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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What kind of agency do you hand the keys to?

This question seems to be on the minds of many people (myself included). With the huge momentum and growth of interactive marketing spend, traditional, digital and highly specialized (like BrightWave Marketing) agencies are not only fighting for dollars but control.

Who you hand the keys to depends on your type of car and where you want to go, right?

I had bookmarked 3 interesting blog posts with similar themes. The bottom line: Times are changing; most traditional agencies are sweating and still seem to be missing the boat in many regards.

Return on Subscriber Blog My 2 cents: Are traditional agencies running (or ruining) your email?

I wholeheartedly agree with this post (obviously as BrightWave's business model is somewhat dependant on this theory) and I believe we will see more companies hiring email firms to handle email the way they handle print or direct mail firms (or for that matter, accounting or legal) for those services. The problem is, most agencies can pitch their "digital expertise" and the client generally assumes they must be right. After all, they have a sleek lobby, cool lighting and lots of busy young people milling around the office that must be experts on the Google and whatnot.

My friend Jeff Hilimire at Spunlogic, a leading interactive shop, has a great take on Digital Shops vs. Traditional Shops. His refreshingly honest approach is that digital firms should not take the keys for the whole drive. They must collaborate but herein lies the rub. He says...

It’s not necessarily that ideas that are interactive/web-based are more important than traditional media (though I’d love to debate that one), but more so that we as interactive agencies understand the new way to interact with the consumer. Traditional shops, because of their mediums, have almost no way of appreciating how powerful consumer interaction and collaboration can be. Digital shops get that, and that’s why they are continuing to take over.

Next, we have surely a hotly debated article written in AdWeek by Jeff Gundersen. Digitally Deficient CMOs Need Not Apply is a great piece for all marketers not just CMOs. It is not a lecture but merely a reality check and offers 5 things anyone in the marketing/advertising/communications world must do. Today.


Blogger Jeff Hilimire @ Spunlogic said...

Great post Simms - and I can tell you have great taste by the blogs you read ;)

I'd throw this back to you. At what point do you think clients should hold back on specialized agencies? For instance, if they use an email specialist, why not a search specialist? Or a viral marketing specialist? Or a social media specialist? At a certain point it becomes too tough to manage - or is that the answer, that clients choose one agency to provide overall strategy and direction and they use that agency to manage the other relationships?

I'm not sure, I see it happen many ways with our various clients. Curious about your thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 9:02:00 AM GMT-5

Blogger Simms Jenkins, Principal - BrightWave Marketing said...

Good thought provoking questions. First off, I think it completely depends on the type of client, the existing (and past) relationships with agencies and what their goals, opportunities and limitations are. I could answer your questions differently every time based on a different client and how they work. We also work with traditional agencies so a new set of fundamentals apply to them as well. Several of our agency clients handle creative, branding and messaging strategy but outsource email, search and website design/maintenance. Often this goes to several firms, so I am sure a big part of their work is managing the many vendors/partners but that is just another part of account management in my book and the client is getting better and probably more focused work as a result.

I don’t necessarily agree with you on it becoming too tough to handle by having many specialists. Don’t you hire people with different skill sets rather than all well rounded folks with little deep expertise? Sure, it would be great to have a few great generalists who can superbly handle search, email and other interactive disciplines. The reality is at most (certainly not all) companies you are lucky if you have anyone with a few years experience managing your key online revenue and relationship programs. So I would rather have deep expertise in multiple places than average, stretched resources under one roof.

I don’t buy the too tough argument for other reasons. There are lots of things in business (and life) that are very difficult and challenging, but if they perform better, it is worth that extra effort. That often can justify the existence and fees that many agencies charge. After all, what separates BrightWave, Spunlogic or anyone else out there? I am sure you and I would agree that we are among the best at what we do.

Some clients would be well served with one agency and point of contact. Then they can let the agency do what they want in terms of farming out the various pieces. Of course, that is why so many big agencies, in my mind, are expensive and deliver a less than cohesive message with a fragmented strategic and analytical take on the interactive marketing programs. Usually, you get some cool flash and maybe a landing page with an email sign up form as well as a few displays ads. $250k later, the client may be talking to an intern who is now the key client services person.

However, I digress. The big digital shops (often subsidiaries of publicly traded parents or holding companies) are great for the Fortune 100 companies but I still wouldn’t give them $10,000 to spend (and they wouldn’t take it) on targeted and measurable programs that have to deliver (and measure) real results. The big shops, in my humble opinion, are often filled with deeply creative and talented people that are boxed in managing deadlines and waiting for the perks or stock options to kick in. In terms of specialty expertise, the big digital firms may have some great resources in house but good luck finding and utilizing him/her.

Through the grapevine, I have heard many tales of how, late in the agency review process, a “big gun” will come in if the client says we need help in email/search/social networking, etc. That person will have absolutely zero role and impact for the client as they generally handle business development, PR, marketing and industry events. It is often enough to turn the tide though or alleviate any doubts.

So if you want really good help on email, search, viral marketing, you better make sure you find it and not assume you are getting that. Part of the problem in the email world is perception. Email is seen as a cheap and easy communications platform. It often doesn’t get much more thought and respect than that.
Some thoughtful posts on why this happens and how email fits in this crowed and hyped Web 2.0 world are located below. I think they shed more light on agencies usage and management of email.

Can well staffed and experienced clients handle email and search in house? Sure. Should they want to? That depends but I would largely say no. I know at Cox where I ran the email program, among other CRM programs, we had some functions in house and some outsourced. That was based on our situation. Most companies (big and small) are not well versed enough nor do they want to manage thousands of geo-targeted keywords in a search campaign or deal with email image suppression and deliverability issues and even CAN-SPAM compliance. That tells me they want and need to outsource key aspects of their interactive marketing programs and whether that goes to a traditional, interactive or specialty digital shop will of course decide on many client side issues. I have not seen many firms (in any of the first 2 categories) that have the deep expertise in the aforementioned examples. You can guess where I think they should go.

Enough rambling for the day here. I am not sure if I even answered your question but that is what 2 kids and running a business will do to you (as you well know). I think we agree on some parts of how clients should carve up their business and disagree on others.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 9:52:00 AM GMT-5


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