The Multi-Agency Paradox

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Lynn Rossi, SVP, Saatchi & Saatchi
Lynn Rossi, SVP, Saatchi & Saatchi

The idea of “brand navigation,” where one agency shapes, oversees, and maintains a brand's image across every platform has been written off as unsuccessful. Instead, many marketers are using a multiple-agency approach: one shop to handle this, another to handle that; many of them never communicating with the other—and all of them endlessly competing for each other's revenue.

So what's driving the misperception that one agency can't do it all? Blame it on digital. With the rise of digital marketing came new technologies, data driven platforms, and diverse media channels. This created a demand for greater specialization, while also driving complication. Everyone started offering similar and overlapping capabilities across digital, CRM, and brand. Arguably the most important part of it all—strategy—was getting lost in a battle of channels and tactics. As digital continued to evolve to include social, mobile, and content, things started to get even more complex.

But today that's no longer the case. Many agencies have shifted to meet the demands of our multichannel world, either handling a more diverse, non-traditional scope of work in-house, or by closely overseeing partner teams to ensure a common brand vision and voice across communications, or both. When there are integrated teams and strong leadership, everyone speaks the same language—one that's driven by the brand, regardless of channel. And that's a really good thing for consistency and quality of work. Because brand navigation does work in our current marketplace.

In fact, when done right it ensures solid control of the brand while offering incredible efficiency and ease to the client. No more talking to multiple agencies about different channels with varying interpretations of the brand message. A CMO can rely on one agency to oversee the breadth of their entire communication portfolio with confidence that the integrity of the strategy and creative product is being upheld. Everything is focused, consistent, and quality controlled. And they spend less time dealing with multiple agencies and teams, instead placing the primary responsibility and leadership with one partner.

So how can you build a successful brand navigation model? Here are a few criteria that are critical to making it work.

1. One agency owns the responsibility.

Brand navigation is most successful when one agency or team “owns” the responsibility of the overall brand and all of its functions—from the relationship to the work, to the most basic functions like billing. And there's a clear delineation of roles. What this means is that even if that lead team isn't executing or handling production in certain areas, they have accountability for making sure that work happens and is done correctly. It's a mind-set. The lead team must treat everything as their own, and the client must support this dynamic.

2. Cross-channel experience is a must.

Brand navigation can only work when members of the lead team truly understand all the disciplines—not just talk it, but know how to do it. An agency can be successful at this if all of its team members (account, creative, strategy, and production) have knowledge and experience across channels. This experience also opens the door to bringing non-traditional work in-house and bundle it more closely with the brand. If you're searching for a lead agency, you must ensure that senior team members have the right, multi-disciplined skill-set to map the vision and staff the teams appropriately.

3. It's all about the strategy.

Finally, and perhaps the most important, everything stems from the strategy. The target doesn't change based on channel; the mind-sets and needs are the same. The strategy behind the work is what drives the creative platform and core messaging. It's what moves the needle regardless of channel, and this is the piece that's most critical to what we do and how we navigate. It's what makes the dynamic successful and provides strength and consistency of creative and true brand integration.

The important thing to remember is that brand navigation isn't just a term…and it's not about theory or process. It's a way of doing business, a true state of mind. And it takes dedication, trust, and commitment to ensure success.

Lynn Rossi is SVP at Saatchi & Saatchi

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