In the marketing world, Big gets its butt kissed. Big has money, so Big has power–on the client and the agency side. When Big talks, everyone listens.
Global brands need global partners and world-wide reach; no one can argue with that. Your $300 million account needs some earnest eye-gazing and sweaty hand-holding. And for that amount of cash, everyone wants in. It’s a complicated, deal-making world.
But what if your brand doesn’t live in that world? Maybe you’re a start-up, mid-sized or challenger brand. You’ve got no plans for offices in London, Sydney and Mumbai. You don’t need the added layers and expense, the fancy dinners and box seat perks. And your $3 million budget would scarcely get you a returned phone call from Big Agency. How, then, do you get access to innovative thinking and people who can help move your brand and business forward?
Focus your search on the level of talent, not the size of the firm. Small agencies house some of the sharpest minds in marketing today and represent a great value in a cost-conscious world.
What’s small? That depends. Small could be a national level shop of 50 people or it could be the ex-president of one of the Bigs who just started a new two-person firm. Here are some things to consider as you start your search:
Look at your immediate and long term goals. You’re looking for partners you can grow with–not just ones who can get those first few projects off your desk, right?
An agency relationship should be treated with the same due diligence you’d apply to bringing on a new business partner. If you’re not interested in that level of commitment, don’t hire an agency.
It’s a fact: most small agencies don’t make decisions based on a certain profit margin–but what’s best for the client. You’d never hear that about Big.
Small agencies are fearless–they take risks that Big can’t.
How do I know this? I talk to them everyday. I’m in meetings and pitches with them. I’ve watched them face seemingly impossible, complicated challenges and hit it out of the park.
So in your search for the right marketing agency look beyond Big. Consider a smaller agency – they’ re likely a better fit for your budget and your brand. Brilliant marketers are anxious to take your call–let us hitch you up with one.
Ad agencies are facing real challenges to their value proposition and the outcome of the DARPA experiment is indicative of how social networks have changed the advertising industry forever. DARPA’s experiment (and MIT’s approach) can offer clues about how agencies can make this industry shift work for them—rather than feeling threatened as the ground moves below their feet. And it’s a cautionary tale for clients as well.
The new big idea
Social networks (and by extension, crowdsourcing) have helped bring about the democratization of the big idea, which is probably one of the biggest shifts to our industry in the last 50 years. Marketers now know their agencies aren’t the sole generators of solutions. This shift is changing how clients compensate their agencies—or at least the value placed on previously highly-valued goods—like the big idea. Traditionally, advertising agencies focused on finding balloons—the big idea—and clients paid handsomely for it. In today’s hyper social-networked world, often the strategy is the big idea.
In the case of the DARPA experiment, strategy won the day. Someone (MIT) had to devise the system or architecture that allowed the solution to be found. In other words, DARPA wasn’t paying for the balloons to be found (the apparent solution) they were paying for the creation of the process. Today many marketers are less interested in paying agencies for ideas—they would rather pay for strategy, for process, and the broad thinking to get to the solution. How does this change the value of creativity?
Elton John famously wrote “Your Song” (one of his biggest hits ever) in about ten minutes after his lyricist partner Bernie Taupin penned the words over breakfast. By today’s valuation of creativity, Elton and Bernie would probably have been paid 25 bucks for that masterpiece. This strikes fear into the hearts of many creative people because if agencies can’t charge well for their ideas, what do they have to sell?
Clients should look to their agencies as strategic consultants, not just idea factories. Yes, clients still need ideas and good ideas still sell stuff, but the fact that ideas are likely to come from anywhere goes against having an agency if ideas are all you want your agency for. It’s like hiring a piano teacher to sit in your living room and play you tunes. Real agency value comes in having a partner with broad perspective and insight on your business, a team with peripheral vision, foresight and hindsight who is strategically responsible for making sure the whole plan and execution of that plan is greater than the sum of its parts. To use another music analogy, if the CMO is the conductor of the orchestra, the agency is the Concertmaster. So in the search to hire your next ad agency, find an agency with demonstrated strategic ability–one that uses social networks to their advantage to tap creativity and good ideas, wherever they live, not the ones trying to be balloon finders.
There’s a story about a family who runs out of gas in the desert a few hundred yards from the only gas station around. The station owner comes up with a gas can, and charges them $25 for gas, $25 for the gas can and $150 for labor. The stranded travelers question “what labor?” The attendant responds, “All the thinking to add it up”. The gist is this: clients should be paying agencies to think, not necessarily execute. Agencies need to be willing to use all the tools currently at their disposal including sourcing ideas across social networks. Clients will more likely value an agency who is not threatened by, or needing to be, the only one with the big idea—because they aren’t anymore.
It’s tough out there for marketers on both sides. Agencies, in particular, are having a rough go of things amid a complicated mash-up of contracts, compensation, and collaboration. So what does this shift mean for the future of the advertising agency and the clients who hire them? DARPA’s experiment and MIT’s solution may offer some clues:
Don’t hire an agency to look for balloons but instead, hire an agency who realizes that the solution is not always the end goal.
Hire an agency to think about your problem strategically, who when necessary can find solutions outside their own walls.
Hire an agency who realizes that the best solutions to your business don’t always happen inside the marketing department.