Having come from the agency, brand and technology worlds, the Heardable team collectively looks at marketing as a business function that, in this wild and wooly landscape, requires deeper thinking, adaptability and innovation.
The agency model has certainly changed, and will continue to. Agencies no longer just create ads, they are expected to develop long-term strategies, garner stronger insights, and more importantly, they must have a better understanding of business needs. Most CMOs have a short tether with which to produce results -- most often 18-24 months on average -- and this requires not only their agencies to be quick-footed, but they themselves must have a better command of research and information that they can actually use to connect with consumers.
We're not an agency per se, but at Heardable, we consider ourselves to be faciliators for brands and agencies alike. For a brand, working with select partners can be very productive, as well as complementary. For one, outside vendors are able to look at things like process and development with a truly objective frame of mind. For another, interagency groups, for the most part, tend to defer the opinions of an outside person provided that they are empowered to participate effectively and proactively. Naturally, this is not an easy feat, especially at larger agencies, but it can be done successfully no less. Ultimately, it is healthy for brands to work with agencies of all types and sizes because they can garner new perspectives on business culture and pick the brains of some really smart people.
In regard to outsourcing, agencies rarely reveal 3rd parties, nor do they usually have them act as client-facing resources -- although, in many cases in which indepenent consultants are hired, they are almost always asked to be included in, or to help run, new business or new project pitches, especially if it involves interactive or technology development, or new product launches. As far as 'white-labeling' goes, this happens in its own way; there are a bunch of great development outfits that do work for a host of global agencies you've definitely heard of, and it seems as though clients don't care just as long as the work is good and completed on time. The reality is that in today's environment, most agencies can't possibly house all of these offerings under one roof and make their margins, so outsourcing is an inevitability. Ideally, when an outside vendor is engaged, the agency will have a predetermined budget in mind and scope laid out, although there are plenty of instances where these variables cannot be determined without issuing an RFP or soliciting multiple bids. This, as you might imagine, is also one of the problem areas for outsourcing since vendors can be low-balled in this process and not be inclined to produce their best work. With that said, price, reputation and relationships compel agencies to work with other vendors to meet a client's needs.
So what can a Marketing Director, CMO or a CEO look for in a new agency relationship?
1. The ability to build business solutions, rather than just marketing campaigns.
2. The opportunity to develop products in a collaborative environment.
3. The ability to offer internal best practices & staffing management in order to improve outbound efforts.
4. A solid command of technology solutions and how they can empower internal and external communications.
5. A solid commmand of cultural insights & how they can connect influencers and brand advocates.