7 posts categorized "Agencies"

11/29/2010 What Are You Selling?

Agencies and marketers, big and small, are in the business selling services. We sell our services to clients and hope that we help them grow. Many agencies say they’re selling process or strategy or even engagement. But at the end of the day, most of them are selling the services and people they already have: creative, production and media. 

One reason why client satisfaction with agencies is often so low is that clients want agencies to recommend solutions that fit the clients’ needs. The challenge for agencies is that they make money from filling the plates of the people they already have on staff. And if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Digital agencies are no different. It’s why we still see so many microsites out there. Social agencies are falling into the same trap.

Optimally agencies would come in and evaluate the marketing situation and opportunities from a neutral standpoint. That’s one of the things I try to do with Digalicious. Since we’re a networked agency, we have no vested interest in suggesting one solution over another, since we have no “inventory” to move. I know from experience how hard that is working with a bigger agency, since selling what you have gives you bigger profit margins.

Big agencies have tried to solve this by either having a huge array of services, or by becoming a holding company for separate specialized entities. But what we’ve seen, instead, are problems coordinating these internal groups and even political infighting between holding company “brothers.”

The problem is that clients don’t care about agency problems. They care about their own problems.

That’s one of the reasons why agencies like Co. might succeed: they have a core group of people but don’t have to worry about what recommendations they suggest, as long as they’re the right suggestions and that they have quality people and partners who can step in.The opportunity is that the collaboration will work better when everyone sits at the table as equals and shares in the decision-making. 

Looking ahead, the biggest challenge is having enough high-quality, independent collaborators to tap into. Maybe more and more people will leave the bigger agencies to start their own. Yet the agencies are making this harder every day since most of them have a lot of money to spend on talent. If that talent stays in the system, the collaborators pool will stay shallow.

Ultimately the clients will tip the scales one way or another by deciding on whether they want help from a neutral arbiter or from someone with a dog in the fight.


03/29/2010 Who Leads Adaptive Marketing?

Sean Corcoran has an interesting post about the roles various agencies can play in the future of marketing. His thesis is that no type of agency is ready to lead. Both agencies, and their clients, know this. The challenge, according to Corcoran, is that in this social media era where customers have more control due to technology enabling tools, traditional agencies still don't have the weight to lead in technology and interactive agencies don't have the background to lead in branding.

Edward Boches has a great take on why he feels energized by the report (it validates where he's going and more people will read it, since it comes from Forrester).  He also offers some tidbits not included in Sean's blog.


What struck me most was this line from Forrester:

"The reality is marketers should own their social media strategy since it is about creating direct conversations with consumers, with agencies playing a supporting role helping develop strategy, identify influentials, build out communities and infrastructure and help with analytics (to name a few)."

That's a huge shift for many companies. One of the reasons they hire agencies is that they don't have to own their marketing. TV ads and Web site builds are but two examples of how companies outsource large parts of their brand.

Owning the strategy and conversation moves companies back into making marketing a part of the core business, not just something added on. The challenge is how companies will find time for their employees to own that relationship. Hire more? Shift job responsibilities? Once the focus shifts from technologies and outsourcing as the sole solution to employees' time and efforts, then brands face a stark choice, since most have used employee "streamlining" as a way to reduce costs and improve profits.

What Forrester seems to be saying is that if brands don't invest in their own ownership of the conversation in social media then no agency or group of agencies will fill that ownership void for them. It's clear who leads: The brand itself, or no one.
11/20/2009 Digital Leadership

On my trip to Boston this week I had the pleasure listening to an amazing group of digital pros talk about using labs and experimentation to change culture within an agency. The underlying message was that clients demanded digital expertise and solutions but that agencies still scrambled to show that they could deliver this. Traditional agencies, those weaned on the 30-second spot and the dynamic duo model of copywriter/art director, face the biggest challenge to change, as opposed to the pure digital players.

I also took the opportunity to talk briefly with Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer of Mullen. I've been following and interacting with Edward on Twitter and in the blogosphere, which is always fun. But in person is better. And I finally got to ask him the question I find most relevant:

"What did you do to shift the focus at Mullen from traditional to digital?" Now Mullen has always had a large interactive group but so do a lot of places. But if you compare what they're doing this year, and the attention they're receiving as a digital/social media agency, something's happening. And they're starting to leapfrog the other agency giants in Boston.

Edward's answer was consistent with other successful digital leaders. He discovered digital with a passion and became, at least mildly, obsessed with it. He thought it was a blast. It wasn't that he became the best technologist or the hottest coder. It was that as he dug in and played with it, it filled him with ideas and excitement and spoke to his creative muse.

That, in essence, is what every digital leader has to have. An excitement, if not passion, for the possibilities of technology. You can't fake that excitement. I don't think you can delegate that excitement. Many of today's leaders think hiring some one or some two will solve that problem, while the leaders sit back and see what happens. This can only work if the leader cedes much of his or her control to the new people. Which almost never happens.


If you look back over the past 10+ years, that's how agencies tried to manage the digital space. They started interactive groups, hired online specialists and then put their focus back on the traditional side. They were always surprised to find that their agencies weren't further ahead.

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott McCormick of VML several times. To me, Scott is great example of digital leadership. He took a medium sized, midwestern agency and helped turn them into one of the world's digital powerhouses. When I talked to Scott, his love of technology and gadgets always came out. He thought the digital space was so much fun that he surrounded himself with incredibly smart people who felt the same way. Scott always played down his own knowledge but it was clear to me that his passion drove the success of VML. The incredibly smart people around him aren't enough without that leadership.

Digital leadership, like any other leadership, doesn't flow from logic it flows from passion. The problem for many agency leaders is that they don't have that digital passion. But few are willing to leave or cede control so that their agencies can change.

If the traditional agency model dies, you can chalk it up to the lack of digital leadership.
11/13/2009 Watch Out for Agencies Acting Like Jilted Girlfriends

The client-agency relationship has never been a life long love affair. It's like a short, intense period of romance followed by a short, sometime rocky, sometimes sublime marriage that ultimately ends in divorce. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the nature of the business. People come and go and they realize the relationship is stale and that they each want to see new people.

Usually, that break up takes place behind closed doors. And everyone plays the game of acting nicely since you may get back together at some point. You certainly don't want other potential partners to see you acting badly or saying nasty things at the breakup because that might possible scare them off.

So I was surprised to see, on my blog of all places, a bad breakup happening. What's most odd is that I have absolutely nothing to do with the divorce; I'm like Paul Weston in HBO's "In Treatment" watching from the leather chair.

A while back, I wrote about how local ski resort Jay Peak had a hiccup in their social media program. They're doing a lot of things right, but they missed something. Everyone involved jumped in, solved the problem, and moved on.

Everyone, that is, except the agency of record Almighty Boston. The last post in the discussion was from Christopher Smith who stated that one of Jay's social media initiatives "is not an approach that we would encourage, nor endorse." This from the people who "helped design/build Jay Peak's social media platform and strategy."

It sound to me like the agency just called the client "stupid" in public. Now, clients and agencies call each other all sorts of names, but everyone usually does this behind closed doors. It's not often you see public disagreements like this, for good reason. And that reason is that once things like this become public, it's difficult, if not impossible, to find common ground.

It didn't stop there. On October 19th, Almighty Boston resigned the Jay account. When agencies resign clients they usually site "creative differences" like when Shine Advertising resigned the Go Daddy account. We all understand what that means: the agency developed what they thought were killer ideas, but the client didn't like any of them.

Almighty Boston said this instead:
"We're not comfortable moving forward without them having a cohesive plan," said agency partner Christopher Smith.  "We wish them luck."  Hmm, creative difference might simply be a matter of taste, and who can really argue with that. Not having a plan speaks plainly to intelligence. See above.

I thought it would stop there, but it didn't. Steve Wright from Jay Peak joined me for a social media roundtable in Burlington with some other local social media people. He talked about how Jay used social media to get feedback. And guess what? Almighty Boston just couldn't give up another chance to get in another jab. Christopher Smith was back with this comment:

"There must be some mistake/misunderstanding. Jay Peak has never used crowdsourcing in this manner."

Did he just call his former client a liar?

It's sad to see this happening in public, forever (it's the Web, remember). I've always heard good things about both Almighty Boston and Jay Peak. They had a good five-year run together.  I'm not sure what this public spat does (and it seems to be mainly one-sided).

Maybe Almighty Boston feels it's fighting to protect its integrity. Instead, it seems to point out the dangers in leaving an Almighty Boston agency relationship. If I were a prospective client, I'd think twice about the potential of one of my partners going out to trash my brand publicly over internal disagreements. This might one of those new business angles I just don't get.

Call me naïve; I think you can have your integrity and still break up well. No one wants to hire the Jilted Girlfriend, except perhaps out of pity.
07/08/2009 Why Agency Sites are NOT the Future of the Web

When Crispin Porters Web site went beta last week, the digital world was atwitter. What started as a rumble with Zeus Jones, shot forward with Modernista, awed us with Skittles suddenly went super prime time with http://beta.cpbgroup.com/. Finally, proof that all that we online marketers had talked about over the past year or so was starting to come true. The future of the Web had arrived via the hottest ad shop in the world.

Amidst all the gushing, by people who I think are some of the smartest people around, I couldn't help but thinking about how the gushers reminded me of Sally Field accepting her Oscar Award.  The very fact of Crispin following our flow instead of leading it made it sound like a collective gasp of "Alex, you like us. You really like us!"


The Crispin site is a good site for them. Just like the EVB site is good for those great digital marketers and the Barbarian Group's site is a sharp picture of who they are. Personally I love good agency sites, mostly because there are so few of them. But they're not the future of the Web. Not even close. Here's why:

  1. Agencies use their sites to show that they get it - First it was cool flash sites, and now its user generated, social media connected sites. Why? Because agencies need to use the medium itself to prove to prospects that they have command of the latest digital trends. For this subset of service providers, the medium IS really the message. For most businesses that's not the case. They don't have to show that they're flashy or hooked into social media to prove anything. It might help in some cases, but they're not selling the medium itself.
  2. People don't make purchase decisions on agency sites - While I've heard anecdotes I've never heard real stories of people who visited an agency site and hired them right there and then. Never. I can imagine some very small clients doing this but none of any significant business size. Has anyone else? People visit agency sites in a longer process. They've heard about the agency, they've seen some of its work; they're planning on visiting or asking them to respond to an RFP. They look at the agency site to confirm what they're thinking or to fill in some holes (and hopefully not create others). E-commerce sites (agency clients) need to sell something. Service businesses need to prove their competence and personality in areas that have nothing to do with the Web. Can you really take a look at a law firm's site design and technology and conclude they're very good lawyers? Probably not.
  3. Size matters - Many businesses have far more information to organize than do agency sites. Especially when you get into deep e-commerce sites. I love sites like EVB's and the Barbarian Group's because of their simplicity. It's much harder to do this with multi-layered, multi-national companies. Or maybe its not that much harder. It's just harder to convince those clients to go simple. While aggregation might seem to be the wave of the future even for these corporate giants, how the heck are you going to find out about the group you're really trying to contact through the company's Web site if everything is aggregation? Maybe the evolution of the semantic Web will solve this, but social media aggregation probably will not.

I think the new Crispin Porter & Bogusky site is great. But I liked their old site a lot too, with its simple, visual layout, where the work was front and center. I loved how they put their handbook right where everyone could read it.

There are a lot of businesses for whom this makes a lot of sense. Brands whose sites look to entertain and that thrive on conversations and image more than commerce. Starbucks, for example, or BMW. For   those brands, they can look at CPB and learn and aspire.

But many brands still look to the Web as one of their leading sales channel instead.

The new site, like EVB's, isn't necessarily a harbinger of the greater Web world. It's just a bunch of super smart people showing clients that they get how the digital world changes, and that they can master those changes. Rather than taking the execution as the model of the future, business should look at the concept behind what these firms are trying to achieve. Proof of their abilities.

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03/23/2009 Agency Social Media Strategy: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Five digital trends to watch for 2009 Edelman Digital:
“Devouring media is out. Selective ignorance and friends as quality filters are in.”

Recent conversation with agency CEO:
“If another person says the word ‘Twitter’ I’m going to explode!”

Agencies are having a tough time with social media. It’s not all that different from the troubles they were having with the Web 10 years ago. We all realize the challenges with social media: it’s hard to manage, it’s hard to sell and it’s near impossible to make any money on the deal.

I have a simple suggestion for these struggle agencies: Forget social media. Don’t ask about it, don’t jump into it and don’t tell clients about it.


If you’re one of the agencies that do get it, you can skip the rest. But for the traditionals, read on.

Do what you do best: branding, advertising and media placements. This is what you’ve made a good living from over the past 50 years. Stick to your basics and just let this social stuff pass.

Forget all the blogs out there, too. There’s just one blog you need to read and that’s the Ad Contrarian. Just follow Bob. I think you’ll relate to him really well and he’ll put things into proper perspective for you.

With a little luck, everything will go back to normal in a few years. Maybe we’ll find a new advertising model where the 30-second spot still dominates. Top-down branding could make a comeback as the economic downturn opens the door for new totalitarian movements. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

In the mean time, let the social media craziness go to the smaller guys, the independents and entrepreneurs, groups without lots of overhead and who aren’t really a threat to you anyway. That way no one will blame you if the social stuff goes awry. Of course, if something good does happen, just let the brand take credit.

And if your clients ask about, just tell them how much extra work it will mean for them, personally, and they probably won’t ask again. Just don’t tell them to watch companies who are making it work.

Sit back, close your ears, and keep your head down. After all, it took over 100 years to bring GM to its knees so you should have at least a couple of years left.

02/17/2009 And the winner is…

Congratulations to R/GA as Adweek’s Digital Agency of the Year.  R/GA is a great example of a company tapping into the power of digital by building platforms instead of focusing on attention.

And congratulations, too, to Adweek’s  U.S. Agency of the Year, Crispin Porter Bogusky. CPB does amazing work and is as good at getting attention for its clients as it is at getting attention for itself. It truly walks the walk.

Now, of course, there’s backlash at giving Digital its own AOY. Funny, anointing a media agency of the year somehow doesn’t elicit that much controversy. That itself says a lot. Brian Morrissey and Spyro Kourtis ask the question “Do we need a Digital AOY?”

I think we shouldn’t ask “Do we need fewer awards?” We should say “We need MORE awards.” Personally, I think Adweek should be more like Major League Baseball.

We need a Most Valuable Agency Award. We need an Agency Cy Young Award. We need Gold Glove winners, by specialty (PR, Direct, Search, Event, you name it). We need Agency Rookie of the Year Award and Agency Comeback Player of the Year. We need Best Manager for Planners.

Why be stingy? The big elephants will always get their due, we shouldn’t worry about hurting their feelings. Spread the wealth around and give credit where credit is due.

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