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Marketers get down to business when selecting agency partners

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Whether launching a new brand, repositioning an existing one or entering a new market, b-to-b marketers say they want their agency partners to understand their business and help formulate sound marketing strategies. Marketers say their top criteria in selecting agency partners include solid b-to-b experience, knowledge of the client's industry and business, responsiveness to the client's needs and good chemistry (see box, previous page). However, the processes marketers use to select agencies, the types of services they're looking for and the people involved in their reviews vary widely. “Agency searches tend to get tied to how the client is internally structured to handle agency relationships,” said David Beals, president-CEO of R3:JLB. “If a client has a fairly robust marketing department with specialized expertise, and has bigger budgets to hire internal people and multiple agencies, those companies are much more likely to be looking at multiple agency relationships and specialized agency services. They may have one roster of agencies doing traditional work and other agencies handling social media and other specialized services.” Beals added: “On the other side, marketers with smaller staffs and budgets are more likely to look for one agency or a small handful of agencies to provide multiple services and multiple areas of expertise.” Cretex Cos., a 95-year-old diversified manufacturing company, is in the latter category, with a small marketing staff and limited advertising. Last year, Cretex started looking for an agency partner to help it reposition its Cretex Medical division, which had recently acquired four companies in the medical device manufacturing space: Juno Inc., Meier Tool & Engineering, Pacific Plastics & Engineering and RMS Machining. “No one recognized us as a big player because the individual companies went to market independently. There was no visual consistency and nothing connected the subbrands. We needed to have a brand story we could go to market with,” said Steve Ragaller, VP-CFO at Cretex, which does not have a corporate marketing executive. “I'm a finance guy. We have a COO-operations guy, and our CEO is not a marketing guy either. We are not marketing experts. We were looking for someone to help us think through our brand strategy.” Cretex, based near Minneapolis in Elk River, Minn., did not have a previous agency of record at the corporate level. Its individual business units hired agencies for specific assignments, primarily for marketing collateral, Ragaller said. The company historically has not done much advertising. Ragaller, who headed up the review process, did some research on local branding and marketing agencies to come up with a short list of potential candidates. “Having someone local was important,” Ragaller said. But the most important factor in the review process was finding an agency that understood Cretex's business and its target market of OEMs in the medical industry. “We are manufacturers. We are not flashy. Sexy is not in our vocabulary,” Ragaller said. “We were looking for people who understand what we do.” Cretex selected Minneapolis-based Spyglass Creative to handle brand strategy for the Cretex Medical brand, as well as some other brands in the Cretex portfolio. “What ended up winning the day was that they spent a lot of time asking questions, and listening and trying to figure out what we were trying to accomplish,” Ragaller said. “Other firms tried to sell to us, and that approach did not seem appropriate for the unique requirements of our business.” Other marketers agree that understanding the client's business and having b-to-b experience are critical to the selection process. Polaris Industries, which makes electric cars, ATVs and other types of vehicles, started looking for an agency to launch a new b-to-b venture in 2010. It had formed a long-term strategic alliance with Bobcat Co. to develop a commercial vehicle to sell to construction businesses, landscape contractors and facility managers. Polaris had a consumer agency it worked with at the corporate level, but it wanted to find an agency with b-to-b experience, said Marc Tullemans, director of corporate national accounts at the company. “I was looking for an agency that could help structure the message more around the rationality of why a customer needs the product instead of from an emotional aspect,” Tullemans said. “Other agencies are phenomenal at highlighting the cool factor of the product—the vehicle goes fast, etc.—but I didn't need that. I needed an agency that would do a great job in figuring out what is truly the need of the customer and build an ROI story about the purchase of the vehicle—going from selling emotional to selling rational.” Other important criteria included experience in marketing vehicles, creative problem-solving ability, brand management capabilities, the ability to use internal metrics to measure campaign results and proven experience in b-to-b, Tullemans said. Polaris selected Nelson Schmidt, Milwaukee, to handle brand strategy for the product launch, which is planned for next year. Once the product is rolled out, the agency will handle lead generation and integrated marketing communications. The budget was undisclosed. Other marketers say a reputation for developing outstanding creative and being responsive are top factors in their search for an agency partner. GoDaddy.com, an Internet domain hosting company, started looking for its first outside agency after seven years of creating its advertising in-house, including Super Bowl television commercials. “When you're in a company and you have built your own ads for five, six or seven years, sometimes it is difficult to undo what you already know,” said Barb Rechterman, CMO at GoDaddy. “The results of our GoDaddy-esque ads have been fabulous, and, as a result, we have grown the company to be the largest domain hosting company in the world. But how can we get [the company] from a creative standpoint to say, "No, don't do that kind of ad,' and take a different kind of shift?” GoDaddy.com's previous work featured scantily dressed women to build awareness of the GoDaddy brand, but didn't offer much product or corporate information. The company was seeking an agency to help it communicate its portfolio of services as a large technology company while paying homage to its past, Rechterman said. GoDaddy conducted a review starting with a long list of agencies recognized for their creative work. “Some were big, some were small and some were boutiques. Geography was not that important,” Rechterman said. “We felt the creative team was going to have to be able to pull something together that was very unique and, if they were responsive, they made the first cut.” GoDaddy narrowed the list down to a handful of agencies, then had them come to the company's Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters and pitch the account. GoDaddy selected Deutsch New York to develop a new round of TV spots, which broke during the London 2012 Summer Olympics in a campaign called “Inside Out.” The spots featured attractive women to show the “outside” of GoDaddy.com, with nerdy IT guys representing the technology inside. “They really understood that we were looking not to completely revolutionize the ads but to evolve the brand positioning and talk more about our products,” Rechterman said. “I need an agency that understands us very well and is very comfortable being real upfront about it.”
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