Today's Marketing Agency Must Be a Driving Force

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15 agency executives examine the evolving role of the marketing agency to clients and the industry at large.

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Like a gathering storm, the confluence of customers' changeable behaviors, data velocity, and emergent technology has some marketers running for cover. In many cases today agencies are positioning themselves to buoy up these besieged marketers and help them to navigate through this tempestuous time of change. In doing so, many marketing agencies are quickly evolving to meet their clients' fast-changing needs.

With that in mind we asked 15 agency executives: What's the biggest change in the role of the marketing agency today, and what should client-side marketers expect as a result? Here, they share their opinions.

Brian Fetherstonhaugh, CEO, OgilvyOne

Historically, some agencies focused on creative; others concentrated on data. In today's world they're both half right.

There's so much talk today about data. But too often data is used simply as a measurement tool, just to produce a report card. When used creatively data serves as inspiration, such as giving us insight into consumer intent, and shaping and triggering content.

Creativity is often missing from the equation. It's not just about words or pictures; when informed by data, creativity can lead to business-transformative ideas, such as innovative product design.

Together, data and creativity are an unstoppable force. They combine to create compelling personalized experiences that help client-side marketers win more customers and make them more valuable. It's no longer about just data or just creativity. Client-side marketers should insist on both.

The future of marketing lies at the intersection of data and creativity. Today's marketing agencies need to be fluent in both disciplines, because it's here that customer engagement happens.

Sally Kennedy, CEO, Publicis Hawkeye 

For more than 100 years we've been referred to as “advertising” agencies. With each successive year this characterization becomes less applicable. Today, progressive agencies are creative catalysts, informed by data, inspired by insights, powered by technology, and continuously validated by consumer behavior.

Smart clients should engage their agencies in a relentless quest to unearth what their customers desire; ideate constantly to conceive ideas that can uniquely quench these desires; innovate rigorously to deliver extraordinary experiences; iterate consistently to build an expanding community of brand advocates; and optimize endlessly to drive ever-improving financial results. Clients should also expect a participatory process that creates a powerful triumvirate between the consumer, the agency, and the client itself.

Although the term “advertising” doesn't define us anymore, the advertising an agency creates needs to engage, entertain, and inform like never before. Consumers today expect a lot from companies; so, companies should expect a lot from their agencies. And agencies that deliver should expect to succeed while evolving every day to stay relevant for the next 100 years.

Keith Turco, President, gyro New York

The changing role of marketing agencies isn't going to impact client-side expectations. Rather, it's the other way around.

Clients are driving the change of agencies today. They don't care about agencies' resources and processes, instead clients are demanding transformational ideas that build their business and bolster their bottom line. They expect ideas that are rooted in facts and informed by the plethora of information swirling around all of us today. Dare I say the overused phrase: Big Data?

Having majored in both marketing and IT and grown up in direct, this isn't surprising to me. “Direct shops” have evolved or rebranded and “traditional agencies” are incorporating insights and data to inform big ideas; in other words, agencies are becoming holistic marketers. This is best evidenced by the planning function, where we're beginning to see a change from being a brand planner, a digital planner, or an analytics specialist to the broader role of strategic planner.

It's the confluence of media that smartly and strategically informs customers, propels them to act, and generates results—which, of course, when done right, positively impacts a client's bottom line.

Clients can expect the good agencies to drive this movement. Or clients can continue to do what they're doing: demand it.

David Williams, Chairman and CEO, Merkle

The majority of marketers are now on board with the movement to evolve business strategies from a product-focused to a customer-focused approach. Today, the biggest change in the role of the marketing agency is in helping brands with the “how.”

Agencies are taking on greater responsibility for supporting the transformation effort required to build a customer-centric business strategy. As the digitization of media and channels continues to expand and proliferate, the opportunity for addressability will continue to scale in a massive way. There will be a rapid increase in the expertise required to manage customer relationships from every angle, on every digital and offline platform. Client-side marketers will rely on the agency to provide the “platform marketer” skills necessary to compete within this ever-changing digital landscape. The role of the agency will become even more diverse, serving as the expert in platform data, analytics, technology, experience design, and, most important, the necessary transformation skills that collectively enable addressability at scale.

Matt Lower, General Manager, Sub Rosa

With the wealth of different marketing disciplines gaining traction, clients are increasingly coming to shops asking for their variant of disruptive and exciting executions. These aren't always the best solutions for every brand, but clients are seduced by their perceived impact.

The shifting role of the agency is to act as a trusted brand steward, creating campaigns that authentically align with their objectives and ethos. Rather than wildly chasing trends, the agency must set and articulate for them an unswerving narrative. Brands need to shift with what's trending, but in a way that's unique to them.

At Sub Rosa the analogy we use is that we're in the passenger seat of the car; the brand is driving. We can be a sort of GPS, helping steer toward a smart destination, choosing a route that fits the brand and appeals to the audience. But sometimes our job is to put a helping hand on the wheel, keeping to the mission and avoiding detours.

Paul Mareski, President, Team One

With the influx of social, mobile, and other digital channels, agencies now more than ever need to be a true extension of brand teams and solve business goals, but also provide comprehensive, holistic solutions that engage audiences in new and exciting ways. Agencies today must aim to generate consumer loyalty beyond reason for brands. We've found success in partnering with clients to define and execute on their visions, by figuring out the most meaningful ways and opportunities to connect a brand to its audiences.

For marketers, this is an exciting time because of the opportunities at their fingertips; there are new forms of media and technologies popping up every day that allow them to win consumers in new ways. However, because of this deluge of options, consumers are barraged with hundreds of marketing messages each day. Every piece of content that brands put out in the world must be engaging, shareable, and have entertainment value of some kind.

Jennifer Patterson, EVP, Director of Planning, Deutsch LA

As agencies, we've always been about narrative. Now we also think about action: What is the one problem we're trying to solve? We try to reach beyond metrics like volume or awareness to find the real human behavior that we'd like to see change. It might be asking people to linger longer in a particular aisle of the store. It might be getting them to fall in love with their car online before the test drive. We're best when we're free-range thinkers.

We're looking for the most interesting way to tell the story, even in arenas beyond our scope. At first, these lateral ideas may seem like a potential waste of time. But we won't have done our jobs unless we've found a way to expand the conversation.

Vin Farrell, Global Chief Content Officer, Havas Worldwide

The past 20 years has yielded an increase of digital formats that have dramatically changed media consumption habits. Modern day consumers are connected to information faster, more accurately, and at scale. The advertising business was set up to deliver campaign messaging through TV, print, and radio. These linear experiences still exist, but the inclusion of social media, websites, and utility-based apps has expanded the way a brand can touch or be relevant to consumers. Agencies must change their infrastructure to match the new criteria of expertise needed to offer brands.

Mary LaPoint, Chief Strategist and President, To The Point Marketing System 

It's no longer enough to be creative and wow the client with that “big idea.” (Think: cigarettes, martinis, and Madison Avenue.) The biggest change in the role of today's marketing agency is to provide a wide, connected scope of services with the goal of driving more qualified leads to the client's sales department.

An agency has to be creative enough to design a compelling campaign with graphically captivating Web pages, and technical enough to make that website interactive and magnetic. Today's connected, mobile, Web-based world demands tactics that satisfy the entire customer journey, and marketing automation technology helps to facilitate that. Marketing agencies today need to know how to run marketing automation on behalf of their clients; from getting found and known online, to generating new demand, to assisting in the lead-nurturing process. We need to follow the breadcrumbs, or in this case, the links, from the first touch to the final sale.

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