B-to-b marketing agencies have evolved over the past 10 years from being primarily advertising and branding focused to playing a much larger role as a strategic partner for their clients.
“There has been an increasing level of respect assigned to an agency's counsel as a consultant and provider of advisory services,” said Rick Segal, worldwide president-chief practice officer at GyroHSR, New York.
“Ten years ago, the mindset—particularly among small and medium agencies—was that you'd have to give that away in order to do some ads or print some brochures. Today, the only way an agency thrives is to be seriously respected by the client as a source of strategic counsel.”
Segal said that as new technologies have emerged, agencies have had to develop much more advanced services to provide solutions to increasingly sophisticated clients.
“Ten years ago, we weren't writing as much software. To do this work, you have to be able to write some software, and some of that software is protectable as intellectual property,” he said.
For example, applications for mobile devices, such as the iPhone, and propriety search algorithms are services that can be patented by agencies, Segal said. “We wouldn't even have thought of that as part of the business we were in 10 years ago,” he said.
Carl Anderson, CEO of Doremus, New York, also pointed to the more strategic role that agencies are providing to clients.
“When we go in and talk to companies, we are talking to them about their business objectives and goals, and what is the business of the brand,” Anderson said.
“Our approach is much more strategic, and we are working with them to align their business goals to marketing and communications programs. Our success is based on how we help them build their business, not just creating award-winning campaigns.”
Anderson said that over the past 10 years, the b-to-b industry has changed dramatically, and agencies have had to adapt to these changes.
“There is more complexity in the markets,” he said. “Industries have changed. There is a plethora of media channels and a new understanding of what customers and consumers want. This has led to a shift in gears in terms of how corporations view marketing communications.”
Many sophisticated b-to-b marketers, Anderson said, have brought on people with strong consumer backgrounds in order to develop more engaging marketing campaigns.
“The work has improved so much,” he said. “There have been some really great campaigns that have come out over the recent years. Marketers are hiring smarter, brighter people in the category.” To align with this trend, Doremus has brought on people with strong consumer backgrounds.
Over the past decade, some of the largest global agencies have embraced b-to-b and made it a core part of their business.
“B-to-b has been great for our business,” said John Osborn, president-CEO of BBDO New York. “Over the past five years, our b-to-b activity has grown over 100%.” BBDO's clients include Bank of America, FedEx Corp., General Electric Co., LexisNexis, Monster.com and Motorola Inc.
One of the biggest changes over the past decade, Osborn said, has been the development of new marketing and media platforms and the need to provide more integrated solutions that demonstrate success for clients.
Another big change for BBDO over the past 10 years has been its approach to digital.
“Ten years ago, digital was an appendage,” Osborn said. “We would work on a campaign, then at some point we would hand it to the digital people in a different building; then they'd develop a digital interpretation. It was not integrated, and it was on a case-by-case basis. Now, digital is the heart of the agency. It is at the core of everything we do.”
Last year, BBDO brought on about 50 digital experts from its sibling agency Atmosphere BBDO (which has been renamed Atmosphere Proximity), and since then it has hired an additional 15 digital experts to expand its expertise.
“Digital used to be a means to an end. Today, we are thinking of it in terms of an end-to-end solution,” Osborn said. M