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Managing multiple agencies

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While some b-to-b marketers are moving toward a single-agency model to handle all their marketing communications needs, others are sticking with multiple agency relationships, recognizing that specialization of services can bring benefits to their overall marketing efforts.

Working with multiple agencies can, however, be challenging, as each agency has its own culture, creative process and individual needs.

B-to-b marketers and agencies that have been successful at working with multiple partners agree that in order to make the relationship work, both the client and the agencies need to work together to create a framework for setting objectives, working collaboratively, resolving differences and ultimately achieving the client's business goals.

"The most important thing we had to do was ask the agencies to set aside their individual agency needs, philosophies and approaches, and instead seek aligned needs, philosophies and approaches that would collectively work for AT&T," said Wendy Clark, senior VP-advertising at AT&T.

AT&T, which merged with SBC in 2005 and acquired BellSouth in 2006, works with several agencies that it has kept on its roster through its brand evolution to "the new AT&T."

BBDO New York is the lead agency for consumer campaigns, including wire line and wireless services. MediaEdge:cia, New York, handles all global media buying and planning. Rodgers Townsend, St. Louis, handles b-to-b work; and GSD&M's Idea City, Austin, Texas, manages consumer direct work as well as marketing for AT&T's Yellow Pages and YellowPages.com. Other agencies handle marketing to Hispanic and African American audiences.

"Our key advertising agencies have long integrated planning and execution efforts in order to deliver decisive results for AT&T. It's very much a collaborative process," Clark said.

The agencies collectively form a partnership called Team AT&T. High-level representatives from the various shops meet to reach agreement on strategy, then the agencies individually prepare creative work. At that point, the representatives again confer to identify the best creative tactics, which all the agencies execute against, Clark said.

For example, this year BBDO developed an integrated campaign called "Your Seamless World," promoting AT&T's mobility solutions. The new campaign was an extension of "Your World. Delivered," which originally debuted in 2005 and was created jointly by Rodgers Townsend and GSD&M.

"We really had to ask [our shops] to come together like never before," Clark said, pointing to rebranding campaigns following the merger with BellSouth. "We knew that if we were going to pull off this opportunity, everyone had to work together."

Specialized services

Kathryn McGrail, interactive marketing leader for the Gore-tex brand at W.L. Gore & Associates, a b-to-c and b-to-b marketer, said the challenge of managing multiple agency relationships is worth it to get specialized services.

"While many agencies like to bill themselves as full-service providers, we rarely find that to be the case," McGrail said.

"We look instead for core competencies in particular disciplines—from PR to media buying to event marketing—and [for] agencies that can deliver excellence within them, rather than overextend themselves and disappoint. You have to manage more agency relationships this way, but the quality of the work delivered makes up for it."

W.L. Gore uses several agencies, including Nurun, Montreal, for interactive and several other agencies for such services as events, media, PR and traditional advertising.

"Communication and organization are key when you are managing agency relationships, whether it's two or 20," McGrail said. "We ideally have an internal `agency owner' for each agency we work with, and that person can coordinate work flow with [the other agencies] so that we manage it on our side as well as theirs."

Collaboration a must

Jeff Marks, director of marketing and communications at Epson America, also said that collaborating with different agency partners is a must.

Epson works with several shops, including Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, San Francisco, its traditional agency of record; iCrossing, Scottsdale, Ariz., its interactive agency of record; and DDB Los Angeles and WhittmanHart, Chicago, which work in specialized product categories.

Before naming iCrossing as its first-ever interactive agency of record after a review last month, Epson had used a number of shops for specific interactive projects, such as building microsites or supporting seasonal marketing programs.

"With the interactive marketplace becoming much more of a dominant medium for our market efforts, we wanted to put the same amount of weight behind interactive as we did behind our traditional agency relationships," Marks said.

ICrossing is responsible for developing Epson's brand identity on the Web, developing and designing its Web site, search engine optimization and analytics.

It will work together with Epson's other agencies on new product launches and support for its overall marketing communications.

"We look at our agency partners as an extension of our marketing arm. They are part of the fabric of the company," Marks said.

When Epson introduces new products or has other significant developments, it brings its agency partners together to share information on strategy and decide which projects are suitable for which shops.

"We really rely on our agencies of record to keep their eye on the ball and keep the brand moving forward," Marks said.

Epson also has established guidelines for its agencies that describe brand positioning and treatment across multiple platforms.

Agencies working with other agencies on client accounts agree that establishing guidelines and finding common ground are keys to success.

Courtney Buechert, president of San Francisco marketing agency Eleven, said most of the agency's client relationships involve multiple agency partners.

"For clients that have gone to single-agency sourcing, most of them have come back to a primacy-agency relationship [with multiple agency partners]. Most of them find that it's hard for one agency to be experts in absolutely everything."

Can't be expert in everything

For example, Eleven works with several other agencies for client Barclays, a London-based global investment company. Eleven handles brand strategy and collateral, while these other shops handle traditional advertising, online and direct.

"We have relationships with each agency, and we play an interlocutor role," Buechert said. One key to success in managing multiple agency relationships, he said, is working with the other agencies on getting agreement before presenting to the client.

"In the first round of presentations to the other agencies, there is usually a 60% to 70% consensus," he said. "It's almost like navigating a bill through Congress. You have to hammer out the remaining 30%, and the goal is to have most of the agreement worked out before the meeting with the client."

He said some other strategies for success with multiple agency relationships include creating an environment in which it's safe to share ideas, sorting out budgets and agency compensation early, and having a senior "champion" from each agency who is accountable to the coalition and the client's success.

While many large b-to-b marketers rely on multiple agency partners, smaller b-to-b marketers often find that a single agency relationship is better suited to their needs.

Corporate Travel Management Group, a Lombard, Ill., travel management company for business travelers, recently selected Davis Harrison Dion, Chicago, as its first agency of record.

Previously it handled advertising in-house and used an outside company for Web site development.

Now, DHD will handle all off- and online marketing for Corporate Travel Management Group, including print advertising, direct, events and search engine optimization.

"We didn't want to fragment the relationship, and we wanted a single agency source," said Jim Wasson, exec VP at Corporate Travel Management. He added that the company doesn't have a huge marketing budget to spread around to multiple agencies.

"DHD is a full-service agency, and they can offer us a turnkey solution," Wasson said.

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