Confessions of a former client-side marketer: Why I ditched my agency roster

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During her time client-side, Nicole Miranda saw first-hand the drawbacks of a disparate agency roster. While the desire to have the best people in every discipline working for your business is understandable, it usually means more work. So what’s the alternative?

When I started my career, all agencies were full service. I was working at Leo Burnett on St Kilda Road and we had all the traditional areas of the business under one roof: media, production and creative strategy. And most of our clients were full service. That’s just the way it was.

The whole notion of decentralising and moving media out was quite controversial and we didn’t know what that was going to be like.

In the years that followed, I worked at all sorts of agencies from specialised agencies that had agile ways of working to agencies where I was looking after what we called a ‘satellite office’ servicing a bunch of retail clients by bringing together people from data, analytics, creative, strategy and media.

Then I moved client-side and gained an entirely different understanding of the drawbacks and benefits of different agency models.

As any time-poor marketer will tell you, there are so many things that you’re juggling. If you’ve got multiple agency relationships, you’ve got to brief the same thing multiple times and you’re going to miss pieces of information along the way.

If you’re briefing three agencies, you might brief them all then ask them to go away and come back with an integrated response. When they do, it’s literally three different decks stitched together.

It makes having a single point of contact with one agency incredibly attractive.

Having seen both sides, I’m surprised there are still so many marketers yet to consolidate their agency roster and instead go with a full-service agency that does it all.

I understand there are concerns holding marketers back. One of the biggest is the fear of not getting the absolute best in each discipline.

There’s a belief that to get the best results, you need a series of specialised agencies. But that’s false. And it becomes irrelevant when you see an agency that can thread together thinking across multiple disciplines. This trumps having the single best digital, media and creative agencies working for you because it saves you time and it’s so much more effective. Once you experience it, you won’t want to go back.

During my time at Coles Liquorland, we went out to pitch and had a number of big-name agencies competing for the business.

Ultimately, we chose a smaller full-service agency. The agency stood apart from the others because the thinking was so clearly threaded through in what they presented. The pitch started with the customer problem overlaid with the business problem. The solution was seamlessly integrated right through to the execution. I was so impressed, I’ve since joined the agency in question.

You’d think most agencies would get this right, but unfortunately, there can be a disconnect. And what that boils down to, in my opinion, is the lack of integration that comes from having everyone working together.

Of course, getting the people you need in the same room is just the first step. Many agencies have tried to go down the full-service path and stopped once they did that. The sweet spot is to have media, digital, and data people working together so closely, when you walk into the agency, you can’t tell who does what.

To deliver on all this, you need people with a skill set that includes thinking about other people’s roles. It takes empathy and a 360-degree view of the agency and the client’s business.

Another important piece of the puzzle is having everything sitting under the one P&L. In many agencies, every department is working to their own budget and that can often result in turf wars. You don’t want your agency making recommendations based on which budget or department needs topping up that month. You want them to offer up suggestions tailored for your business, not their needs.

And one final caveat for agencies. It is absolutely critical to understand the client’s business in order to provide or recommend the best service model. It’s not a case of one size fits all.

Having now had the experience of working with and working for a full-service agency, my advice to marketers is to make the switch. I don’t regret it and neither will you.

Nicole Miranda

Nicole has over 20 years of agency and client-side marketing experience across many of Australia’s most popular retail brands. As Director of Client Services, Nicole is passionate about ‘getting in the trenches’ with clients and finding opportunities to help their brands grow stronger.