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Will Consolidation Play a Role in Creating the “New” Agency Model?

27 Aug

Consolidation 2It was a simpler time when advertising agencies began to “unbundle” in the 1980’s, separating media planning and placement from creative. This, along with the shift from remuneration systems predicated on commissions to direct labor-based fees, formed the basis for today’s advertising agency model.

While there were certainly variations on the aforementioned theme, this approach served both advertisers and agencies well for the next thirty years. However, as the advertising business became increasingly more nuanced and fragmented, the industry saw a rise in the level of specialization resulting in an increased number of agencies with highly concentrated service offerings. In turn, agency holding companies went on an aggressive acquisition binge gobbling up traditional and specialized agency brands. While there were some efficiencies gained by the holding companies in consolidating back-office functions, the acquired shops were allowed to continue to operate under their individual identities. In so doing, there was little to no cultural acclimation across the holding companies’ agency brand portfolios.

One of the notable consequences of this movement was that marketers saw an expansion in the number of roster agencies, which swelled beyond their ability to effectively manage their now far-flung agency networks. According to Manta Media, in 2020 over 57,000 agencies were operating in the U.S. alone, creating a highly fragmented and competitive marketplace for marketing services providers.

Concurrently, a once stable and manageable business sector was now having to deal with increased levels of complexity stemming from an expansion in the number of media types and outlets, the rapid adoption of changing technologies, the emergence of “Big Data” and an ever-evolving set of consumer media consumption behaviors.

Fast forward to the present and it is easy to understand the position shared by many who feel that the “agency model” is no longer effective and needs to either be fine-tuned or perhaps completely overhauled. These pundits believe that talent constraints, eroding margins, expanding scopes of work, a shift from retained to project-based relationships and the emergence of management consulting firms as viable competitors in the marketing services space have led to the demise of the traditional agency model.

While there have been numerous questions raised, there has been little progress made on client-agency relationship improvements, compensation schema and or agency positioning, let alone ideation around creating a new marketing services delivery model.

There clearly is no “silver bullet” and while we don’t portend to have the answer to remedy all of the challenges facing the industry, we predict that the ultimate solution may involve some of the following actions:

  • Advertisers will streamline their marketing services agency networks with a goal toward eliminating redundant resources/competencies, clarifying agency roles and deliverables, establishing a “lead” agency and providing a framework for long-term, collaborative relationships.
  • In-housing will continue as advertisers seek to improve their controls, gain line-of-sight into the disposition of their spend at each stage of the marketing investment cycle, better assess their return-on-marketing-investment and to drive working dollars. This will involve managed service models where the client takes ownership of the technology and data and engages the agency to plan and execute select components of their communication programs.
  • Compensation programs will blend a balance of direct-labor and or project-based fee methodologies with gainshare and painshare components that link a portion of an agency’s remuneration to the advertiser’s in-market performance.
  • Agency holding companies will “right-size” their brand portfolios, combining and or shedding redundant service providers, consolidating agency brands and developing “centers of excellence” to gain scale efficiencies and improve client delivery within key functions (i.e. broadcast production, digital production, programmatic trading, trafficking, etc.).
  • Agency service delivery models will evolve to simplify advertiser access to the range of agency holding company resources through dedicated relationship management teams that can tap the entirety of a holding company’s offering.
  • Management consulting firms and advertising agency holding companies will co-exist, and in fact, will be called upon to collaborate in providing their clients with integrated end-to-end solutions focused on both building brand and driving in-market performance.

Experience suggests that the best way to solve complex professional services challenges is to focus on the common denominator and craft solutions that ease the burden of the client organization in accessing those services. Thus, consolidation will play a key role for all stakeholders (advertiser, agency, intermediary, publisher) as the advertising industry considers how to evolve its current business models.

The more you drive positive change, the more enhanced your business model.”

                                                                                                          ~ Anand Mahindra

 

How Will You Assess the Benefit Delivery of Your In-House Agency?

14 Nov

Advertising concept: Ad Agency on digital backgroundThe number of marketers transitioning portions of their advertising from agency partners to in-house operations has grown in recent years. According to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) 2018 study on this topic it found that “78% of its members had in-house agencies,” which was up from a level of 42% in 2008.

As marketers seek improved levels of speed, control and efficiency, the trend of marketers transitioning select services in-house or, in some instances, seeking to build full-blown internal agencies will likely continue.

Company management’s goals regarding this decision often revolve around the procurement of advertising support with shorter turn-around times and lower costs than what can be achieved through its external ad agencies. The question to be asked is; “How will in-house agency executives measure and report on their operation’s benefit delivery?”

Capturing data and providing feedback on the effectiveness and efficiency of in-house operations is a must when it comes to validating its existence, assessing project through-put potential and evaluating colleague satisfaction. That said, determining what performance criteria to measure and the methodology to be employed is an important decision.

In a recent article entitled; “Taking your marketing in-house? It is time to improve productivity” Darren Woolley, Global Chief Executive of TrinityP3, an Australian based marketing management consulting firm, suggests that when it comes to benefit delivery, in-house agencies are overlooking the “single biggest financial benefit” that they provide, which is “improving productivity.”

Measurement of “what” an in-house agency produces in addition to the cost of delivery aside, Mr. Woolley rightly points out that in-house agency executives have the unique ability to enhance the productivity of their operations by “streamlining structures and processes” between their internal clients and the in-house agency team. This is a structural advantage, not always available to a marketer’s external agency partners who have to adopt to their clients’ internal processes, no matter how inefficient they may be.

The good news is that there are resources available to assist marketers with crafting in-house agency effectiveness measures and to benchmark their performance. As an example, the In-House Agency Forum (IHAF) offers its members access to a normative database of performance benchmark and the ability to customize a performance survey that they can field to assess their service delivery where it counts most… with their internal clients.

Establishing the storyline for assessing in-house agency value delivery is critical to driving productivity and positively shaping stakeholder expectations. In the words of Paul Meyer, “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assessing the Potential for Transitioning Work In-House

24 Jun

Ideas idea success growth creativity creative multi ethnic group of peopleAn increasing number of marketers are transitioning portions of their advertising activities from their external agency partners to in-house teams. A survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the summer of 2018 revealed the following:

  • 78% of survey respondents indicated that they had an in-house operation of some sort
  • This is up 58% from 2013 and 42% from 2008
  • 90% of marketers with in-house operations have increased their in-house team workloads
  • 70% of marketers have shifted work from external agencies to in-house teams in the last 3 years

Although the ANA survey indicates that some in-house agencies are increasingly handling brand strategy and creative ideation work, most marketers that we serve continue to rely on external creative agencies for this type of work and are initially focusing their in-house efforts on a range of specialty services. This approach can minimize risk and cost, while putting the essential building blocks in place for eventually launching deeper into in-house agency commitments, if desired.

Endeavoring to build out a full-service in-house creative agency is certainly achievable and there are a number of successes that one can point to. Consider Innocean Worldwide which originally began as the in-house agency for Hyundai-Kia and has gone on to acquire clients outside of the Hyundai Motor Company. Innocean’s work has won global recognition for its creative work that includes a Silver at Cannes and an ADFEST Grand Prix in 2019. As well, Innocean has committed to growing its brand and weight in the industry by acquiring noted independent creative agency David & Goliath in late 2017.

However, building out a full-service in-house agency takes time and requires an investment in evolving the culture of the operation, attracting top-notch talent, developing the appropriate processes, and positioning itself to be successful in winning internal client confidence and ultimately the creative development work.

The effort associated with attracting and retaining top-quality creative personnel to ply their wares at an in-house agency can be significant. Providing end-to-end creative services requires an increase in headcount and drives up operational fixed costs. Further, the timeline required to demonstrate in-house agency abilities and to consistently produce fresh ideas and deliver quality work is uncertain. This is particularly so if there isn’t a corporate mandate for brand marketers to utilize the in-house services. Thus, management must build-in enough time and budget to allow for relationships to take hold between the in-house team and the brand management teams, and for the in-house team to “learn” how to successfully compete for and win creative assignments.

Thus, many organizations focus initial in-house efforts on areas where the operations can clearly and immediately add value. Such services may include content curation and creation, digital, print and internal video production and the development of sales promotion and collateral material. Consolidating tasks such as these with an in-house team can improve a marketer’s agility by reducing project turn-around times and costs while improving the caliber of the output.

Many in-house operations begin as shared-services providers, subsidized by the organization and often with mandates for brand marketers to use their specialized services. Which is not a bad way to launch an in-house agency. Over time, some operations may adopt a charge-back model, where they must compete with external resources to win projects from their brand marketing peers.

Each model brings with it certain challenges. The charge-back model, with no corporate mandate for use, raises risk for the in-house team who must generate revenue to cover internal staffing, resource and real-estate costs. If the team cannot win work, their very existence may be jeopardized. And during competition for work, the team must address internal client perceptions that the services they provide will be less expensive than an external creative agency. On the other hand, if pricing is comparable to an external resource, brand marketers may question the risk / reward of transitioning work away from an established external specialist creative shop and bringing it in-house.  Additionally, end-user’s want to feel that utilizing their in-house agency “makes their life easier.”

Regardless of the model employed or the scope of services offered, it is imperative to embrace a strong project-management orientation with a comprehensive workflow management toolkit. The need to evaluate potential projects, provide cost and time estimates, log projects, manage projects and secure sign-offs requires a disciplined in-house project management function.

An important part of generating and demonstrating efficiency gains for the organization is the ability to track time-on-task, project gestation and completion rates, rework levels and the like… all of which require a commitment to recording and tracking in-house activities and utilization rates. Such information will also inform management on how and when to expand or contract staff levels and when to tap external resources to augment in-house skill sets.

The need for internal advertising support is real and makes a great deal of sense regardless of the breadth of services an organization seeks to source from an in-house operation. However, the application of the model requires a disciplined pragmatic approach to both set the breadth of service to be offered the team and to efficiently and effectively handle the anticipated volume of work.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ad Industry is Metamorphosing

30 Jun

dreamstime_xs_83082522It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” Most of us are familiar with the opening line from Charles Dickens in his epic work A Tale of Two Cities. Many marketers may even consider it an apt description of both the current state of the advertising industry and the challenges that they face in sustaining brand relevance and driving growth.

Phoenix risingSo, who will marketers count on to assist them with the tasks of deepening brand engagement with core target segments, revitalizing sales and profits in a low-growth environment and in differentiating their brands for competitive advantage?

Over the course of the last few years, many have opined on the viability of the ad agency model and what it portends for advertiser/ agency relationships going forward. And with good reason. Concerns cited include threats from non-traditional competitors such as management consulting and technology firms encroaching on their turf, talent recruitment and retention challenges and margin compression due to downward pressure on fees and expanded scopes of services.

It may be as some predict that management consulting firms will leverage their capabilities in the area of strategy and integration to pirate work from ad agencies and that ad-tech providers will enable marketers to take certain tasks in-house. The question remains, how will marketers adjust to this dynamic and the evolution of their agency networks to potentially include consulting, data and ad-tech firms? There are already very real challenges related to agency stewardship today due to under-resourced client marketing staffs.

The aforementioned challenges, combined with the rate of digitization and the emerging role of artificial intelligence occurring within the ad industry, certainly pose challenges for advertising agencies and could serve to lessen their stranglehold on the marketing and advertising sector. In a recent McKinsey article entitled; “The Global Forces Inspiring a New Narrative of Progress” the authors note that “disruption is accelerating.” They opine that this dynamic is raising serious concerns for many organizations relating to the question, “How long can their traditional sources of competitive advantage survive in the face of technological shifts?”

That said, in spite of these risk factors and other marketplace developments, ad agencies are doing just fine:

  • Agency holding companies have continued their aggressive acquisition drives, supporting both their horizontal and vertical integration strategies. While overall M&A activity is down from 2016 levels, WPP and Dentsu have consummated twenty acquisitions with a combined value of $700 million through the first 4 months of 2017. (Source: R3’s “State of Agency M&A report” for January – April, 2017).
  • While down from 2016’s 5.7% growth rate, global ad spending is projected to grow 3.6% in 2017 (Source: Magna Global, June, 2017). Of note, this is higher than the International Monetary Fund’s projected increase for global GDP growth.
  • Even though 1Q17 Advertising Industry gross margins fell to 44.15%, the industry itself is healthy. For instance, within the services sector, the Advertising Industry achieved the highest gross margins, net margins, EBITDA margins and pre-tax margins for the quarter (Source: CSIMarket.com).
  • Some 86% of mid-sized ad agencies are confident that this year will be better than last in terms of profitable growth (Source: Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) survey).

Importantly, since the demise of the “good ole days” of full-service agencies and the fifteen-percent commission remuneration model, agencies have demonstrated a unique ability to not only keep up with industry changes, but to take the lead from both a thought leadership and innovation perspective. They have been able to scale, attracting more clients and deeper talent pools, they have invested in emerging technologies to deal with increasingly complicated, data driven processes and to pioneer the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence to efficiently execute deliverables ranging from digital media investment to creative adaptations… all while dealing with evolving client expectations.

Further, it bears noting that the publicly traded holding companies; WPP, Omnicom Group, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Dentsu, had combined estimated worldwide 2016 revenue levels of $60.7 billion (Source: Advertising Age, June 2017). When one considers the pre-dominance of the estimated billing process and agency remuneration schema that includes direct labor and overhead cost reimbursement plus guaranteed profit margins of 14% to 17% or more, one must also respect the financial clout that these publicly traded entities wield.

Is there a need for near-term belt tightening to offset softer 2017 ad spending levels? Yes. Do the holding companies need to consolidate agency brands and realign capabilities to boost the efficacy of their service delivery models and generate much needed efficiencies? Yes. Will agencies need to improve their talent recruitment and retention practices, across a diverse range of specialties? Yes. But no business is immune from these challenges, including management consultants, ad-tech platforms and publishers.

The big question the industry in general and marketers will need to assess is related to whether these players will be able to boldly transform their current business models, repositioning their firms to deliver integrated, multi-specialist services in a nimble, cost efficient, on-demand manner.

Broadly speaking, all participants are facing challenges as the ad industry undergoes its current metamorphoses. We believe that it is too early to predict winners and losers or to suggest that marketers adapt an attitude of empathy toward any of their marketing supply chain partners. After all, it is their marketing spend that has built this sector into a $457.4 billion global machine in 2017 (Source: Statista, 2017). And they must vigilantly safeguard and optimize that investment.

Below is one of the closing lines from A Tale of Two Cities, one that many may not be as familiar with:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”

With this parting thought, Dickens’ suggests that the main character in his novel and the city of France will be resurrected, rising above their present strife and “made illustrious.”

Here’s hoping that the ad industry achieves similar transformative success.

 

 

Is the 4A’s Action on “Transparency” a “Tipping Point” for Client/ Agency Relationships?

17 Feb

Tipping PointMuch has been written about the content of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) recently released “Transparency Guidelines,” less about the potential impact of the 4A’s decision to break rank from the cross-industry task force with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and to act unilaterally.

For the record, from both an advertiser and agency perspective, we believe that the guidelines proposed by the 4A’s have the potential to do irreparable harm to client/ agency relationships. The guidelines appear to driven by greed and a certain naiveté about the source of agency leverage… namely their clients’ advertising budgets. Let’s face it, in the context of a principal-agent relationship there is no logical way to rationalize a guideline which states:

The agency, (agency group and holding company) may enter into commercial relationships with media vendors and other suppliers on its own account, which are separate and unrelated to the purchase of media as agent for their clients.”

One, the notion that the potential for financial gain would not introduce a level of bias that could influence an agency’s recommendations to its clients is unrealistic. Two, pooling client dollars to use as collateral in cutting side deals with media vendors and suppliers for its own benefit is inappropriate.

From our perspective, we believe that the 4A’s and any of its members that support the association’s guidelines on transparency have made a serious error in judgment. Yet, it should be noted, that not one agency has spoken out against the 4A’s action or the composition of its “Transparency Guidelines” nor has one agency seceded from the association. Thus, one might assume that all of the 4A’s members support the position taken.

At a time when issues such as transparency, trust, talent and compensation are posing serious challenges to the length and efficacy of client/ agency relationships, the 4A’s action on the topic of transparency will not serve their members well in the long-term. Why? There are, we believe two reasons.

First of all without clients, agencies have no means for existence. On the other hand, as it stands today, some may view agencies as a luxury, not a necessity for advertisers. Without agencies, clients still have a number of options for marketing their firms, brands and products. These options range from dealing direct with suppliers that are today considered “third-party vendors” such as; production companies, photographers, content developers and curators and media owners. Additionally, one must consider an advertisers option to create in-house capabilities rather than outsource all or some elements of their advertising.

The second reason is that absent an underlying level of trust, agencies can never hope to recover the coveted position of “strategic partner” that they once enjoyed. In our opinion, the 4A’s action has relegated their member agencies to “vendor” status whose goods and services an advertiser might choose to avail themselves of, without being beholden to the agency in a meaningful way.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book; “The Tipping Point” he suggested to readers; “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not, with the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.” Think about that statement in the context of some of the trends our industry is experiencing today:

  • Growing impact of social media in shaping consumer views and behaviors
  • Rapid expansion of programmatic media buying
  • Advances in ad technology, impacting many facets of the message creation & distribution cycle
  • Increasing prevalence of advertiser/ publisher direct relationships
  • Rise of non-traditional alternatives to ad agencies (i.e. IBM, Deloitte, Accenture)

Surely the 4A’s is aware of the aforementioned trends and the moves in recent months by advertisers such as P&G, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Expedia, L’Oreal and Wal-Mart to either move certain aspects of their advertising in-house ranging from creative to programmatic media buying; or are purported to be actively investigating “alternative models.”

Do the 4A’s and their members believe that they are impervious to such trends? What were they hoping to gain by breaking ranks from the ANA and the joint transparency task force? Perhaps more importantly, are 4A’s members prepared for the potential impact of the association’s actions? According to Mr. Gladwell:

“That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”

For the sake of the advertising agency community, let’s hope that their recent action on the topic of transparency isn’t the “small movement” that fuels the “epidemic” which forever tips their once favored status as trusted confidants to alternative vendors of commodity like marketing services.

Expanding Your In-House Agency?

10 Sep

in-house advertising agencyAccording to a recent survey by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA); “More companies are leaning on in-house  resources for their marketing needs in place of external shops.”  In fact, the survey showed that the “penetration of in-house agencies shot up to 58% in 2012 from 42% in 2008.” 

While there are many reasons that might prompt an advertiser to consider such a move, ranging from budgetary pressures and content ownership rights to responsiveness, “cost efficiencies” were cited by 88% of the ANA survey’s respondents.  A recent announcement from Apple reinforces this trend.  Apple indicated that it sought to bring more of its advertising in-house, hiring outside creative talent, including “senior level creatives known for innovative work” to bolster their in-house design team.  Of note, Apple indicated that this group could grow from 300 people today to over 500 in the near-term. 

While the notion of “cost savings” may sound alluring, advertisers should tread cautiously in this area.  Boosting headcount comes with its own challenges, risks and costs… some of which may be transparent and others that may be unknown.  Perhaps the first question to be asked is; “How do you know whether or not moving work in-house will yield savings?”  Validating this hypothesis would require that the advertiser  has historical information on “what it cost” to execute work utilizing their advertising agencies; a level of detail that goes well beyond agency billings, agency labor hours and bill rates, and studio rate sheets. 

As part of the discovery process for analyzing potential benefits associated with transitioning work from agencies to an in-house staff, advertisers may want to consider gathering very detailed project time and costing information..  This would include securing answers to questions such as: 

  • What are the typical project lead-times provided to the agency by the various client stakeholder groups?  What would the impact on lead times be in an in-house model?  Would there be efficiencies and and thus cost savings by adjusting the cycle?  Can this be achieved in-house?
  • What about project turn-around time parameters?
  • Does the separation between client and agency cause communication issues and re-work?  At what cost?
  • What % of the work is highly complex? Moderate?? Or Simple?  What are the costs for each category?
  • What is the cost of innovation vs. adaptation?  Should an agency relationship be maintained for one or the other?
  • What level of staff proficiency/ experience is required?
  • And MOST importantly, can creativity, and overall advertising effectiveness be continually improved in an in-house model? 

For many advertisers, this type of data may not be readily available from the project tracking and summary documents utilized by your agencies today.  

Thus it makes sense to identify the key decision making criteria which will be utilized to benchmark any efficiency gains tied to bringing work in-house.  Once identified, there are at least two avenues an advertiser can consider: 

  1. Go Forward – Amend current project tracking reporting to incorporate measures which support the aforementioned decision making criteria and monitor performance against those criteria for a pre-determined period of time.
  2. Historical – Work with the agency to conduct a review of project activity over the course of the prior 12 to 24 months to establish an historical database of information to aid the organization in preparing a “business case” for such a move. 

Depending on the timeline for the decision, the “Historical” approach may prove to be both more practical and will likely yield a more accurate perspective on organizational behaviors which can impact project costing.  

So, “Where to begin?” you ask.  It may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources to engage an independent consultant to work with you and your agency to accumulate this information.  Of note, most client-agency agreements afford advertisers access to the data necessary to conduct a thorough audit of past project costs (i.e. agency fees, time-of-staff, 3rd party invoice detail, in-house studio charges, etc…).  The key then becomes conducting a comprehensive analysis of the DATA, timeframes, time value of money, vendor costs, studio costs, labor costs, overhead costs, etc., rather than “hard copy” assessment of a limited sample set of projects, which is necessary to make an informed decision across the hundreds if not thousands of jobs initiated/ completed on an annual basis.  

Armed with a detailed, historical perspective an advertiser will be able to accurately assess if the “efficiency gains” are substantial enough to warrant a further examination of building out an in-house resource. 

 

 

 

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