The usual suspects – simplifying your agency roster and the specialist myth

A streamlined agency roster can provide untold efficiencies for marketers, says Craig Flanders. The issue lies in knowing when your roster is working and what to do if it’s not.

This article originally appeared in The Simplicity Issue, our August/September 2018 issue of Marketing magazine.

Craig_Flanders 150 BWUnless you’re a very experienced, well-trained marketer, it can be difficult to manage the conflicting agendas of individual agencies. While every agency’s going to say, ‘Yeah, we’re happy to work with such-and-such agency in a separate discipline’ the reality is, everybody’s got an eye on the shared wallet. Often, that’s not for your benefit as the commercial realities get in the way of delivering on the business objectives.

This jostling makes it more difficult than it should be to get the outcomes you want. While there are definitely financial gains to be made in having a simplified agency roster, the real benefit is getting to more insightful ideas more quickly.

With a focused team working on briefs for your brand, you’ll get it right the first time more often because they’ll be deeply immersed in the business with an intimate understanding of the customer’s needs. Only when this all comes together will you see the optimal financial efficiencies – not the least of which is more successful campaigns.

As a full-service guy, of course, I’m going to tell you the best way to achieve this is with a single agency that has a consolidated model, because then you’re employing one group of people with one relationship to manage.

A full-service offering is able to achieve the same objectives as a multiple agency roster and, from the agency’s perspective, there’s a severely increased level of accountability because nobody can blame the other guy for not delivering on targets.

However, I appreciate that, for various reasons, it’s not always feasible to have only one agency on your roster. In some cases, the brand or brands you manage require multiple agencies and that’s unavoidable. If that’s the case, then you need to select your agencies carefully.

The first thing you want to do is ensure you’re not duplicating skill sets.

One myth is that you need specialist agencies to handle the various needs of your business but, by necessity, there are a lot of ‘specialists’ within fully integrated agencies, so don’t get hung up on that.

simplicity cover 200While managing multiple agencies is an art form, having several different advisers on call can be used to your advantage in ways you may not have considered. For example, you can use the strengths of one agency to keep the others honest. Perhaps you may have a big agency on the roster that does most of the volume, but you may pair them up with a smaller, nimble, more entrepreneurial-style business.

The smaller player can bring different capabilities that will help you to see the same problem from a different angle. That sort of approach keeps what I call a ‘healthy tension’ in a multi-agency roster. It also ensures none of the parties gets complacent.

If you’re reading this thinking your agency roster is far too complex and you’d really like to streamline it, the first thing I would do is sit down and write a description, a bit like a job description, for the capabilities and outcomes you want and need. Think about the objectives you have for hiring one agency, two or more.

What are the skill sets you require? Are there any additional skills those agencies are going to bring to the table that aren’t there already? Consider, also, the commercial imperatives you are trying to sort out by employing another bunch of people. How important is attitude? We work with a number of clients that have gone through the process of simplifying their agency rosters and the feedback we get from them is that it’s much more efficient.

Also, as marketing departments continue to shrink, generating efficiencies and alignment of strategies is very important. It’s not rocket science, but there is a lot of smoke and mirrors being peddled by agencies about why the way that they approach things is better than other agencies.

And if you’re thinking about getting outside help with this, be aware that some consultants overcomplicate the process for their own purposes as well.

This doesn’t need to be difficult. You simply need to understand what you’re trying to achieve and then find the right people for the job.

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Image copyright: Bogdan Ionescu

Craig Flanders
BY Craig Flanders ON 25 September 2018
Craig Flanders is managing director and co-founder of Spinach.