The New Agency Network

Mary Beth Kemp

The most future-friendly agency network is the networked agency.  Perhaps this network could be called a soft network.  It depicts a web of agencies who want to work (well) together, each bringing their expertise to a client or group of clients….or to a consumer community. 

You’ll notice I didn’t say they all needed to be in the same group or belong to the same holding company.  Like siblings, having the same parent doesn’t guarantee that the agencies get along or that they work well together. 

When speaking with a group of client side marketers in London recently, I was struck by the number of different agencies each worked with.  This was a reflection of a few things:  increased specialization and the multiplication of marketing techniques/technology, a desire for best-in-class, the feeling - and dare I say it, the experience - that putting one’s eggs in the same basket diminished the service and the results. 

The bottom line is that these marketers didn’t believe that the positive effects of integration - either internationally or across media/disciplines - were as compelling as ‘buying’ best in class. 

Perhaps the right mix of expertise wasn’t available in one agency.  Perhaps the client wanted to be in control.  Perhaps the clients simply didn’t understand that 1+1+1+1= 10.

But whose fault is that?

I think that perhaps agencies haven’t really understood the value of integration themselves, above and beyond the patching together of disparate services.  It’s always fun to ask an agency who touts integration - and they all do - for case studies.  If they need to think about it for too long, or drag up an example from Australia, I think we can say they talk the talk, period.

Agencies haven’t inspired clients with an integration promise that begins to answer their concerns:  How do you continue to innovate? How do you take advantage of new technologies? How do you help me prove that this is really the better way for my business (and not just the easiest)?  What do you do when you don’t know how to do something?  How can you work in a more open fashion? 

Agencies need to be ‘open-source’ in their networking.  And create an offer, a structure and measurement tools that help marketers recognize and capture value of integration without so much compromise. 

Comments

re: The New Agency Network

You make a lot of good points, but I think you're missing a key insight. Clients will tell you they are after best in class and I think in their hearts that's what they want. But the real reason behind why they select so many different agencies is because the choice of said agencies is often a decentralized process.When employee A has worked with agency Z before and wants them on their part of the business, then it miraculously happens — even if this agency is not part of the lead agency's network. I'd love to believe they were after "best-in-class," but I think the real motivator is always "best-for-me."

re: The New Agency Network

The best networks of agencies are the ones that are built around the client organization. We work in tech, which until recently had a reputation for delegated local responsibility (so local P&L, makes local best of breed choices), and I have seen this approach work well in all regards. Much also depends upon the ability of client side marketers to deploy consistent process and KPIs to drive agency synchronization.

re: The New Agency Network

You raise an intersting and very uncomfortable question when you ask' What do you do, when you don't know how to do something?".Most agencies that I have worked with as a client and also as an ex-employee simply ignore what they don't know - as ' not needed'The number of communication strategy presentations that i have sat in on / evaluated that overlook the obvious, simply because the agency didnt have in-house expertise is staggering.The result - as a client, today we work with four different agencies - and sometimes have to force them all into the same room to get an 'integrated solution'.

re: The New Agency Network

Superb post and comments.I'd argue that the demand for SEO pros is evidence that many agencies and companies are trying to plug holes in what they know - trying to reposition.But in general I agree and one of the reasons I left the traditional PR agency world was that we hit every screw, nail, complicated latch, and bolt with a PR hammer. Gaining editorial coverage, keynote invitations and top awards has value - but a whole house they do not make. Just look at Sherpa's latest chart showing how online resources are the #1 influence now through all phases of the B2B buying cycle...

re: The New Agency Network

Hi MaryVery interesting post. It just made me think around the thought of why can't agencies apply a model that has been near perfected by large IT consulting companies.It would be very interesting to read a report that is written by you in collaboration with the Forrester analysts focused on IT outsourcing, drawing the analogies.The post also seems to lead one to the conclusion that the levels of global collaboration within agencies are minimal. They need to start reading 'The World is Flat'. Do you think there would be an opportunity to create a simplistic collaboration suite targeted towards the agency community?