Three Ways to Orchestrate Agencies for the Most Powerful Result

How the Sections of a Campaign Can Play Hit Music Together

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Like musicians, marketers and agencies aspire to perform in concert to create advertising hits that top the charts. But who's leading the band these days? Do marketers need lead agencies? And if so, what's their role?

Advertisers and agencies are telling us that it's less feasible for a single agency to play frontman, overseeing the ideation and execution of every advertising component. Today's marketing ecosystem is just too complicated. In place of the old hub-and-spoke agency model, marketers should consider three new models of agency orchestration.

The empowered orchestra model
In this model, marketers empower their agencies to play two distinct leadership roles: the composer (idea agency) and conductor (orchestrator agency). This approach suits marketers who want to maximize creative innovation and operational effectiveness. It works well when marketers implement complex initiatives across multiple agencies, often within a single holding company or an agency network. To empower their orchestra of agencies, marketers need to:

  • Give composer agencies freedom of artistic expression for big ideas. Marketers can give agencies the latitude for innovative thinking by separating the role of creative leadership from operational leadership. For instance, Best Buy continues to use Crispin Porter & Bogusky as its big-idea agency, while it taps Wunderman to lead the implementation of cross-channel initiatives.

  • Assign a conductor agency to interpret the arrangement for the brand composition. Today's marketing ideas won't succeed unless they are flawlessly orchestrated across agency partners. Sprint recently announced the creation of its new agency model called Team Sprint -- a combination of several Publicis agencies, with Digitas primarily playing the role of conductor and Leo Burnett resources playing composer.

  • Empower virtuoso agencies to play the role of guest conductor. Some advertising initiatives will require the leadership of specialist agencies (e.g., public relations, media, social media, mobile). So marketers should enable these virtuoso agencies to play the role of guest conductor. For instance, Google turned to AKQA, instead of a traditional creative agency, to lead all creative work related to YouTube.

The Broadway producer model
In this model, marketers may still prefer the concept of a lead agency, but to make it work, they must play a more active role in agency orchestration. Like the executive producer of a Broadway musical, marketers must be confident in their ability to provide the brand's artistic vision. When does this make the most sense? When clients have a strong point of view on brand strategy and a roster of agencies aligned with that vision. To make it work, marketers need to:

  • Elevate senior marketers with budget authority to play the role of executive producer. Marketers who yearn to be an executive producer must possess strong skills in consumer insights and brand strategy and usually have agency-side experience. Clients may need to create two distinct leadership roles to oversee agency initiatives: 1) a brand steward who leads brand strategy and ideation, and 2) a marketing operations director who equips agencies to succeed.

  • Assign a director to have oversight for each performance. Marketers must appoint a single lead for coordinating implementation across agencies, but that resource could be a single person or an agency. For instance, marketers like Kimberly-Clark, which works with a variety of WPP agencies around the world, now have one contact at WPP to help them access resources across the holding company. This global client lead is not affiliated with any specific agency.

  • Reward all agencies for standing-ovation performances. Marketers will have to rethink agency compensation structures. For instance, Procter & Gamble provides bonus incentives to every agency involved in a project's success so that agencies are motivated to cooperate, even if they don't get the chance to play the starring role.

The jazz improvisation model
In this model, the marketer prefers that agencies collaborate on ideation, rather than letting one agency come up with the idea. The marketer plays the role of band manager by assembling an ensemble of agencies for a specific gig and letting them arrive at the best solution. When does this make the most sense? When marketers use a roster of unaffiliated agencies or when they have sporadic integrated project-based work. To become more improvisational, marketers need to:

  • Create a venue for agencies to jam together. You need to host strategy sessions that bring every agency together in the ideation phase. This will help them work together more effectively later on during the execution phase of the initiative.

  • Establish a lead arrangement so that all agencies know their parts. Agency improvisation doesn't work without tightly defined scope of work and clear roles and responsibilities, which usually comes in the form of an energizing and inspiring briefing.

  • Ensure that projects are harmonized for all agencies to stay in rhythm. Some marketers, like Dell, use formal agency councils to coordinate cross-agency initiatives. Other marketers empower agencies to riff with each other, like Kraft Philly Cream Cheese. It brought its creative, media, and digital agencies (McGarryBowen, Starcom, and Digitas) together to jointly develop an integrated campaign.

Are you in sync with your agencies? Maybe it's time to try a new arrangement you can dance to.

(One final note: My firm has worked with many of the companies mentioned in this piece.)

Chris Stutzman is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.
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