As the seemingly never-ending debate on the role and relevance of agencies in today’s marketing mix roars on, it’s natural for agency side individuals not in the senior management of their agency to feel vulnerable and disempowered.
Paradoxically, I also get a sense that if you’re not someone running the agency you can also feel strangely u'nimpacted' as you aren’t to blame for a larger failing to remain relevant. A feeling of diminished responsibility seems to be common, a sense of just being a small cog in a large analogue clock that’s attempting to keep time. Blame the clock not the cog.
Starting the clock
There are numerous reasons why clients switched to a default setting of using an agency in the past. You build a business, either over time or quickly with funding or just a damn good idea that customers love. Hire a marketing manager, hire a marketing team. Do your marketing in-house and have ‘control’. Then spend-levels or the expertise needed starts to fall outside of the existing teams’ comfort zone. You look to find outside help and an experienced agency. Ironically, the same businesses that have been breadwinners for the agency model have now become the early adopters in reversing back to building those teams in-house again. And so, the cycle continues because we are all ultimately looking to find individuals and talent that can deliver what we need within our own four walls.
The challenge of time
In fairness, marketing is hard. Right now it’s probably more complex than it’s ever been. Data and measurement, customer insights, segmentation and targeting, positioning, customer experience, distribution and of course the big marketing strategy are some of just a few things whirling around a marketer’s brain at any moment in time.
A marketer can attempt to do all of this and still a moment of at-shelf-deferment or hesitation to download, instantly unravels all their hard work and laboured efforts. We have a rapidly changing consumer culture. Consumers are increasingly empowered. We can search, we can scan, we can have whatever we need delivered right now, we can source reviews and we can complain unmercifully and publicly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s tough, it’s really tough to be a good brand amidst all of this.
Finding good cogs
Ultimately in-housing boils down to the desire to have good people. Good people that can be trusted to help fight through and hopefully win the various marketing battles faced daily. Yes, there are commercial benefits, but it’s those people and their skill sets that enable those monetary gains to be achieved are key. Agencies and importantly the individuals within them need to look at themselves and realise they need to be responsible for changing and adapting what they personally do in order to help their agencies remain on the front foot of in terms of providing their clients with best in class thinking, skills, delivery and back end support.
How to be a good cog
I’m a communications strategist, well it’s what my job title sometimes says. I’ve proactively moved away from creating long-winded documents that are so unwieldy with data and insight that the client just doesn’t know what to do with them. However, these were the outputs that agencies traditionally felt meant strategist were doing their jobs. I’ve all too often seen the sadness in a client’s eye when they believe, often correctly so, that the strategic project will be time consuming, costly and possibly not practical at the end of it.
We now work in sprints where strategy, rather than being an intangible thing that is hard to explain without using the word strategy somewhere in the description, becomes a series of tangible artefacts that lead from one to the next. Everything has an insight and an actionable output and everything is completed at pace to keep up with brands that demand tomorrow now. By mirroring the modern practices of product and consumer experience design, this modern process and visual strategy creation is understood, respected and valued by the businesses we work with, many of which are from tech and product development background. I’m ultimately talking their language, not getting them to understand mine. I’m certainly far from being a well-oiled cog, but I’ve acknowledged that to keep time, I’ve had to adapt my role in the mechanism.
Regardless of your own expertise or role and function within your agency, the responsibility of change does lie with you. You can be the one that looks to work differently. If the agency can then benefit from a culture of this within their business then clients will find it harder to severe ties. We agency folk will then survive and thrive and become what clients’ need to navigate through and win the marketing battles they must win for their own survival.
Toby Strangewood is a director at Wake The Bear