Forget the AOR -- Now, It's All About The Team of Record

How to Create a 'TOR' Model That Works

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When General Motors announced that it was naming a creative agency for Chevrolet, and selected not one shop, but a joint venture between Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Interpublic's McCann Erickson, it was a sign that the "team" approach to advertising isn't just another fleeting trend.

Kenyon Blunt
Kenyon Blunt
Whether or not agencies like it, marketers today are increasingly looking for one-stop solutions, and in recent months, big companies like GM, Ford, Mazda, Sprint or Bank of America, have all appointed teams to handle their advertising needs.

Their preference for the "team of record" model highlights the growing need for agencies to learn how to partner with other agencies and marketing services firms productively --in order to both win new business and meet client needs. In the case of GM, the company expects to save money, millions and millions of dollars over the next few years. We're also seeing agencies teaming together to broaden skill sets (like analytics) and to add bench strength when talent is hard to find. These forces are driving partnering as a new model for agency growth.

It wouldn't be surprising if we see the "agency of record" dead and "team of record" will take its place.

Agencies of all sizes have found that becoming the "AOR" has become a more difficult badge to earn, given the fragmentation of media and the abundance of new skills required by the changing marketplace. These skills can be obtained by partnering with select companies that bring desired skill sets, so it's better to partner with an analytics firm with dozens of statisticians and analysts versus hiring one person internally at the agency.

The breadth and depth of skills would likely satisfiy more client needs than an independent agency could muster with the addition of one or two analysts. Large agencies have largely acquired these skill sets through acquisition and putting together networks of agencies and marketing providers.

There's no doubt that partnering with other agencies can be a thorny process rife with competing interests, and it doesn't always work.

Partnering with staffers from competing agencies isn't easy, but increasingly, it's what clients are demanding. If the right partners are selected and a proper working relationship is established, then the team of marketers can provide solutions clients are looking for in today's market. Here are four ideas on how to make it work:

Rethink your mindset about partnering. Put the client first, and think about what they need. In this new world of "team of record" it may take a complete shift in thinking for agencies need to recognize that they can't handle everything in-house, especially analytics, data and technology. Rather than merely acquiring those skills, it may just mean looking for complementary resources.

Assess the cultural fit. For a team of record to work, there should be a long-term relationship between partners, and not one created just for a specific client opportunity. Team members must have a good cultural fit; a thorough understanding of each other's business as well as the client's, and bring a proven track record to the table.

Give the partnership a test run. Pick a partner or partners, and test them on one client. Consider start with a more tolerant client because there will be some inevitable hiccups.

Devise ground rules. Get as many details ironed out in advance. Who will talk to the client and how will they be portrayed (as part of their firm or "white-labeled" as one of your associates)? Make sure all the billing details are agreed upon, such as who will do the billing and what the terms will be. Create a way to brainstorm new ideas since this is one of the key benefits to the team concept.

Our competitive landscape is changing quickly. Agencies and marketing services providers must work together to provide seamless solutions to clients. More importantly, clients are going to continue to expect us to contort in increasingly new ways to help them save money by reducing redundancies with moves like the one we witnessed with the GM joint partnership. Having a successful model for partnering will be an important strategy in this new world of marketing.

Kenyon Blunt is the CEO of marketing analytics firm SIGMA Marketing Group.