Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 11, 2012 2:53 PM

Where To Put The Blame

Blame the agency.

A friend who owns a marketing agency once half-jokingly said to me that an agency is used in two capacities:

  1. Good capacity: when we do everything great and have a huge win. In this capacity, the Chief Marketing Officer takes all of the credit.
  2. Bad capacity: when a campaign or marketing initiative doesn't fly. In this capacity, it's the agency's fault.

It's true. It is correct.

The role of the agency is to act an agent on behalf of the brand. It is not to take the credit (the credit belongs to the brand). So, when things aren't going well, the agents often do need to be changed... whether the agency likes it or not. The past few decades has given rise to marketing agencies that have become nothing short of rock stars. The past few decades has also given rise to agency talent who are nothing short of rock stars as well. It should come as no surprise that everybody wants to be partners with the rock stars. Yesterday, MediaPost ran a news item titled, Cutting Rosters: Clients Unhappy With Agency ROI, Performance, that rattles off a litany of issues that brands have with their agencies.

The problems include:

  • 44% of brands asked think their agency roster is too big.
  • 69% of brands asked said they plan to cut back on digital agencies.
  • 48% of brands asked said they plan to cut back on creative agencies.
  • 71% of brands asked site frustration with accountability in terms of demonstrating ROI effectiveness.
  • 85% of brands asked say that the major advertising holding companies have not improved their service and they are viewed as "inefficient."
  • 72% of brands asked said that agencies are "inconsistent and need to improve" on delivering integrated solutions.

It's not pretty, is it?

The news item is based on a study done by Avidan Strategies (no link to the study and no additional information to support the context, sorry) and - in a nutshell - it's telling a narrative that goes something like this: "Agencies need to be better, faster and more creative in the digital world. Along with that, agencies need to prove results and get a whole lot better at delivering ROI through proven measurement, while creating better and more integrated solutions. Oh, and by the way, we plan on cutting down on our digital rosters even though we're even more disappointed in the work coming out of our big, traditional agency." 

What's going on here?

There used to be a time (oh boy, here I go starting to sound like an old man...) when the agency and the brand were partners. Where they sat at the table, side-by-side, and worked late into the night, sweating out the details to deliver the results together. Now, we're in this strange game of finger-pointing and blame (if we are to believe the results of this study).

The question of ROI.

Reading between the lines of this MediaPost news item, one thing is abundantly clear: we can't be asking the question of ROI at any point except in the planning stages. If the brand and agency both agree on what metrics will be used to target against ROI in the briefing and planning phases of a campaign, something tells me that a lot of the woes, pains and struggles would be resolved. All too often, our marketing world is filled with vapid briefs that lack true acquisition costs, investment expectations and the desired outcome. ROI needs to be baked into the solution (and it needs to be realistic). Trying to define it after the campaign has begun is not only futile, but lacks credibility and professionalism. We can enhance the marketing experience and manage expectations starting at this very moment. Every brand and agency partner needs to agree that all measurement and metrics associated with return on investment will be formalized and agreed upon prior to delivering anything else.

I wonder what type of wonderful marketing world we could have if just that one thing were to become a reality?

By Mitch Joel