B-to-b advertising agency executives dispute the finding of a recent study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council that fewer than one in 10 senior marketers believes traditional ad agencies are doing a good job of evolving and extending their service capabilities into the digital age.
“I don't think the report is at all relevant to the b-to-b space,” said Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer of b-to-b marketing agency Slack and Co. “I believe b-to-b agencies have adapted faster than consumer agencies in developing their skill sets and staying abreast of or even ahead of our clients on such fronts as demand generation, demand management, digital interactive marketing, mobile marketing and social media.”
The CMO Council study, “More Gain, Less Strain,” also found that only 36% of marketers are firmly committed to their agency relationships, and 51% said their agencies are playing catch-up with regard to new technology or are acquiring but not integrating digital marketing capabilities.
The study, released last month, was based on a survey of more than 250 senior marketers conducted online during the second half of 2011.
Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, said the findings are especially relevant to b-to-b marketers and ad agencies, noting that 59% of respondents were b-to-b marketers.
“The feedback we're getting from our members is they're not all that excited about how well their agencies have come along,” Neale-May said. “That's why they're reaching out and finding digital consultants or turning to software-as-a-service providers that are offering ways for them to engage more effectively.”
Tom Stein, CEO of Stein+Partners Brand Activation, a b-to-b and b-to-c advertising and marketing agency, said, “I would be surprised if the problem was viewed as acute by the b-to-b marketers, as it was by consumer marketers.”
Stein and Neale-May both said marketers' dissatisfaction is in part an internal issue. Neale-May said agencies have been very progressive in many cases, but marketers' risk aversion prevented them from embracing new technologies. “[Clients] want to go to the tried and the trusted,” he said. “Agencies may be pushing for new approaches, but clients have been resistant to it.”
Stein said the findings also reflect marketers' poor transition to digital channels and their sometimes murky goals.
“A lot of it comes from the companies themselves not having a clear sense of where they need to be, how they need to get there and what they need their agencies to do,” Stein said. “If the brands aren't clear themselves about what their overarching and individual digital strategies should be, then you can be sure that service providers aren't delivering because the clients don't have a good enough sense of what that means.”
Considering the expressed level of dissatisfaction, it wasn't surprising that 49% of respondents said they planned to change or consolidate agency rosters within the next 12 months; another 15% said they were considering doing so.
Furthermore, 48% said they are hiring specialized digital marketing solution and service providers to implement new social, mobile and interactive strategies, and another 47% plan to build internal capabilities and use incumbent agency services less.
Slack said integrated ad agencies' abilities to operate in large environments and to integrate services across the marketing communications spectrum still give them an advantage over specialized digital shops. “If you go to a social media agency with a problem, you're going to get a social media solution, whereas the best possible solution might be a mix of tactics that can really only come from an integrated agency,” he said.