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As corporations overhaul their marketing operations to improve the bottom line, they're reassessing their agency relationships and, in many cases, deciding to look elsewhere. Over the past year, dozens of b-to-b marketers have switched agencies, including Avery Denison, EMM Group, Intel Corp., Lenovo, Novell, Office Depot, O-I, Sprint/Nextel, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments and Visa USA.

Many factors are driving these agency changes, including mergers and acquisitions, corporate rebranding efforts, the introduction of new products and services, and pressure to prove return on investment.

For many organizations, reviews are being driven by CMO turnover.

"Clients are staying with agencies for a shorter period of time because of shorter CMO tenure," said Joanne Davis, president of Joanne Davis Consulting and author of a new book, "Best Practices and Processes for Finding a New Agency," which will be published this month by the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Davis pointed to a survey by executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart in 2004 that found the average tenure for CMOs at the top 100 branded companies is just 22 months.

As new CMOs come in, one of their first priorities is reviewing overall marketing effectiveness and agency performance, and this often leads to a search for a new agency partner.

Such was the case at Visa USA, which named Susanne Lyons exec VP-CMO in 2004.

"When Susanne came on board, she set about re-evaluating the way we approach marketing holistically and reorganizing the marketing department," said Kevin Burke, senior VP-advertising, brand and Web at Visa USA. "She challenged us all to examine the way we approach things and to make sure we have the very best thinking."

Visa USA's ad agency at the time was BBDO New York.

"We invited BBDO, along with other great minds, to contribute thinking about how to evolve the Visa brand from its current position to the brand of the future," Burke said.

Visa's objective was to change its brand identity from one of merchant acceptance to one of cardholder empowerment, and to raise awareness of Visa's financial services, he said.

In terms of criteria, "first and foremost, the agency has to have a history and heritage of developing big brand ideas-not just ads, but big expansive ideas," Burke said.

"Can they think big, are they strategic and do they have wonderful creative expressions?"

Other important criteria included understanding the Visa brand, understanding the industry and being able to execute an integrated marketing program.

Visa decided to conduct an agency review without a consultant, and its executives put together a list of agencies they admired and thought met the criteria.

BBDO, TBWAChiatDay and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which are all owned by Omnicom Group, made the list.

Visa went through typical steps in a review, including meeting with the agencies, giving them an assignment, evaluating credentials and hearing final presentations.

TBWAChiatDay won the account, which is estimated at more than $300 million.

"At the end of the day, they were in synch with where we wanted to take the brand, and their ideas, people, energy and passion were impressive on every front," Burke said.

At Novell, a change to its corporate positioning last year prompted a review for a new agency, said Philip Juliano, VP-global brand management and corporate communications at Novell. The company's previous agency was JWT, San Francisco.

"Our prior agency had done excellent work, but sometimes, as you embark on a new positioning, having a new agency partner is often a good change to make, so both the client and the agency can have real ownership and embark on the journey together," Juliano said.

Novell's new corporate positioning is "software for the open enterprise," delivering open, standards-based software to help business customers manage, simplify, secure and integrate their IT networks.

In searching for a new agency partner, Novell's criteria included experience in the IT space (though not necessarily with enterprise software), strategic problem-solving skills, good chemistry between the client and agency, and a clear vision.

Novell conducted the review on its own, putting together a list of about a dozen agencies it felt met the criteria.

After putting out a brief RFP to the agencies, Novell narrowed the list to five. It met with the agencies, all of which were based in the New York and Boston areas, then cut the list to three. Juliano declined to name the finalists.

For the final stage of the review, Novell gave the agencies a specific assignment for its new positioning.

Philip Johnson Associates, Cambridge, Mass., won the account, estimated at about $12 million.

"Their strong suit was that they really had a strong sense of who they were, and they had a point of view," Juliano said. "A lot of agencies will wait and tell you the point of view the client might want, but they weren't afraid to put a stake in the ground and tell us what they thought we should stand for."

Juliano said another selling point for PJA was the in-depth research the agency did with Novell's core audience of IT decision-makers as well as analysts and other influencers.

"They took sound bites of conversations they had with influencers and played them as part of the presentation. They did an excellent job of reading the marketplace," Juliano said.

O-I, a 102-year-old industrial glass manufacturer, embarked on an agency search last year as part of a global transformation to refocus the company's core businesses that began in 2004.

As part of the transformation, the company acquired BSN Glasspack, Paris, to strengthen its European glass manufacturing operations, sold its blow-molded plastic container operations and changed its name from Owens-Illinois to O-I.

It also hired Carol Gee as chief communications officer to help drive its marketing strategy.

"This is an old-line manufacturing company, and over the last 20 years it had lost some of its marketing strategy," said Gee, who had spent 25 years at Dupont, most recently as global brand manager for several brands. "I wanted to remind them of what an agency partner was like."

O-I had worked with one ad agency for its plastics business but did not have an agency of record.

A few local and regional ad agencies were invited to O-I's Toledo, Ohio, headquarters to meet with senior executives and discuss what they were doing for some of their b-to-b clients.

Gee gave the agencies an assignment and set the following selection criteria: effective creative, integrated marketing capabilities, a strategic process, resources to service the account, the ability to anticipate needs, understanding the marketplace, the ability to develop brand equity and team chemistry.

The winner was Nicholson Kovac, Kansas City, Mo.

Gee said one of the agency's selling points was an agreement to have its two principals, Pete Kovac and Nick Nicholson, available at no charge for the initial strategy sessions with the client.

"Offering up their expertise at no cost so they could learn about our business was a real kicker," Gee said.

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