Improving Your Brand-Agency Relationships

Increasingly, brands are re-evaluating how to resource their marketing teams. Here are a few ways to navigate the growing uncertainty between marketing teams and agencies.

There’s a growing trend in marketing where many brands are taking their content and creative work in-house and out of scope from their agencies. It wasn’t long ago that agencies were the only solution for marketers to access the top talent in their field.

But today the pressures of changing needs from brands, new self-serve technology and services, and a desire for brands to have more control and oversight into spend and performance, are all resulting in a less-willing customer base. And, this change is not just conjecture. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) reported in 2018 that 78 percent of their members now have an in-house agency.

From Ford, Walmart, Electrolux, Unilever, and the NHL, organizations of all kinds are shifting some or all of their marketing activities from third-party service providers to internal departments. No longer are brands beholden to agency experts as they look for other ways to resource their teams. Brands can now split content like videos, short films, and social media posts between specialized firms and their own homegrown designers and strategists.

Today’s marketers have more options at their disposal, and more opportunities to create the most effective marketing content possible. By combining work from agencies with their own creative assets, brands can now truly excel at developing content.

The Benefits of In-House Support

There are many reasons for the changes we’re seeing in the agency space. Some brands believe there’s a cost savings associated with creating marketing in-house. In its 2017 annual report, Unilever claimed to have cut its ad creative expenditure by 30 percent when it reduced its dependency on external agencies. But, as noted by Marketing Dive, paying less for marketing assets doesn’t always pay off. Pepsi created its now-infamous “Live for Now” commercial, featuring model Kendall Jenner, in-house only to pull the video from YouTube after facing widespread consumer backlash.

Another advantage to bringing content production in-house? Brands argue it allows for faster and more nimble production of creative assets. This is a big plus in the fast-moving social media environment. Speed and flexibility are important. The closer marketers are to stakeholders and corporate decision makers, the quicker they can respond to challenges and opportunities.

All of this said, there’s no question that client-side marketers still benefit from having agencies in their resourcing arsenal. Recently, Adweek reported on the need to collaborate in order to create conscious, purpose-driven content that inspires consumers. This is a must at a time when 78 percent of Americans feel companies should positively impact society rather than simply set out to make money. By partnering with Ogilvy UK and the Cartoon Network, for example, Dove was able to create a powerful campaign to help teens navigate complex social dynamics and develop their self-esteem.

The Logistics of Agency Relationships Today

Creative production aside, there are aspects of the brand-marketer relationship that require some digging deeper into. Consider retainers — regular fees that clients pay to their agencies in order to retain their services and gain access to their creative teams. Increasingly, such fees are being replaced by a project-based costing model. This is largely because so many brands now work with multiple agencies and rely on numerous partners for different services.

“A retainer pricing model no longer serves clients or gives them value as it did a decade ago,” a PR agency CEO recently wrote in Forbes. Her recommendation? “Step away from the retainer pricing model and embrace an à la carte approach,” which can help agencies set client expectations, grow client lists, and create a more transparent business partnership.

From the client’s perspective, rather than dealing with inconsistent output — agencies may produce multiple pieces of content one month and no content at all the next — a retainer-free model enables partners to know exactly what they’re getting. It also helps clients determine fair pricing on a case-by-case basis.

Aside from revisiting the agency pricing model, there are a few more things you can do to enhance your agency relationships. These tips will also help your content marketing overall.

Hire the right agency for the job. The expression “jack of all trades, master of none,” may be cliche, but in marketing, it makes sense. Working with niche agencies that specialize in one form of promotion — be it paid search, social media, photography, or video content — may lead to more fruitful campaigns. This is due both to the abilities of their content specialists and their profound knowledge of their field.
Prioritize relationship management. All relationships require a human touch, so make sure you have a strong team in place to manage your agency relationships and keep collaborations running smoothly. McKinsey and Company advises marketing clients to verify that agencies have a clear understanding of current marketing platforms and channels; define what each agency is expected to do; and measure results and your return on investment to make “sure you’re getting the rates and views you’ve been promised.” After all, proving tangible and quantitative value in every agency relationship is crucial if you hope to assess its value.
Immerse freelancers in your company culture and brand. If you’re producing some of your marketing content in-house, you’ll likely use a mix of full-time staff and freelancers. Don’t expect freelancers to understand the finer points of your brand strategy without assistance, though. Instead, immerse them in your company culture, mission, values, and goals. Provide style guides and corporate-approved content for them to work with. This way they’ll be better equipped to produce content that converts consumers into loyal fans.

With a little work, your agency relationships can thrive, resulting in better marketing content for your brand. It seems disruptive on the surface. But, the changes we’re seeing in the way marketers work with agencies may actually impact our industry for the better.

Top image via John Kotlowski

Want to learn more? Check out these articles:

IGTV: Discover the Value of Streaming Video
Planning a Social Media Collaboration the Right Way
Lessons Learned from Seven Viral Brand Moments
6 Marketing Channels to Audit for Content Consistency
A Super Quick Guide to Using Video on LinkedIn

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