Over the last 12 months, The Drum has written at length about what the role of the CMO will look like in the future. In recent weeks, we have even written about the CMO role disappearing in several big brands, including Starbucks, Uber, Etsy and Walgreens.

Predominantly, brand-side marketers and CMOs themselves have opined about the future of their role, but clearly, if the CMO role changes, the agencies that serve them will have to change, too.

We asked agencies their thoughts on the changing role of the CMO and how those changes are impacting how agencies are and will deliver services in the future.

CMOs are today’s business leaders

Richard Pinder, CEO, Rankin Creative: “When LVMH Group showed the world recently that a focus on marketing, brand and authenticity can have your chairman/CEO become the world’s richest person, then the world of ‘marketing’ has surely shown it is more than the ‘painting and decorating department’. The CMO is often the key player on the executive team, with good reason to have opinions on product, customer service, geographic focus and pricing as much as what ad to run. And more CMOs than ever are becoming CEOs as a result. Agencies need to talk to CMOs like they are the business leaders they are, rather than communications heads focusing on the pictures and the kerning. True cultural relevance comes from a brand assimilating itself into culture at all levels and touchpoints.”

Jess Dickenson, managing director, Precis Digital: “As their remit grows, the next generation of CMO is expected to be a multidisciplinary expert. Digital marketing agency conversations historically focused on campaign and creative performance, but now our discussions cover anything from martech suitability, data science, website performance and the adoption of AI. While it is positive to break down marketing silos, this broader focus risks overwhelming CMOs as there are too many plates to keep spinning. Agencies that will continue to prove their value are those who build out interdisciplinary teams that can provide both broad and specialist insight and remain agile in the support they provide the CMO and their entire Marketing department.”

Jonny Ray, managing director, Above+Beyond: “It’ll come as no surprise to anyone reading this that tech and AI are transforming the marketing landscape beyond recognition, leading to major shifts in the role of CMO. Along with guiding a business to success through creativity and innovation, market turmoil and economic uncertainty have ramped up the pressure on CMOs, who are now a critical strategic and growth leader within any organization. So, it makes sense that agency-client relationships need to reflect these new pressures – we need to shift from creative partner to business partner. Scalable teams that can pivot and innovate quickly, getting upstream by talking the language of business growth and using data and tech to continue to make the case for brand investment in the long term – these are the qualities of a modern creative partner. And when you put great creativity and ideas at the heart of all this, you become that secret sauce all clients need.”

Be a true partner to your CMOs

Ailsa Buckley, managing director, Havas Media UK: “Today’s pressures mean CMOs are expected to have the answers beyond marketing alone. The four Ps are no longer the core focus of the function and we’ve seen that coming through in the change of titles such as chief customer officer. We’re also seeing wider board members leaning into the work we do thanks to media and marketing becoming more connected to data and tech that impacts the wider business. As a result, CMOs are asking more of their agencies in terms of the services they offer, the consultation they provide and the expertise they have. In turn that means we have to rethink the role of agencies today, everything from how we upskill our workforce right through to the capabilities we possess and the services we provide. This is leading us into spaces you’d not ordinarily expect a traditional media agency such as B2B and content capabilities.”

Justine Allan, executive director, strategic business development, Pearlfisher New York: “Agencies today need to mirror the dual challenges CMOs face: establishing stability and trust while being agile and innovative. This balancing act is particularly pronounced in independent agencies, which often leverage their lean structures to quickly adapt to changes and drive innovation. CMOs rely on their agencies not only to execute but also to be strategic advisors and creative provocateurs, so agencies are doing away with rigid processes and hierarchical structures in favor of more streamlined operations. This helps agencies maintain a deeper understanding of their brand’s sector and the cultural landscape instead of merely working with the strategy or account teams. At Pearlfisher, our emphasis is on access and open dialogue with smart and talented individuals. To keep up with CMO demands, agencies need to create an environment that attracts, cultivates and retains top talent.”

Barney Worfolk-Smith, Chief Growth Officer, Daivid: “It’s tough being a CMO. More channels mean more complexity and a need to grasp innovation. Back at the ranch, they’ve had to evolve to be a potent part of the C-suite. It’s a lot to ask, and smart cookie CMOs we work with take a step back from the noise to focus on marketing fundamentals like effectiveness. For us at Daivid, that means we need to do two things in the main. Firstly, form much closer partnerships to help them meet their goals - rather than being just a supplier. Secondly, make sure that we’re always delivering data-proven uplifts in the work so they can justify their decisions.”

Lindsey McNabb, CMO, BBH USA: “I have great empathy for today’s CMOs; their role is more expansive than it was even five or 10 years ago. Brands are fighting for every single millisecond of attention across an unprecedented variety of channels that are shifting daily. It’s easy for brands to fall into the trap of being content creators – producing content for the sake of filling spaces. And at the same time, they’re doing all of this with smaller budgets and increased pressure to demonstrate value. Now more than ever, it is critical for CMOs to have true agency partners who can be in the thick of it together – making smart decisions about where brands show up, pivoting as needed, staying ahead of trends versus just riding them and ideating and building work that drives business.”

Tony Uphoff, president, Pipeline360: “The changing role of the CMO impacts us in two key ways. First, data governance and compliance are critical. CMOs need help to ensure their data is accurate, ethical and compliant with regulations like GDPR and CCPA. We’re adapting by offering advanced data validation tools and customized compliance frameworks, including a full-time legal and data privacy team as well as having our data governance processes ISO Certified. Second, the integration of brand awareness and lead generation requires a multifaceted approach. Our services ensure we address both, supporting CMOs with a Branded-Demand system that combines data-driven display with advanced content syndication that engages potential customers throughout their journey. By prioritizing these needs, we can empower CMOs to navigate the complexities of modern marketing and achieve sustainable growth.”

Agencies need to adapt quickly

Brett Bender, EVP/chief operating officer, RPA: “CMOs expect agencies to understand and support that data-rich landscape with their proposals and campaigns. Focusing on Customer Experience throughout the buyer journey helps pinpoint the pain points and allows consistent brand voice with journey-targeted messaging key points. At the same time, speed and agility are the currency by which all is measured. Agencies need to quickly adapt to the signals that are being seen in the data, along with the latest trends to ensure relevancy. Utilizing data automation and other AI services helps focus our time on collaboration and bigger-picture thinking, ultimately allowing us to be regarded as growth partners with clients. And thereby constantly focused on real business results, the sort that matter to a board of directors and a company’s bottom line.”

Jill Smith, global CMO, Iris: “CMOs are now at the helm of a vast and complex set of challenges that reflect the changing landscape of consumer engagement and digital innovation. Agencies must adapt to these shifts, understanding that the support they provide must evolve. It’s less about being a service provider and more about being a strategic partner that comprehensively grasps and addresses the multifaceted nature of the market. To meet these evolving needs, we’ve developed specialized business offerings like Iris Pricing and Iris Inc, which provide targeted expertise in areas such as pricing and social media. As CMO responsibilities broaden, the approach agencies take is becoming more integrated and nuanced, fostering collaborations that fuel growth and innovation. This evolution is not just about responding to change but about anticipating and shaping the future of marketing together.”

Agencies must think and act bigger

Corinne Lowry, chief client officer, Something Different: “The CMO role continues to evolve as they become a larger strategic leader in driving overall company growth and are responsible for customer experience across all aspects of the business. So, they’re constantly thinking beyond marketing and the impact the brand can have with consumers everywhere. Data continues to drive decisions and new technologies such as AI can help drive objectives. Relationships between CMOs and agencies are more important than ever as we continue evolving to stand out, together. Collectively, we also need to think beyond marketing to strategically support broader business growth and drive the adoption of marketing strategies across organizations. This has long been a pillar of our agency’s approach, and in my newly created role, I plan to further that commitment.”

Chris Wallrapp, CEO, Hill Holliday: “My conversations with CMOs these days are less about advertising and more focused on business growth. The CMO role has evolved; they’re more accountable than ever for profitability and identifying sources of future growth. They have a heavier hand in leading customer experience initiatives, wrangling unified insight from disparate data sources, and informing strategic planning. Agencies need to evolve with the changing remit of the CMO to deliver growth strategies that future-proof the organization. We’ve responded in kind to become more data-driven, more strategic and more consultative to our clients. This enables us to deliver ideas designed for growth with measurable ROI to help CMOs succeed.”

David Sequeira, CEO, Mimedia: “The CMO role has had to become more agile to suit the evolving media landscape. We are seeing this reflected in several ways. There’s a greater internal cross-department collaboration, an increased reliance on data & analytics to inform strategies and decision making and a bigger focus on customer experience and personalization to cut through the competition and reach audiences in innovative ways. As an agency, we have to support the needs of a CMO by continually assessing marketing strategies, their competition, business KPIs and the latest changes in the media landscape. By combining data-driven insights with human intuition and providing real-time measurement to prove demonstrable results, we can gain the trust of CMOs and continue to inform their marketing strategy.”

Agencies strive to be fit for purpose

Jack Williams, marketing growth lead, Deloitte Digital: “We are seeing CMOs fighting hard to keep up with the pace of change. There is a balancing act that a lot face: how do I deliver value right here, right now, but keep the focus on what’s next and embrace emerging technology and new ways of working? With so much change that has gone on and will continue, it is impossible to say that the marketing strategies and operational structures, technologies and creative processes we’ve had in place are fully fit for purpose any more. Marketing transformation has, therefore, never been higher on the CMO’s agenda – as a partner, being able to support CMOs across that transformational change journey is now essential and certainly where we are seeing a lot of the value in marketing being created.”

Wander Bruijel, chief strategy officer, Born Ugly: “To a degree, the expanding responsibilities of the CMO are propelling it to the center of organizations, thanks largely to an increase in consumer and performance data. However, what we’re also seeing is a dodgy slide towards short-termism. This is logical in the current climate and the advent of technologies that promise speed and efficiency. It’s also unwise, erroneous, and probably cyclical. What it means for agencies is that there will be a continued emphasis on showing the impact and success of their work. There will be a push for greater efficiency and speed. However, this is also where the danger lies…agencies will be pushed by clients into suppliership rather than partnership. The focus of agencies must be to help their clients not just deliver the short-term but also challenge them to envision the long-term.”

Pete Breton, president and executive creative director, Battery Canada: “Today’s CMOs face intense pressures: tighter budgets, shorter tenures, and the daunting task of reaching an increasingly savvy, fragmented audience adept at tuning out ads. At Battery, we understand that CMOs need agency partners more than ever. We’re here to help navigate this complex landscape using AI, data, and strategic insights to pinpoint exactly who your consumers are and where they can be reached. But knowing your audience is only half the battle. The real magic lies in how we engage them and in remembering that they’re humans with limited attention. That attention is what CMOs are ultimately after. At Battery, we think the best way to deliver attention is summed up in one word: Entertainment. We believe that’s the future and we couldn’t be more excited.”

Diana Ellis-Hill, co-founder, Be The Fox: “Our role as an agency is to lend expertise in our specialism in creative, production and culture to CMOs, so they can feel reassured and reduce their workload. As consumers demand that brands demonstrate a clear commitment to social and environmental causes, we ensure that not only our creative messaging for our clients integrate diverse perspectives, but that our own practices do too. CMOs will rely on agencies to keep them at the forefront of an increasing number of changeable responsibilities, so agencies will need to build curious and agile teams capable of navigating uncertainty with creative solutions.”

Evan Horowitz, CEO, Movers+Shakers: “With the increasing pressure on CMOs to demonstrate tangible business impact, it’s important that their agencies provide data to clearly demonstrate the ROI of their work. Movers+Shakers continues to invest in strengthening our measurement and analytics capabilities so our client CMOs can prove not only top-line cultural relevance but also bottom-line business impact. We’re now offering brands these measurement capabilities both as a core part of our social AOR services, as well as stand-alone analytics consulting.”

Agencies Agency Culture

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