The economy is robust. CMOs everywhere remain as busy as ever. There is as much stress on growth and results as ever. Agencies are expected to produce more with less.
The unique bond between senior marketer and agency remains one of the keys to success! Great agency relationships can help make a career, a hit on Wall Street or a huge IPO. At the same time, there is an unprecedented amount of CMO movement. The agency review business is historically strong.
Looking ahead, it is always easier to challenge your agency than to change agencies. How do you ensure that in addition to helping your business right now, your agency is set up for continued success? A good start is to ask these five questions.
Question #1: What is the agency’s strategy for competing for the best personnel?
The agency business is a people business. Most agencies of similar sizes have roughly the same capabilities and tools. But how are those capabilities and tools used? How am I serviced as a client?
Agency client service is becoming more challenging everyday because agencies are having trouble hiring and retaining the best staff. Agencies today are competing with big tech, consultants, startups and insourced positions for the same people. These firms are all competing for positions in analytics, Martech and Adtech, programmatic, media, account service and creative work.
The most important questions you should ask your agency are staffing questions – and the most important single question is “what are you doing to compete effectively for the best talent?”
Question #2: What specific training plans and programs are in place today for your staff?
Hiring the best people is a good start. Making sure they are equipped to succeed on your account’s behalf is a critical second step.
What training programs are in place for strategy development, insight identification, Martech and Adtech, basic account service, project management, and key functional skills?
Ask to see the actual training programs.
Question #3: What is up with your rates?
Agency rates are a complex area. However, we know the cost of hiring and retaining key agency employees has increased dramatically in the past 24 months. As I mentioned earlier in this article, agencies are competing with some very deep pockets for the same personnel. Since the majority of an agency’s economics are related to staffing costs, an agency’s rates must have increased in the past 24 months or the agency will not remain competitive.
If your agency’s rates have not increased, you should ask why not. It is far better to deal with a rate increase than agency talent or service degradation.
Question #4: What is the agency’s strategy for DE&I and how are you tracking your efforts?
Knowing the KPIs for an agency’s DE&I efforts provides an understanding of the agency’s intent and its commitment to progress.
Question #5: What should I know that I don’t?
The best agencies are thought partners that bring new ideas, skills and knowledge to the table that we wouldn’t have without them. Ask them what you should know that you might not already know. And then ask again. And again.
You should be hearing about new ideas, concepts and directions. What is the latest evidence around the proper brand/performance marketing split? What is the fuss about share of search as a proxy for share of market and how does that even work? What should my firm really be doing about meta or decentralized finance?
The more you ask the more likely they will be to make a habit of being the thought leaders they already are.
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.