One consideration in picking a direct agency may simply entail looking at a map. Some marketers may feel proximity to their agency is irrelevant, what with modern communications and travel, but geography can be important.
For example, Davis consulted over agency choices with Qdoba Mexican Grill, a Denver-based restaurant chain now owned by San Diego, Calif-based Jack in the Box. “We at first thought they wouldn't like to have a New York agency, but they said they would. Why? They have four restaurants in New York,” Davis said.
And despite the fact that large agencies have specialized divisions, a boutique shop with a unique focus can also be valuable. Direct marketing offers myriad tactics, including direct mail, digital marketing, telemarketing and direct response TV. A DRTV-focused agency would typically have its own studio and expertise in churning out infomercials, while other direct shops might have legacy strength in direct mail.
“Even our major clients often may choose specialists in some parts of their business, and we work very happily with them,” said Wunderman's Pearson. “That speciality may be geographical or vertical.”
But even a specialist boutique agency must know how to combine the various pieces into a workable, successful whole or work in conjunction with large agencies with the massive oversight to accomplish that.
Pearson said Wunderman works with a number of agencies that supply specific services in analytics or search, as well as researching key purchase influencers. Also helpful, he said, has been the use of specialty firms that employ text analytics to extract customer sentiment and a customer's ultimate propensity to buy.
So the company in search of a direct marketing agency may choose one but get several others in the bargain, all working to make the end result successful.
Although there are many agencies that specialize in vertical niches, companies may not want to get locked completely in to agency specialization. Experiences often can translate nicely across vertical markets, said Fern Goldstein, group account director with MRM Worldwide, a digital and direct agency.
“While having the same or similar industry experience is helpful in terms of shortening the learning curve, it is highly beneficial to leverage experiences across industries,” Goldstein said.
“There often are rich insights that come from applying learnings from one industry to another, especially if there are parallels in terms of key issues or business challenges,” she said. “Often new insights can drive competitive advantage versus just recycling industry specific strategies and tactics.”
The sheer size of the agency is always a consideration. It can be a truism, for example, that marketers want to hire the largest agency they can afford. The typical assessment is that if an agency has grown particularly large, it was through attracting top clients and luring the best employees.
“But the other point of view is that a lot of the biggest agencies are owned by public companies, all with stock pressures,” Davis said. “Some marketers, therefore, will take the polar opposite viewpoint, and ask for an independent agency that is solely accountable to their employees and their clients.”
Agency size may matter in particular in database technology, given the importance to direct campaigns of precise lists and careful analytics.
“We have more than 1,500 people worldwide in data management analytics,” said Pearson. “I myself began my career as an analyst and modeler, and matching the content to the targets. It's huge.”
Large direct agencies could also be immensely useful in helping manage the sales channel. Here, the hearts and minds of resellers must be a priority. A company can benefit from a large agency's expertise in product development, packaging, pricing, backup services, reseller training and value-added offers—all of which can make the channel partner a product champion.
Size and capabilities also come into play in helping exploit the fruits of a direct campaign. A large direct agency can have talents in working with a company's sales force and its lead-generation program. The best direct program would be ineffective without complete marketing-sales integration to take advantage of it.
So size may indeed matter, but it may matter in more subjective ways.
“I've never had a client say they want to be the smallest client in a big agency,” said agency search consultant Davis. “That's why god made agencies of different sizes.” M