Agency 3.0: Speed Wins

Top automotive industry marketer Jon Pollock, Toyota GB’s general manager for network development, remembers how his agencies had no choice but to react quickly when the company was forced to recall thousands of cars because of safety fears.

Toyota has a roundtable agency approach across Europe and this was tested to the limit. It employs Saatchi & Saatchi as its main creative supplier, Glue for its digital expertise and ZenithOptimedia for media.

“A crisis highlights where there are strengths and weaknesses in your agency structure and there is no time for political niceties when a brand is in trouble,” says Pollock. “We have been wrestling with this for quite a bit. Toyota is a consensus-based organisation and there is a need for specialisation where we do not have the skills. We also like specialist agencies to feed in to our internal teams, but there is now a big focus on efficiency when talking about how pan-European campaigns work.”

Make no mistake about it: Agencies face a challenging future if they ignore marketers’ warnings. We all know how some large agency groups have become lumbering and cumbersome corporate machines over the years.

With consumers in control, marketing directors want to limit the number of frogs they kiss before they find the prince among agencies that they really, really want to have a relationship with. The agencies that pop the champagne corks after pitches in the future will be those that can demonstrate an ability to move effortlessly between digital, broadcast and other media options within their own network or through partnerships with credible third-party specialist agencies that their clients are happy to trust. Agencies need to prove they are aligned with their clients’ brand objectives both internationally and locally.

Marketers will hunt out the agencies that can embrace this ever-evolving era of fragmented media channels and disjointed audiences. Oh, yes, they will expect these agencies to deliver a fabulous return on investment as well as creative genius.

As Paul Kemp-Robertson, co-founder of Contagious Communications and editorial director of Contagious magazine, puts it, “YouTube is essentially a giant television and Twitter is the world’s water cooler. Modern popular culture is driven by velocity and variety. Taking six months to craft a 30-second commercial and print campaign feels like sending a fax rather than an email.”

This is so true and why brands are desperate to grab hold of and hug agencies that are best in their class, whether this is a network or a boutique.

The problem for top marketers is that this desire must be balanced with the cost benefits of employing suppliers with more consolidated and centralised agency structures. Global pitches are all about saving money these days, so when buying marketing services, potential economies of scale are extremely attractive. Does that mean more money will go to the networks or the boutiques? It’s a debate that could easily rage long into the night over several adult beverages. We’ll explore that another day.

What is clear is that clients with global aspirations and needs love the network offer and the reassurances it can bring. However, they also enjoy the top-table partnership they get from working with an independent agency.

A requirement that agencies be able to react quickly was a recurring theme among the top marketers with whom we spoke.

Online retail brands such as Lastminute.com certainly can’t put up with agencies that, to put it bluntly, faff around. Mark Fells, who was UK marketing director for the travel and entertainment site during the 2010 ash cloud that closed most of Europe’s airspace, cites that particular crisis as a perfect example of why agencies will have to be structured in a different way so that they are always on their toes.

“The ash cloud was something none of us could have predicted, and it had a major impact on all travel and leisure businesses in some shape or form. How those brands responded and changed their communication and media buying was unprecedented,” explains Fells. “We worked with agencies that are London-based and not too far away from us because we had to pull meetings together and go through new ideas and changes very quickly. For us, it was all about pace. It is the ability to work at pace which generates a unique relationship with agencies.”

The pace Fells talks about is central to how agencies will have to adapt. The reality is harsh. If agencies don’t listen, they’ll soon be dead in the water.

Breda Bubear, head of advertising and communication at Virgin Atlantic (a gyro client), has worked on the same brand for more than 20 years and she says the speed of change and delivery has been frantic in recent years.

“Agencies must be more responsive and have better internal processes because consumers and businesses want and expect things at the touch of a button. People are not prepared to wait days for a response from a brand they are interacting with. If consumers can get e-tickets within a few seconds, clients will expect fast responses from their agencies. Innovation is not just about creativity; it is about finding speedier ways to communicate.”

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Late last year gyro conducted a global study on the new model agency of the future: Agency 3.0. Our study involved one-to-one interviews with global marketing heads from some of the world’s leading brands, including AMD, Virgin Atlantic, Bacardi, Unilever, Psion, Toyota, Nokia, Birds Eye, HSBC and Google. The project covered many areas: structure, talent, remuneration, discipline and creativity. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be serializing some of our findings. See previous Agency 3.0 post.

by Patrick Danaher
Director of Marketing
Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network

Follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickDanaher.