Business transformation, content marketing and strategy

The marketer-agency disconnect: hype man, not helper

More fuel to the fire in the debate on whether the current marketer-agency model is fit for purpose

Today, speed is essential for marketers; being lean and nimble trumps almost everything else. Equally, marketing executives are being pressured to wring every last dollar of value out of their budgets.

As such, the current agency model is coming under increased scrutiny. Starting with the realization that farming out your social media wholesale to agencies is a flawed solution to a complex problem, large companies are increasingly reassessing the role of agencies in their marketing function. The repatriation of the creative function in-house at huge brands like Old Navy and Yahoo is further evidence of a worrying trend for anyone working in the agency space right now.

Brands need to move fast and work lean. And it appears that in the current relationship agencies are an obstacle — not a partner — in achieving that goal.

So it was with considerable interest that I looked over a recent data set we collected in a poll of the European marketing community on their core priorities for 2014-15. All the big topics are there — multi-channel, storytelling, real-time marketing — and there are no enormous surprises in their ranking on our list. But when you split apart agencies and brand marketers, a disconcerting disconnect becomes apparent. It becomes clear that agencies — far from aligning themselves perfectly with the priorities of their customer base (ironic considering their wholesale adoration of customer-centric practices)—are instead playing hype man for some of the ‘shiny new toys’ in the marketing sandbox this year.

Brand/Agency Priorities

With only one exception, agencies overstate the importance of these priorities — the key trends the marketing community are facing in 2014-15.

The most notable cases were with the most ‘buzzworthy’ topics — customer centricity and the transformation from brands into publishers. Both undeniably merit focus, but for marketers — with deadlines, budgets and long To Do lists — there is a rather less-enthusiastic leap onto the bandwagon than their agency counterparts.

On reflection, this is unsurprising — a pretty fundamental part of the consultancy/agency business model is to sell the shiny new toys marketers ‘should’ care about. It’s essential for these guys to keep jumping onto new bandwagons — regardless of their worthiness — or their client base will erode.

I mentioned there was one exception to the overstatement of importance by agencies. It’s the rather less exciting pressure on marketers to collaborate better with other departments internally. Hardly the sexiest of trends…

These findings — that agencies don’t reflect marketing priorities, but try to create them — is why we at Incite focus our research and product development solely on in-house marketing executives.

If we were to take the views of agenices and consultancies on board in our R&D, we’d end up with products that are less relevant, and less useful to that core brand marketing audience. It’s why we don’t allow consultancies and agencies to speak at our events. They don’t actually have the information that marketing executives need. If you want to deliver business intelligence that marketers need, then talk to other marketers.

Nick Johnson