To Find Your 2020 Agency Partner, Look Beyond ‘Agency of the Year’

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

When selecting agency partners, you should focus less on who’s the “best” and more on what a great agency partner means for your brand. Look beyond “agency of the year” and strive instead for compatibility.

Finding Your Agency Mate

Before even beginning the search, you need clear goals and must identify what you are trying to achieve by bringing in an outside resource.

Word of mouth, reputation, and recommendations can help narrow the field to a shortlist of potential partners. But what happens next?

5 Focus Areas for Agency Selection

From my experience on both the client and agency side, I recommend focusing on five areas as you assess potential partners: cultural fit, talent, success metrics, adaptability, and unique, specialized expertise.

Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is perhaps the most challenging criteria to define. Agency-client compatibility requires a set of shared beliefs and behaviors. If you aren’t able to see eye-to-eye with your agency, you won’t be able to work together successfully.

Assessing cultural fit requires spending time in-person with the agency team, ideally in their office, and getting to know individuals across levels and functions. There may be people outside of the day-to-day agency team who could shed light on the company culture, including HR and communications. Speaking to client references is another important culture check.

Talent

Strong agencies attract strong talent — at all levels. You need a consistent, tenured team that understands your business. If talent comes and goes, it is a huge strain on the relationship, because you need to invest time and energy in building new relationships at your agency partners.

During the selection process, ask about the average tenure at the agency and learn about their recruiting and training policies. These questions will help you uncover how the agency hires, invests in and retains talented employees.

Success Metrics

Great relationships are formed when the agency and client are jointly successful. Yet success can mean different things to different people. A shared point of view when it comes to measuring success is fundamental to closely aligned agency-client relationships.

Review how the agency has measured success with other clients and research the latest measures being used in your industry and adjacent industries.

Adaptability

If you want the relationship to be long-term, then the agency must be adaptable. Leaders change. Mandates evolve. The industry transforms. Agencies that are flexible and adaptable can serve their clients, regardless of the circumstances.

Request specific examples of long-standing client relationships and ask about the evolution of those relationships. Discuss scenarios that illustrate how their mandate might shift over time and see how the agency would respond to those hypothetical situations.

Unique, Specialized Expertise

Most agencies have a secret sauce — something that sets them apart. If the agency has expertise specific to your industry or competitive set, you will need to decide if the institutional knowledge outweighs the potential client conflicts.

Throughout your discussions with possible partners, dig deep into their unique and specialized capabilities — technologies, data, processes, knowledge, etc. These differentiators could be the determining factor in selecting your agency partner.

Keep an Open Mind

As you search for agency resources, consider unconventional solutions. An agency isn’t always the answer. For example, ask yourself, should I build this capability in-house? Additionally, for some brands, a consultant or group of consultants can provide a nimble, strategic support model.

Don’t get caught up in the “best agency” hype. Seek a partner that is best for you.

Death of the Agency? Not So Fast …

The last season of “Mad Men” is approaching, but let’s not be so fast to bury the ad agency with it. Media outlets are reading trends and are raising questions. The Economist has a special report on digital disruption in the advertising supply chain, and is quite taken by how “Big Digital’s”

The last season of “Mad Men” is approaching, but let’s not be so fast to bury the ad agency with it.

Media outlets are reading trends and are raising questions.

The Economist has a special report on digital disruption in the advertising supply chain, and is quite taken by how “Big Digital’s” profit margins and programmatic media buying have come to dominate advertising and audience selection. In one article, “Leaner and Meaner,” they’re saying:

The ad-tech firms are gleefully forecasting the imminent demise of Madison Avenue’s middlemen, but they may be wrong, for two reasons. First, ad tech has introduced so much complexity into the business that clients may want to hold on to agencies for advice, and agencies’ creative services are likely to remain in demand when brands are having to churn out so many different pieces of content.

Second, the prediction that technology companies like Google will start to compete head-on with the agencies is likely to prove wrong. To provide full client services they would need to hire thousands of new employees, for limited gains. Google’s margins this year are expected to be around 50%, whereas WPP’s are forecast at just 17%-and that is for the largest and one of the most successful advertising agencies. Perversely, the agencies’ mediocre returns may protect them from being wiped out by nimbler competitors. Their tents in Cannes may no longer have the best views, but the admen will still be there.

Mobile Marketing Watch had its own agency pity-party headline last week, “Are Yesterday’s Advertising Agencies Finally Dying?” reporting on a UK opinion piece:

As the challenges marketers face increase, the solutions from agencies shrink. It’s time for them to step up.

That’s the opinion of Tom Goodwin, founder and CEO of the Tomorrow Group, in a recent post at The Guardian.

“There is a curious tension in the current agency landscape—a vast mismatch between what clients’ needs are and what agencies are working on, and this gap seems to be widening,” Goodwin explains.

True, Goodwin admits, the Internet has been both a blessing (new opportunities) and a curse (change is always hard).

“The internet has been a mixed blessing, a volatile combination of incredible, new possibilities, rampant change and some of the most destructive forces the marketplace has ever seen,” Goodwin contends. “On a communications level, we have a plethora of new media channels, memes circling the world in seconds, the app of the moment bursting onto the scene, and trends like content marketing, native advertising and influencer marketing to navigate and leverage. The options seem more bewildering than ever and more abruptly changing, all in a context where attention is moving onto platforms which become even harder to connect with people.”

What’s to be done? Goodwin believes agencies need to up their games.

What does raising their game look like? Yes multiple screens and a crush of data are inflicting huge demands for content—some of it targeted to a few eyeballs. The scramble for creative, analytics and insight talent must be accomplished as agencies seek to keep their historic role as strategic counsel, with built-in expertise to deliver that counsel all under the same shingle.

That won’t be easy—The Economist says advertising is not the first choice for math students, for one—but skills matching must be a priority of agencies, because brands need guidance through the technology maze, and they need break-through content that engages wherever the consumer may be—something ad tech cannot or will not generate on its own.

By the way, Big Digital has its own death predictors, too.

Have a Happy & Profitable Earth Day 2012! A Good Time to Enter the ECHO Awards’ Green Marketing Competition

For the past three years, the Direct Marketing Association has awarded a Special ECHO Award dedicated to incorporating sustainable, environmental concerns in marketing. The award is given NOT for being “green” (which is self-limiting), but for being successful in marketing—read, profitable—and demonstrating environmental performance in the process.

For the past three years, the Direct Marketing Association has awarded a Special ECHO Award in its International ECHO Awards competition dedicated to incorporating sustainable, environmental concerns in marketing: The ECHO Green Marketing Award.

The three winners to date—the United States Postal Service (2009), the World Wildlife Fund (2010), and Consumer Reports (2011)—each have taken the direct marketing process and used the DMA “Green 15” environmental marketing practices and principles to illustrate how marketing activity can be both successful in driving response and interaction, and adhere to best practices for environmental performance. Note, the award is given NOT for being “green” (which is self-limiting), but for being successful in marketing—read, profitable—and demonstrating environmental performance in the process.

Importantly, the award—which is judged by members of the DMA Committee on the Environmental and Social Responsibility, under the auspices of the DMA ECHO Awards Committee—looks to evaluate and recognize the marketing process, and not the product or service being marketed. Thus, the product or service being marketing need not be environmentally focused (though it certainly can be). What the judges look for is the usual hallmarks of an ECHO Award-winning direct-response campaign—strategy, creative, results—and adds a fourth component, adherence to environmental principles which apply to direct marketing. These principles are clearly stated in the DMA Green 15, which articulate list hygiene, paper procurement and use, printing and production, mail design, fulfillment and recycling collection & pollution prevention in everyday direct marketing business decision-making.

To date, each previous winner interpreted this objective in in very different ways. The USPS sought to demonstrate how direct mail advertising can be very environmentally sensitive (and sensible) in its multi-faceted “Environmailist” campaign, targeted at advertising agencies and brands that use the direct mail channel. In Australia, the World Wildlife Fund, working to promote its “Earth Hour” environmental awareness effort, sent carbon-neutral plant spikes via potted plants to office managers around the country to promote greater efficiency in office environments. Last year, Consumer Reports—in promoting subscription to its ShopSmart and Consumer Reports magazines—used the Green 15 to audit each of its business decisions in data management, supply chain engagement, procurement, production, logistics and customer communication, and to apply the principles where they made economic sense or were revenue-neutral.

The deadline for entering the 2012 DMA International ECHO Marketing Award competition is April 25, 2012, with a late deadline of May 2, 2012: http://dma-echo.org/enter.jsp

As brands and agencies enter the Awards, there is an entry field where consideration for the ECHO Green Marketing Award is prompted. If the “yes” box is checked, an additional Green Marketing Award Addendum can be promptly accessed that allows up to 1,000 words to explain how the entry:

  • Employs Innovative Green Tactics & Strategies Employed Throughout the Direct Marketing Process
  • Inspires Action & Making a Difference to the Planet
  • Demonstrates Measurable Environmental Impact of the Campaign
  • … all the while being a successful marketing campaign overall.

Happy Earth Day 2012—and take the time to show others how your brand or your client’s brand is leading the way in incorporating environmental sensitivity in its everyday marketing decision-making—and producing outstanding, profitable results. I’m hopeful I will be writing about your winning campaign once the 2012 winner is announced during the DMA2012 Conference this October in Las Vegas, NV.

The Adobe/Omniture Merger: What It All Means

It’s not often that the geeky world of web analytics gets some sexy news, but that was the case on Sept. 15, when content creation tool provider Adobe Systems announced its intent to acquire Omniture, the web analytics vendor, for $1.8 billion.

It’s not often that the geeky world of web analytics gets some sexy news, but that was the case on Sept. 15, when content creation tool provider Adobe Systems announced its intent to acquire Omniture, the web analytics vendor, for $1.8 billion.

The goal of the merger, according to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, is to create a holistic way to develop creative content and measure the value of that content — be it video, web pages, mobile or social media — to “close the loop” in the content creation and content measurement worlds.

With optimization capabilities embedded in Adobe’s creation tools, designers, developers and online marketers will have an integrated workflow that’ll streamline the creation and delivery of content and applications, according to an Adobe press release. The optimization capabilities also will enable advertisers and advertising agencies, publishers, and e-tailers to realize greater ROI from their digital media investments, and improve their end users’ experiences.

While mergers happen every day, this one appears to be game-changing, at least according to the myriad of comments from vendors in the space that appeared in my inbox right after the announcement was made.

Russ Mann, CEO of Covario, said the merger is “a brilliant strategic move for Adobe, one that could change the rules of the game for digital media — from creation to measurement to monetization.”

He also offered specific examples about what the Adobe media world would be like. They include the following scenarios:
• Video developers and agencies will be able to build Adobe Flash creative with Omniture tracking codes implanted from the beginning, enabling them to track the views of creative across the web.
• Web design firms and e-commerce companies can create dynamic landing pages and rich internet ads via Adobe that have tracking and multivariate testing codes via Omniture. These codes will allow marketers to create pages and new forms of user-customized content.
• PDFs could be tracked, providing valuable metrics for the creators of such content.

Blaine Mathieu, chief marketing officer of Lyris — and former executive at Adobe Systems — said the acquisition demonstrates that the online marketing space is heating up.

“While the large enterprises that Adobe and Omniture serve will have the money and experience to understand the ROI of an integrated suite,” he said, “we believe this deal will also trigger marketers in midsized businesses to better understand the value of an integrated online marketing tool set.”

What do you think it all means? How will it affect your interactive marketing programs and strategy? Let us know by posting a comment here.

The Adobe/Omniture Merger: What It All Means

It’s not often that the geeky world of web analytics gets some sexy news, but that was the case on Sept. 15, when content creation tool provider Adobe Systems announced its intent to acquire Omniture, the web analytics vendor, for $1.8 billion.

It’s not often that the geeky world of web analytics gets some sexy news, but that was the case on Sept. 15, when content creation tool provider Adobe Systems announced its intent to acquire Omniture, the web analytics vendor, for $1.8 billion.

The goal of the merger, according to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, is to create a holistic way to develop creative content and measure the value of that content — be it video, web pages, mobile or social media — to “close the loop” in the content creation and content measurement worlds.

With optimization capabilities embedded in Adobe’s creation tools, designers, developers and online marketers will have an integrated workflow that’ll streamline the creation and delivery of content and applications, according to an Adobe press release. The optimization capabilities also will enable advertisers and advertising agencies, publishers, and e-tailers to realize greater ROI from their digital media investments, and improve their end users’ experiences.

While mergers happen every day, this one appears to be game-changing, at least according to the myriad of comments from vendors in the space that appeared in my inbox right after the announcement was made.

Russ Mann, CEO of Covario, said the merger is “a brilliant strategic move for Adobe, one that could change the rules of the game for digital media — from creation to measurement to monetization.”

He also offered specific examples about what the Adobe media world would be like. They include the following scenarios:
• Video developers and agencies will be able to build Adobe Flash creative with Omniture tracking codes implanted from the beginning, enabling them to track the views of creative across the web.
• Web design firms and e-commerce companies can create dynamic landing pages and rich internet ads via Adobe that have tracking and multivariate testing codes via Omniture. These codes will allow marketers to create pages and new forms of user-customized content.
• PDFs could be tracked, providing valuable metrics for the creators of such content.

Blaine Mathieu, chief marketing officer of Lyris — and former executive at Adobe — said the acquisition demonstrates that the online marketing space is heating up.

“While the large enterprises that Adobe and Omniture serve will have the money and experience to understand the ROI of an integrated suite,” he said, “we believe this deal will also trigger marketers in midsized businesses to better understand the value of an integrated online marketing tool set.”

What do you think it all means? How will it affect your interactive marketing programs and strategy? Let us know by posting a comment here.

Wunderman’s Morel on Social Media, Online Video and Mobile

I recently spoke with Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, a New York City-based marketing services firm that’s part of Young & Rubicam Brands and a member of WPP. Among other topics, we talked about the difference between social media and social networking, online video, and mobile marketing.

I recently spoke with Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, a New York City-based marketing services firm that’s part of Young & Rubicam Brands and a member of WPP. Among other topics, we talked about the difference between social media and social networking, online video, and mobile marketing.

In 2005, Morel launched an aggressive strategy to expand the agency’s influence on digital direct marketing and was instrumental in Wunderman’s acquisition of interactive and web analytics agencies — Blast Radius and ZAAZ among them. Digital programs now account for 60 percent of Wunderman’s revenues.

Here are highlights from the discussion:

Melissa Campanelli, eM+C: How would you describe social media?
Daniel Morel: A while ago, when I used the term you’re using — social media — I was corrected by some folks from Forrester Research. They told me that social media is a euphemism. It’s not media, per se; it’s not something you buy but something you measure. Now, when describing what I think you’re talking about, I use the terms social networking, social interaction and social conversation — but not social media. If you look at the largest examples of what I’m describing — Twitter, Facebook, blogs — you’d see little advertising, little paid media.

MC: Do you think social networking is important?
DM: As for social networking, we monitor Twitter, but in my opinion, Twitter doesn’t really have many capabilities these days. We monitor all of the blogs and online communities, of course. We then harvest that information using a variety of tools in combination with vendors, such as Visible Technologies [a provider of online brand management solutions for new media environments that’s formed a strategic partnership with WPP] and Radian6 [a tool for real-time social media monitoring and analysis designed for advertising agencies].

When it comes to social conversations and social networking, the important thing for us is accumulating data and organizing it into knowledge and information. Social networking offers real-time data as opposed to secondary research, where you have to wait six months before getting the results. You have immediate access to what’s on the minds of consumers. Social networking is important for us, but only as much as we can convert the commodity we call data into valuable insight.

Once a client told me that one of his colleagues was doing “the Facebook thing.” He asked me, “Can you give me one of those?” Our job is not to just give our clients a Facebook page. Our job is to ask why. “Why do you want to do it?” “What’s your objective?” “What are you trying to achieve?” You shouldn’t do it just because someone else is doing it.

MC: Is it true that social networking is changing marketing today?
DM: Whether you’re shopping for a car or insurance, you want to know opinions about the products you’re shopping for from people like you — not the brands. You place more trust into what people of similar backgrounds and interests to you are saying about brands, products and services than discourse from the brand.

Brand speech is necessary, however, because you can’t go to a search toolbar and search for a product if you haven’t been informed about the existence of that product. If I want to type “Ford Mustang 2010” into the search toolbar, I must have heard the term at some point. Public relations does a good job of placing words in people minds.

Social networking will become more present, more sophisticated and more original in the future. Right now, a lot of the content on social networking sites is republished, refurbished or reformulated. But at some point some creative people will make it original and germane to each environment. As a result, social networking will become even more relevant.

Check out the rest of my conversation with Daniel Morel here next week. We’ll discuss online video and mobile marketing.

Trade Associations Bond on Industry Self-Regulation

With the threat of an online privacy bill looming, some of the nation’s largest media and marketing trade associations released self-regulatory principles on July 2 to protect consumer privacy in ad-supported interactive media.

With the threat of an online privacy bill looming, some of the nation’s largest media and marketing trade associations released self-regulatory principles on July 2 to protect consumer privacy in ad-supported interactive media.

The seven principles will require advertisers and Web sites to clearly inform consumers about data collection practices and enable them to exercise control over that information. The collaboration includes the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus is also part of the effort and has agreed, along with the DMA, to implement accountability programs to promote widespread adoption of the principles.

This is a big deal: Taken collectively, the participating associations represent more than 5,000 U.S. companies, and the task force represents the first time all advertising and marketing industry associations have come together to develop self-regulatory principles.

And it should be a big deal, quite frankly. Concerns around government regulation on the use and collection of data on the Internet has been swelling in the industry over the past few years as the medium has become all-encompassing. What’s more, the House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is preparing an online privacy bill right now that may contain an “opt-in” provision that would prevent companies from targeting consumers without their explicit permission.

The seven principles
The self-regulatory program is expected to be implemented at the beginning of 2010. The process, however, started in January, when the task force announced it was working on developing these principles in direct response to calls by the Federal Trade Commission.
The principles are designed to address consumer concerns about the use of personal information and interest-based advertising, while preserving the robust advertising that supports free online content and the ability to deliver relevant advertising to consumers.
The seven principles include the following:

  • The Education Principle, which calls for organizations to educate individuals and businesses about online behavioral advertising. Along these lines, a major campaign — expected to exceed 500 million online advertising impressions — will be launched over the next 18 months to educate consumers about online behavioral advertising, the benefits of these practices and the means to exercise choice.
  • The Transparency Principle, which calls for clearer and easily accessible disclosures to consumers about data collection and use practices associated with online behavioral advertising.
  • The Consumer Control Principle, which requires Internet access service providers and providers of desktop applications software such as Web browser toolbars to obtain the consent of users before engaging in online behavioral advertising, and take steps to de-identify the data used for such purposes.
  • The Data Security Principle, which calls for organizations to provide reasonable security for, and limited retention of, data collected and used for online behavioral advertising purposes.
  • The Material Changes Principle, which calls on organizations to obtain consent for any material change to their online behavioral advertising data collection and use policies and practices to data collected prior to such change.
  • The Sensitive Data Principle, which recognizes that data collected from children and used for online behavioral advertising merits heightened protection, and requires parental consent for behavioral advertising to consumers known to be less than 13 on child-directed Web sites. This principle also provides heightened protections to certain health and financial data when attributable to a specific individual.
  • The Accountability Principle, which calls for the development of programs to further advance these principles, including programs to monitor and report instances of uncorrected noncompliance with these principles to appropriate government agencies.

Sounds like a plan to me. What do you think? Do you think this initiative will stave off government regulation for good, or should these trade groups be doing more? Leave a comment here, and let us know how you feel.