Does Your Company Need an Agency-Relations Director?

CMO Sidekick Role Returns to Ensure Agencies and Clients Play Nice Together

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Deb Giampoli describes her job as everything from marriage counselor to adviser to "agency slut."

As director-global strategic agency relations for Mondelez International, she sits between procurement, agencies and the chief marketing officer, and exists -- in Ms. Giamboli's words -- "to curate the universe of agency possibilities." Agency relations isn't an entirely new role client-side, but the rules of the game have changed dramatically.

Deb Giampoli, Mondelez's 'marriage counselor'
Deb Giampoli, Mondelez's 'marriage counselor'

"In some ways, it's kind of back to the future," said David Beals, president of search consultancy R3:JLB, noting that 20 or 30 years ago, the role was more common and the title was often ad director. That person oversaw agency relationships, staffing quality at the agencies, fee negotiation and production of the work. "The role is back, in having someone who can help with the agencies in terms of dialogue and performance," he said. "It's an internal third-party consultant." The position largely disappeared after the dot-com crash, and procurement would sometimes take on this task.

Agency liaisons are most common at large marketers with many brands or multiple business units, such as consumer-packaged-goods giants Mondelez, Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. But marketers like Target , American Express and Microsoft have also added agency-relations roles.

Much of Ms. Giampoli's career has been on the client side, working at Kraft Foods (now Mondelez) for 20 years. Others, like Ed McFadden, who oversees agency relationships at Target , came up on the agency side in roles like account management.

"Life is much more complicated than it ever used to be, and there are so many more agencies and agency types," thanks to the always changing media-scape, said Bill Duggan, group exec VP at the Association of National Advertisers. "Somebody at the client has to be the integrator to make sure agencies play nice together."

To keep up with the adland, Ms. Giampoli follows agencies making headlines for new, unique service offerings or winning awards. If she comes across work she admires, she rings up the shop.

Her focus isn't just on short-term marketing needs. When she homes in on agencies she thinks may fit with Mondelez's long-term goals, she begins "dating" them so that the marketer has strong relationships in advance of a need. She's currently dating six or eight agencies (hence the "agency slut" comment).

The marriage counselor part of Ms. Giampoli's role refers to consulting when a relationship with one of her company's agencies might derail. Nearly every time, she said, the issue comes down to poor communication, be it over compensation or scope of work. Ms. Giampoli will step in and mediate discussions.

"Taking time out to say, "How's this going and what can we do to improve'" the relationship is key, she said. Ms. Giampoli also oversees reviews, acting as in-house search consultant.

Target in 2008 created not only a similar role but a department within marketing dedicated to agency relationships, overseen by Mr. McFadden, who came to the retailer in 2006. He said his group offers "broad perspective on the industry's most innovative agencies, ensuring we have the right mix of talent. Our procurement team focuses on financial negotiations with agencies, freeing our team up to focus on day-to-day agency management."

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