Tag Archives: agency network

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

 

Budget Reductions Create Opportunity to Fine-Tune Agency Network

28 May

 

Advertising concept: Ad Agency on digital background

For marketers seeking to generate efficiency gains, looking internally to rethink the processes used to manage planning and creative development workflows can yield significant benefit.

As importantly, looking externally at “how” and “where” work is being performed across an organization’s network of marketing services agencies is extremely important. This involves an objective assessment of the current network of agency partners, their resource offerings, capabilities, performance, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to each.

Without periodic assessment, agency networks can become bloated beyond a marketing team’s ability to effectively manage these vital resources. This risk can be compounded in companies where marketing positions are vacant or have been eliminated as a result of a budget reduction decisions – leaving fewer client-side personnel to manage dispersed agency activities.

Reviewing and creating an inventory of roster agency capabilities and the roles assigned is never a bad thing when it comes to identifying unnecessary expenses or opportunities to consolidate resources and protect against redundancy. Amongst other benefits, since the work necessitates a review of each agency agreement and remuneration program tenets, output should include a comparison of agreement terms, conditions, requirements, and bill rates to ensure consistency (where applicable) and reasonableness of agency bill rates and other costs.

This practice is even more apt when marketing budgets are being cut and agency scopes of work reduced. Such assessments form the objective basis for eliminating duplicative activities and or resources, paring specialty agencies that are not being fully utilized, and eliminating unnecessary fees that are putting downward pressure on working dollars.

Consider; How many agencies do you have that are managing influencers? Involved with social media or content production? How many different agencies are being utilized for studio services or broadcast production? How many agency trading desks are being utilized for the placement of programmatic media? Are you utilizing specialist firms that may no longer be required based on changes to the marketing budget (e.g. event management)? It is highly likely that there are opportunities to consolidate work among fewer partners to simplify workflows, improve communications and reduce costs.

If you are utilizing a “lead” agency to coordinate activities, briefings, production and trafficking across your agency network, it may be worthwhile to solicit their input on potential agency roster moves. Further, once a plan is formulated, collaborating with the lead agency’s account team to affect transitions can be critical to the success of consolidations and the reshuffling of assignments. If you do not employ a lead agency model, the time may be right to consider this approach.

Streamlining external agency networks will improve communication between marketer and agency, enhance business alignment and instill clarity on success metrics. In the wake of current crisis driven budgetary adjustments and uncertainty, companies may want to give serious consideration to such an approach.

“Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater.”

                                                                                                                   ~ Tony Blair

Supply Chain Optimization: A Concept Whose Time Has Come for Marketers

28 Jan

Supply Chain Management word cloud, made with text only.Much has changed since the diminished role of the full-service agency in the 1980’s. Decoupling and specialization initially swelled the size of marketers’ agency networks, then the meteoric rise of digital and social media further expanded the ranks of specialist agencies and gave birth to the adtech and martech industries. In the end, all served to significantly expand the advertising supply chain, adding complexity and cost.

A biproduct of these events is downward pressure on marketers’ working dollars, as an increasing portion of the budget is funneled to agency fees and underwriting the growing costs of advertising related technology. Thus, a key challenge faced by marketers today is evaluating how to reduce supply chain related fees as part of their efforts to improve efficiencies, drive revenues and build strong brands.

Strategies for addressing this challenge include; consolidating supply chain partners, reducing the number of agencies and intermediaries in the roster, and establishing distinct roles and responsibilities among agency and intermediary partners to eliminate redundancy and clarify deliverable and KPI ownership. Along the way it’s important to seek better alignment between agency remuneration programs, resource allocation needs and business outcomes.

Scrutinizing and monitoring supply chain partner performance, in the context of the client/ agency agreements that govern the relationships, is a necessary ingredient for successful implementation for each of these strategies. Establishing a formal marketing supplier accountability program also mitigates supply chain related risk while providing a foundation for improving supply chain efficiency.

Unfortunately, too often there is no clear organizational “ownership” around marketing supply chain accountability. While marketing clearly serves as the relationship management lead with suppliers, their principal focus is and should be on brand building, customer acquisition and demand generation.  Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect marketing executives to serve as the “principal in charge” for supplier accountability. This is particularly so considering the number and nature of obligations that comprise an accountability program, including but not limited to the following:

  • Agency contract compliance reviews
  • Agency remuneration reviews
  • Annual agency fee reconciliations
  • Annual marketing supplier billing reconciliations
  • Annual 360-degree supplier performance evaluations
  • Supplier performance reviews
  • Supplier pricing reviews and competitive bidding
  • Supplier contract and SOW reviews

Based on experience, we firmly believe that involvement and support from corporate groups such as; Procurement, Finance and Internal Audit are critical to marketing supply chain optimization. Involving individuals and leadership from these groups to shoulder responsibility for the accountability program is important to drive supply chain efficiency – or at the very least these individuals can support Marketing’s efforts, ease Marketing’s burden, and bring cross-functional perspectives to bear.

At the end of the day, there are two overriding goals for any marketing supply chain optimization program:

  1. Strong supplier relationships
  2. Optimized use of corporate marketing budgets

In a growing, complex, rapidly changing market sector which represents over $1.3 trillion in global marketing and advertising spend (source: PQ Media) the need to embrace supply chain optimization has never more clear, nor the associated benefits more meaningful.

 

 

Advertisers, Did You Get What You Paid For?

2 Dec

contract compliance auditingGiven the complexity and opacity of the advertising ecosystem, at least from a billing and reconciliation perspective, it can be very difficult for an advertiser to assess if their organization received full value for their advertising investment.

Consider that most agency billing to clients is done on an estimated basis, that supporting invoice detail is often limited and that seldom is 3rd party vendor invoice documentation contained with an agency’s billing to the advertiser. Not to mention the fact that production jobs can take several months to close, that media post-buy analyses typically occur three to six months after a campaign’s initial month-of-service billing or that agency time-of-staff summaries may only be provided semi-annually or at year end… if at all. 

Many advertiser/ agency agreements provide guidelines to help mitigate some of the concerns that may arise with regard to the notion of receiving full budgetary value.  Document retention clauses, expense billing detail requirements, accounts payable timing parameters and audit rights language are examples of the terms and conditions which are negotiated into agreements to safeguard advertisers. Ironically, very few advertisers take advantage of these contractual protections to conduct detailed reviews of the billing and financial stewardship portion of their respective agency partners’ performance.

However, pressure has begun to mount from stakeholder groups within client organizations that are not directly involved in the agency relationship management loop to provide a higher level of accountability when it comes to the disposition of their marketing funds.  Further, functions such as finance, internal audit and procurement have even stepped up to provide funding and or personnel support to help their counterparts in marketing implement billing, financial management and contract compliance reviews of their agency networks.

This type of testing and analysis should be welcomed with open arms by both the Marketing Team and an advertiser’s agency partners. Let’s face it, marketing teams, which are often resource constrained, have their hands full with their primary responsibility… demand generation. Further, some of the competencies and experience which best lend themselves to conducting financial testing may not be represented on staff within the marketing group. Similarly, agency finance teams have become both accustomed to and quite adept at entertaining advertisers and or their audit partners in conducting billing reconciliations and contract compliance reviews.

If such support is not forthcoming, marketers may want to actively solicit the involvement of their corporate services peers to implement a marketing accountability initiative. Inviting this type of internal scrutiny has more benefits than negatives. Consider the words of Edward Coke, the noted English barrister, judge and politician:

“Certainty is the mother of quiet and repose, and uncertainty the cause of variance and contentions.”

Removing any uncertainty regarding the organization’s advertising investment and the efficacy of each agencies billing and reconciliation processes has asset value for marketers which extends well beyond answering the basic question; “Did we get what we paid for?”

 

 

Do Advertisers Value Their Agencies?

4 Aug

client - agency relationshipsThis question came to mind when reading the results of a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) dealing with the state of the advertising industry.  One of the survey respondents expressed an opinion that clients were “much more aggressive and much less loyal.” Further, the representative from a creative agency stated that clients were “aggressive on cost and expectation and less committed to supporting their agency in their efforts to deliver excellence.” 

Subjectively speaking, many of us involved in the advertising space would likely answer this question with an unqualified “no, not as much as they once did.” 

The reasons for holding such an opinion may be many and varied, but the evidence manifests itself in the fact that client/ agency relationships simply are not as enduring as they once were.  There have been a number of studies conducted over the last half-dozen years which have pegged the average relationship length in the 3 – 5 year range.  If advertisers truly valued their agencies surely this would manifest it in longer, more productive relationships.  Wouldn’t it? 

Once full-service ad agencies “unbundled” this set the stage for advertisers to expand their agency rosters to address their “specialized” marketing needs.   In turn, this created bench strength and ultimately allowed advertisers to more readily re-allocate brand assignments across their stable of agencies, which certainly accounts for some percentage of client/ agency change.  Over time, the notion of transitioning work from one network partner to another became more acceptable and perhaps led advertisers to view going outside of their current agency rosters as less of an issue. 

Change costs.  Whether measured in terms of the time required to effectively transition an agency or the opportunity costs tied to a “new” agency’s learning curve on the business.  This in turn creates risks with regard to an advertiser’s demand generation and market share accretion efforts.  Yet in spite of the cost of change, advertisers continue to change out agencies at an alarming rate.  

One cannot place blame for this trend solely on advertisers.  The actions and behaviors which precipitate the termination of a client/ agency relationship both parties have a shared responsibility.  Similarly, clients and agencies each hold the keys to extending both the length and productivity of their relationship.  It begins with a simple, but powerful concept… mutual respect.  After all “respect” is an important proof point of the extent to which one organization values the contributions and support of another. 

Advertisers can take the lead in this area with a series of simple, yet meaningful processes which will demonstrate the extent to which they value their agency partners:  

  • First and foremost, advertisers can and should align agency compensation with desired agency outputs, measured both in terms of detailed statement of work outputs and the resource commitment required by the agency to deliver on those expectations.  
  • Minimizing project reworks and the number of start / stops in the planning and execution phases of creative and or media development will go a long way to demonstrate the regard in which advertisers hold their agency partners.
  • Look for opportunities to improve the briefing process.  Advertisers who can effectively and succinctly prepare their agency partners at the start of a project provide a huge morale boost for their agencies and greatly enhance the odds of producing great work.
  • Reinforce the fact that as a client, you value the input of your agency partners.  Encourage candid, two-way communication among all stakeholders involved in the Client/ Agency relationship.  To be effective, this concept must extend beyond the annual 360° performance review process.
  • Encourage full transparency when it comes to agency reporting and financial management.  Supplement this with periodic (i.e. quarterly) business reviews so that both sides have a clear understanding of where everything stands, both as it relates to budgets/ project completion as well as with the relationship itself. 
  • Consider rewarding successes with incentive programs tied to the efficacy of the agency’s marketing efforts, using brand relevant milestones as the guideposts (i.e. awareness, sales, market share).

As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” 

Taking these proven steps will go a long way toward demonstrating the extent to which advertisers value their agencies, as well as the respect which they have for the art of crafting and delivering effective marketing communications.  In the end, they can also represent an important building block in extending the length and productivity of their agency relationships. 

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