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Post-integration event: the new brand:agency relationship

Post-Integration: The new brand:agency relationship

On 12th February 2020, we hosted our third instalment of the ‘agency of the future’ event at the Ivy Club. Building on from our previous events that looked closely at the transformations taking place in agencies around integration – this event took the conversation to the next stage, looking beyond integration to the new brand:agency relationship.

With an expert panel featuring brand-side and agency-side speakers, we discussed the key challenges facing brands today, how agencies are better responding to and resolving those challenges, and how the inhouse and agency roles are evolving. We also discussed where brands see the true value in their agency partnerships.

Read on for the highlights and top tips from our esteemed panel, featuring:

What key challenges are brands facing now?

The way that people absorb information and engage with brands has changed forever. ‘The way people engage means you need a consistent narrative and storytelling across every touchpoint of your brand. People are expecting brands to behave with purpose and are expecting brands to represent themselves, which means that the way brands communicate and build their campaigns has to change.’ – Rose Beaumont

‘What I see is the operationalising of comms. There is more pressure to do more with less.’ – Louise Watson

How are agencies responding to these challenges?

It’s all about operationalising and streamlining your organisation to connect the pieces together. ‘It doesn’t necessarily matter about the individual components, but you need to be able to join the intersections between different parts of the business so that you’re able to deliver a lot faster and more smoothly. Ultimately, we’re trying to optimise speed and cost.’ – Russell Marsh

How are agencies structuring themselves to deliver a holistic offering?

‘At Publicis, we’re looking at how we can introduce different categories and service lines, and we’re focussed on those connection points. You have to be able to connect those component points together to drive operational efficiency – and in that, you ultimately drive towards a better product.’ – Russell Marsh

How do teams work collaboratively now knowing that clients aren’t just looking for one solution?

‘Client problems are changing all the time and agencies are structuring themselves to solve more problems. If you can be engaged to solve a business challenge you will be more valuable to the client. You need to be true enough to what it is that you do really well.’ – Hugh Taggart

‘When I’m looking at using agency partners, I’m looking at buying skillsets that I don’t necessarily have in my team - not just as an external resource but to ingrain that mindset and that learning into the team on the ground.’ – Rose Beaumont

‘We’re certainly seeing more flexible, hybrid ways of working in agencies. It’s important to start with the problem and ensure that you have the right skills to analyse and track that problem and to then cost according to the skills you have.’ – Louise Watson

‘If you don’t have a clear set of rules in how you intend to operate, everyone goes after individual problems – you have to understand how to play together,’ - Russell Marsh.

When bringing teams together the advantage is diversity of thinking but how do you bring people together culturally?

‘You’ve got to have clear leadership at the top driving connections, and you’ve got to have the right incentive to play together.’ – Russell Marsh

 ‘There needs to be a common language and understanding of the overall process - integration comes from all points.’ – Louise Watson

‘One of the challenges that PR agencies have is that traditionally they have done everything from strategy, to planning, to media advice, to C-suite counsel – and now they’re being asked to play specialist positions and roles which do different things. A challenge for agencies is to recognise what they’re really good at and bring those additional skills they need in,’ - Hugh Taggart

The initial reaction following a business transformation is to feel that you are competing for budget and it’s then not a collaborative experience. That’s a challenge for a brand – the big creative idea will often come from the communications agency because they are the vehicle that understands that connection and storytelling across multiple audiences.’ – Rose Beaumont

In-house teams are scaling, how is that affecting the agency market?

‘As an agency you find that you’re being asked to do different things – and it’s very different within each organisation. In a FTSE 100 business there will often be very sophisticated in-house teams, and agencies are generally brought in to do specialist, specific things. As you stretch out to the FTSE 250 the bandwidth and number of specialist positions are fewer. Agencies need to be flexible and be able to provide both specialist services and be an extension of the team when required.’ – Hugh Taggart

With in-house teams becoming more sophisticated, how and where is that affecting talent?

‘A truly rounded professional will have had agency and in-house experience. Having seen both sides of the coin you become a better client and agency provider. As you become more senior it’s sensible to decide which side you’re on and stick with it but certainly at a junior level I would encourage people to get both sides of that experience.’ She added, ‘As a brand, my agency is the part of the team that I can’t afford to bring in-house, so I want them to feel like they’re part of a team and know the brand as well as the people in-house do. The other thing that agency has that I appreciate as a brand is fresh thinking and new ideas and energy.’ – Rose Beaumont

‘And that’s a challenge for agency leadership – my clients want their agency to be their outside eyes and ears and see what’s coming around the corner. Agencies need to be that connective tissue but need to think about how their clients can operationalise ideas.’ – Louise Watson

‘There’s also a cultural issue. There’s so much value in putting agency staff on the ground with teams so that you can genuinely understand what works and identify problems to come up with solutions. Understanding the realities of what the business looks like for the client on the ground only comes with day to day involvement. That closer integration is something that agencies need to consider going forward.’ – Russell Marsh

What would help agencies be more impactful?

It’s all about pushing for the right brief. ‘Understand the problem and then work out an idea and solution that makes sense. Encourage clients to put their money where their mouth is sometimes and have clear briefs and declarations of intent. Kill swim-lanes! Think problem first and then work backwards.’ – Louise Watson

‘Understand the important role that the brief plays and what we need to achieve, we can then reach the solution that we seek much more easily.’ – Rose Beaumont

How do you resolve the ever-challenging budget issue?

‘At Mastercard we align around passion points and strategic pieces – I don’t want my agency and strategic consultants to be worrying about budgets. If the idea and the campaign that is being presented is strong enough and provides a good enough solution, we will find the money.’ – Rose Beaumont

‘It’s about flipping money to value. If you can show that your idea has value, then what client is not going to want that solution?’ – Louise Watson

‘I think that agencies are learning the hard way. If they don’t put the right team with the right solutions in front of a client, they’re not going to get another brief. From a big agency perspective, speed and nimbleness has been a really good way of ripping down some of the barriers that have previously existed around P&Ls.’ – Hugh Taggart

‘I’m always looking at how you connect agencies across a brief – and how you connect people across an organisation to solve a brief when they have separate P&Ls and structures. It’s about being able to identify operating structures - and define connection internally. When you can do that you can bring a diverse range of people together to solve a range of very complex problems.’  - Russell Marsh

How can we reset that agency/brand relationship at the briefing stage so that better relationships are established from the outset?

‘The successful agency approach is in looking at what they understand and know already. It’s certainly worth looking at a brief holistically and spending time with a brand before the ‘ta-da’ moment.’ – Rose Beaumont

How can you negotiate the procurement hurdle?

‘It should be a value conversation rather than a pricing conversation. You have to think about what you can operationalise and standardise to drive operational efficiencies.’ – Russell Marsh

Will media buy-in ultimately end up with brands rather than in agencies?

‘AI will continue to grow as it drives operational speeds and efficiencies, but with that comes more complexity – and that will initially lie with agencies. It’s about smoothing out connection points.’ - Russell Marsh

‘The real value add of media agencies is their ability to make my budget go further – they can have the conversations and broker the deals which will enable my brand to have more impact.’ – Rose Beaumont

As brands improve their relationships with the consumer, what is the impact on their relationships with agencies who can’t keep up?

 ‘If you cannot adapt to the audience you serve, you will go out of business. An agile approach is absolutely necessary – and the total eradication of swim lanes! We should be building teams who are deeply curious about how they can do the best possible work for the brands they serve. Both brands and agencies need to be moving faster.’ – Rose Beaumont

 ‘I think we’ll see far more partnerships between traditional agencies and smaller agencies. Agencies are being asked to look around more corners and tell brands what they should be doing next. The nature of the relationship is changing, and the value of agencies is changing, as is the nature of the problems which they’re being asked to solve.’ – Hugh Taggart

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Author: Amy Hayer

With over ten years of recruitment experience, Amy is an expert in the healthcare communications market, offering invaluable insight into the talent landscape and state of the industry.

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