As b-to-b marketers grapple with increasingly complex technology and the need to stand out in a crowded media environment, they say they want agency partners that can help them with both the art and science of marketing.
"One of the key things for agencies is to help us with the technology we use," said Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions. "More and more, we are bringing in agencies that are proficient at technology—marketing automation systems, analytics and digital tools—that can help us blend art and science. Art is the creative component and science is the use of technology and data to allow for better targeting and analysis of the data we get back"
Earlier this year, Conrado assumed responsibility for technology, in addition to marketing, at Motorola Solutions. Now he is looking to his agency partners to help transform the company as marketing and IT merge.
"A few years ago, we created a digital marketing team that was a blend of marketing and IT," Conrado said. "We started bringing in a few new agencies that could straddle both roles. We need our agencies to understand our business, both operationally and strategically."
Motorola Solutions has a lead brand agency, a lead PR agency and a lead agency handling both creative and digital. In addition, it works with specialized technology shops that are experts in marketing automation platforms and analytics.
"There is a new breed of agency coming up," Conrado said. "IT vendors are getting into this space, and there are also agencies that are specialists. It's similar to what happened 10 to 12 years ago when digital agencies were coming up."
Mark Wilson, who has served as CMO at Avaya Inc. for just over a year, said the networking company uses lead agencies for creative and media planning but more specialized agencies for website development and SEO.
Avaya has brought most of its content development in-house, handled by former journalists hired by the company.
"The area where I sometimes wonder if there is a gap is all the new tactics around digital marketing and the buyer's journey," Wilson said. "The buyer's journey has really changed over the last five to seven years in a dramatic way. It's a little discouraging when you see the same ideas that worked seven years ago being pitched today. I really like it when agencies are completely dialed into the new digital tactics and can take a complex problem and simplify it."
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Brad Brooks, who was named CMO at Juniper Networks last month, said the company has been realigning its agency structure around the paid/owned/earned model of marketing.
"We have one key agency geared toward the earned approach, which is our PR agency," Brooks said. "We have another one geared toward owned and paid media, but it's not a traditional ad agency. There are different strategies and tactics you need."
Brooks said Juniper has significantly reduced the number of agencies it works with over the past several years, focusing on those that can provide specialized services while keeping the quality of the work high.
"We had a lot of small agencies we worked with in different aspects, but we have weeded out a lot and narrowed it down to a few key agencies," he said. "We don't have the budgets to really sustain a lot of different agencies and keep the A team on it [from the agency side]."
Juniper has brought some work in-house that it previously used outside agencies for, including social media for customer relations and analytics, Brooks said.
COLLABORATION IS CRITICAL
Many marketers agree that regardless of the number of agencies they have or the agencies' structure, collaboration among agencies is critical.
"The secret sauce is having a very stable group of people who work well together," said Kathy Button Bell, CMO at Emerson Electric Co.
Emerson has worked with the same creative agency for 16 years, the same PR firm for 15 years and the same digital agency for six. "I have the identical creative team I had in 1997," Button Bell said. "The creative agency is the guardian of our brand; the PR agency is in control of our soul; and our digital agency expresses all this online."
While the PR agency is based in St. Louis near Emerson's headquarters, the creative and digital agencies are in Chicago. The agencies meet often in St. Louis and collaborate frequently online and on the phone, Button Bell said.
"The onus on the agencies to work well together is higher than it used to be," she said. "There aren't delineated lines—'you do this, and you do that.' We have kept people on the teams who are incredibly collaborative."
Linda McGovern, VP-marketing at building products company USG Corp., also cited collaboration as a key issue in working with multiple agency partners. USG has lead agencies for creative, digital, social and PR, but uses specialized agencies for lead-gen, video communications and events.
"It is so important to find partners who are open and willing to work with other partners," McGovern said. "We set the stage in strategy for the major programs, then we brief our agency partners. Often, they work behind the scenes together, without us. The level of collaboration they have without us being in the room is incredible."
McGovern said trust and openness are other critical factors to success, as is a good cultural fit. "I want to hear from them where we can improve, but we need to tell them where they need to improve," she said. "You need to know when the fit isn't working and it's time to move on."