From The Horse's Mouth...

Over the last 5 months, I have been consulting in preparation for launching GO!

My first (and last) foray into Freelance Consulting has been extremely valuable on a number of fronts as we have looked at moulding & enhancing what the business will ultimately offer and stand for. One of the key fundamentals of this exercise was to spend a great deal of time LISTENING.

Since November last year, I have had a coffee/lunch/dinner/beer with over 70 senior Marketing & Brand professionals across the country and correspondence with hundreds more. From Marketing Directors of global consumer brands to Digital Directors of some of the UK's leading tech businesses, I was keen to get opinion and thoughts from across the spectrum.

As well as catching up with old friends and new contacts, the purpose was to listen. Listen to their priorities. Listen to their objectives. Listen to their pressures. Listen to their ambitions. Listen to their demands. Listen to their drivers.

One of the key questions I was keen to explore with each person was;

 "What does 'good' look like for you in an agency/client relationship?"

 The dialogue and results were fascinating. Among the many individual tales of the good the bad and the ugly, there were certain key themes that became more and more consistent the more conversations I was having.

 

The foundations for a good agency relationship...

The one word that came up time and time again was trust.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most client-side marketers have their own stories of agency partners over-promising and under delivering (note - the trend here seemed very bias towards digital agencies in particular). However, the word trust went further in most cases with a genuine admission that when that trust is built the onus is on the client to maximise the value being offered.

As one senior Brand Director put it:

"It’s like building a house – if you are going to mess about with the architect’s design then what’s the point?"

Transparency sat alongside this response in a lot of cases especially in relation to Media. Clients want to be able to clearly see where 'their' money is being spent, and the ROI.

A genuine understanding of the business, the end customer and the proposition again ranked as a consistent message. Interestingly this didn't often sit alongside the expectation that the agency must have a client/testimonial in exactly the same space but more a deep understanding of their market and customer.

The final consistent point is a pleasing one. The word fun was used on a regular basis. At the end of the day people buy people, so if you don’t get on with your agency on a human level it’s a pretty poor place to start. Strong relations/teamwork were paramount to most people when asked this question.

The top criteria/priorities when selecting agency partners?

The human element continued as a key theme here.  Recommendation from a trusted source was seen as a key aspect of choosing who to select for both pitch and ultimate engagement. A lot of the professionals I spoke to would never appoint an agency that didn’t come with a personal recommendation from someone they respected. 

Continuing the theme of the personalities, one aspect that seems of importance is that when it comes to the pitch is that the people that will be doing the work are in the room.  One leading retail Brand Director commented, “Let me see the creatives, junior account managers, people from finance if applicable – the whole shooting match.” Chemistry is key to successful partnerships and decisions taken by in-house teams often revolve around the question, “Could I work with them as an extension of my team every day & will they support and challenge my team enough?

 

Cost v Value – Determining Value For Money

Unsurprisingly the responses here very much dependent on the type of agency in question but there was a general rule that was consistent.

With a shift away from the ‘traditional’ retainer model and a bias towards project/campaign support, the value delivered is measured against the delivery against the KPI’s in the initial brief. In-house marketers, on the whole, expect healthy debate on the KPI’s and scope of work upfront but will not settle for retrospective ambiguity on the expected outcomes. The key is to set KPI’s at the outset and to have set criteria around what constitutes success defined at an early stage.

In media, there seems a tide of the use of independent media audits to determine value and quality being driven by the agency and linking that metric to reward.

“Media agencies should have some skin in the game” commented one senior marketer. 

For more creative agencies, value for money is more often judged on the output and the process that get the brand to the end result. In a time of greater scrutiny on budget and performance than ever before, brand leaders want to be able to demonstrate to the C-Suite the value their partnerships are creating.

In an ever-changing marketing world, the exercise of listening and adapting to your customers' demands is critical. One of the cornerstones of our business will be to continue to listen and be the eyes and ears in the market. Over the next few months, we will be hosting a series of events where we hope to further develop on the themes above and engage with the UK marketing community to help with a roadmap for positive dialogue and knowledge share.

If you would like to discuss these plans or any points on this wider topic in particular, then don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact page.