How to buy marketing services

posted by Andrew Woodger
16 December 2016

Once upon a time clients had only one choice when it came to advertising: they went to a Big Agency.

The Big Agency had three talents – they had clever ideas, they could turn those into clever images, and they could wave a sparkly wand and make them appear all over the place.

But things changed. Clients decided they wanted to see just how their money was being spent – how those ideas were turned into press adverts and mail-shots, and who actually delivered them. So they started to look for ways to make this happen – and procurement was wheeled into the world of marketing.

Clients could see that turning ‘ideas’ into ‘product’ didn’t have to be done by the same people. Someone geared specifically to do the ‘product’ part of the process could do it more cost effectively and faster too. Perhaps they could even dispense with the Big Agency altogether?

This is no longer a fairy story. More companies have begun to take greater control. Decoupling – the separation of ‘production’ – including workflow and all the other tools and disciplines which make up this part of the marketing process – has now become an accepted way of working. We are now in the era of the specialist agency whose role is to help clients to manage their valuable brand assets and streamline processes which enable those assets to be utilised as effectively as possible.

So how do you find the right partner – or partners – to deliver these objectives? Equally importantly, how do you ensure that you get it right? There’s little point in reducing costs just for the sake of it, not least if that has the potential to damage your brand or your operational efficiency.

This is where one essential of the Big Agency model remains in place – trust. Indeed, as the model moves from one of client and agency to a model where the client owns the brand and drives the overall strategic direction, the role of the decoupled agency as a trusted advisor becomes even more important.

So how do you choose the right partner? Because it can’t all be about the bottom line. For marketing the judgement has to be made on the chemistry and quality of account management. What’s the agency’s methodology? What value can they add to the creative process? How do they deliver quality and are they able to demonstrate their expertise across a range of disciplines? If you’re a global player, what support can they provide locally in your key markets?

For procurement cost transparency and process control are high on the list, but you need to be able to assess that illusive balance between quality and price. Can you get the reporting you need? Does their capacity match your likely future needs and can they grow with you? Can you to gain from economies of scale?

Finally, there are three models you have to consider: offshoring, the use of a traditional agency or a specialist hybrid production focused agency.

While offshore gives the lowest cost option it also comes with logistical and communications challenges. While traditional agencies give you a single supplier for all your needs, the final deliverables are likely to cost you more, and if that agency is reliant on a network of international partners, can they really guarantee the delivery of your international campaigns and the all important reporting structures and account management which goes with them?

Finally, the hybrid model. Here the agency’s focus will already be on efficient workflow – even across different countries. They’ll still have an agency model of account management and you’ll have access to creative, digital and data expertise. There will be a flexible model of working which can be utilised to meet whatever needs you may have at any given time. However, while it will cost you less than a traditional agency, it will never be as cheap as the offshore option.  

Once you’ve agreed to go down the decoupled route, and assessed which approach is best for your business, you’ll be in a much stronger position to ensure that your final choice of agency is the correct one. Decoupling makes sound commercial sense, but only if you are prepared to invest the time and energy to get it right from the start. Do that and the gains in quality, cost, and efficiency should be considerable.

Andrew Woodger is data and planning director of the Purple Agency. 

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