Ian Maynard, head of marketing and business development director of London-based creative and production specialists network, examines the way clients are changing their agency line-ups to ensure faster and more efficient support services on high-volume accounts.
One thing that never seems to change in ever-changing adland is the increasing number of agencies advertisers require.
It may be becoming more and more common for advertisers, particular the big global ones as in the current Microsoft review, to seek ‘holding company solutions’ for their advertising needs, but this doesn’t mean there will be fewer agencies on the case.
Since the 1980’s there has been a consistent fragmentation from the then traditional model; first was the major move of media moving out, and over time we have seen the move to multi-discipline specialists most driven by the internet. This is accelerating with the rise of social media.
The impact of procurement over the last decade has further added to the fragmentation by breaking down deliverables in to measurable units of finance.
Within the marketing community there is growing focus on the ability of the client to manage the range of specialists, all of whom may not play together as well as they should, irrespective of whether they are independent or part of a holding company such as WPP.
Another major shift has been outsourcing the studio operations to production specialists. This was originally done quietly, behind the scenes.
However in recent years this trend has moved from supplier status to partner status alongside the lead creative ad agency; one key reason is the importance of this role for major retail clients in particular.
It might be appropriate to give this role a new name of Support Agency.
By this I mean the production specialist that partners the creative agency on larger, high intensity accounts – retailers obviously but a growing number of others besides.
Our agency, network, partners with a leading agency on a national retail account for example, adapting their creative strategy for the production of thousands of different advertising applications every year, mostly, but not exclusively, press ads.
It’s easy to see why this is an important function in a retail market where fast-moving promotions play a crucial role and local targeting, to support new store openings for example, is vital.
It’s now the norm in retail: Tesco, works with Wieden+Kennedy as its creative agency and Tag as the support agency. No doubt more retailers will travel the same route.
But other advertisers too are waking up to the realization that their brand needs to work properly in a multitude of channels and that, by devolving some of these efforts to a production specialist – or support agency – their brand communications will become more effective, and not just because they are easier to manage or cheaper.
Any successful agency relationship depends on a shared understanding of the brand, to which all parties need to make a contribution. And the executional role of a support agency is to translate this into the thousands of communications that keep the brand fresh and relevant to millions of consumers.
But do clients need another agency relationship? As we outlined above, many of them already have a fair few.
We would argue that they do, because conventional creative agencies are simply not geared up to handle such volume. They don’t have the necessary skill base or experience, the technology or the cost base to do so.
For mainstream creative agencies managing high volume work, week-in, week-out, is not core to their relationships with their clients. Their role is complementary, delivering the shiny brand work that provides the context for everything else.
In such a context the client is akin to the conductor of an orchestra that needs to be able to play all the notes – and get them right first time. Which means a full suite of musical – or in our case marketing – options.
There’s an old expression that sums up this new way of working: It’s called ‘horses for courses.’