Why Agency Partners Still Make Sense
Just read this article in Harvard Business Review detailing the six reasons why marketing is moving in house. While the article focuses on marketing agencies, not PR agencies, of course it hits a bit close to home. After all, with the coming of age of digital, many communication disciplines are melding into the others.
The author lists six different reasons for this in-house movement. I can see the perspective behind each of them, but then again, there are two sides to every story. Let’s examine these one at a time:
- Agencies are slow. I get this – if the agency is big. Big agencies have the same red tape and politics that big companies do, no doubt. But small agencies are likely still nimble enough and without an overdose of bureaucracy to where they can still move faster than internal decision makers. It’s tough, but all agencies should strive to deliver as quickly as possible, otherwise this could absolutely be a deterrent to going outside corporate walls for help.
- Agencies are stuck on one discipline. This is an issue. No longer can a communications agency provide just one type of service and if they do, they aren’t going to be of huge value to the client. Marketing blends into advertising blends into consumer advocacy blends into public relations. Throw in social, design, lead gen – it’s a veritable communications soup and clients are looking for agencies that are closer to a one-stop-shop than they ever were before. Focus on your strong suit, for sure, but we’ve all got to learn and develop and grow, or get left behind.
- Continuity has become more important than campaigns. This one actually makes me happy – PR’s strong suit, the way we’re the most successful, is through continuity. We believe campaigns are an important way to organize activities, measure results, analyze and strategize for the next campaign, but agreed – continuity is key. And agencies absolutely can and should provide this.
- Companies don’t want to outsource customer relationships. No argument from me here. I don’t believe companies should outsource customer relationships. But, I do believe agencies can help identify and solidify customer relationships, via smart stories told through the media, quick engagement on social channels, or even well-thought-out strategies and content for drip campaigns. In fact, not only can they do this, but they should be doing this.
- Companies want to own the data. I understand that companies have the data, but I disagree that it must be kept in-house. Agencies are getting much better at analytics – no longer are reports just “impressions” and recommendations based solely on what the client wants to hear. The best analysis happens when client and agency work hand-in-hand, pore over the data from both an internal and external perspective, and come to the table with fresh ideas founded in data.
- Agencies aren’t attracting the best talent. In my experience, it’s not about attracting the talent – we’ve done a great job at that and have a ROCK STAR team. However, retaining the talent does keep me up at night. Our rock stars don’t leave for other agencies, but they have left to go internal. To us, retention comes down to providing opportunities for growth and professional development. Sure, we have great perks (recognized as a Best Place to Work for the last 5 years), but more than anything people want to continue to grow and learn. While internal positions offer an opportunity to learn different things about one client, there may not be a culture of learning – and likely not the breadth of opportunities an agency provides. At INK, we also don’t put people on more than 4 accounts – there are only so many ways the brain can split. We’ve found this means our people are more engaged, more creative and more on top of what their client needs. They can “be there before” their clients, which can be in stark contrast to how other agencies run their businesses.
Overall, the study showing an increased move to taking marketing internal did give me pause. But as long as we as an industry continue to evolve our offerings, provide true value and partnership to our clients, and do everything we can to keep our rock stars on our teams and growing, we’ll continue to thrive.