The Insights Blog

Three ways CMOs can make their firms more appealing to agencies

Three ways CMOs can make their firms more appealing to agencies


Today’s CMO has one of the most difficult jobs in history and needs the best agency support possible.

The CMO job is nearly impossible to manage in a 24-hour day. The rest of the CSuite and Wall Street have far greater expectations of marketers than ever before. CMOs are expected to know more, innovate faster and do more with less. Their jobs often have more responsibilities than ever before and may include ecommerce, sales, the overall customer experience, managing marketing technology and an inhouse agency. And at any point in time, they may have outgrown their current agency resources and need to lead an agency review.

We have led hundreds of agency reviews and worked with hundreds of existing client/agency relationships. In this journey we have learned first-hand how some CMOs help position themselves and their firms to get the most enthusiastic pitch effort from their candidate agencies, and better work from their existing agencies.

What can these senior execs do to increase the appeal of their firm?

Clients can be interesting to agencies in a number of ways. Agencies may be enthusiastic about the category, the brand or the quality of the product or service. Many of these factors are beyond the control of the CMO at any given time. Even the budget – an area that is critically important to potential agencies – can often be difficult to increase in the short term. With so many critical factors that determine whether an account is desirable or not being well beyond the control of the CMO, what can a CMO do to position their firm to be as desirable as possible?

After working with CMOs of all experience levels and skillsets, we’ve learned three key attributes to making your business even more appealing to agencies.


Be realistic.

It’s nice to have big bodacious goals and desires. A BHAG can help focus an organization toward a major longer term goal and create enthusiasm for such a future in an organization. But BHAGs are different than the short-term work that needs to be done. Turning a BHAG into a short term set of expectations can be deflating and paralyzing.

Successful CMOs know how to focus in the short term on what is doable. What can the organization or agency do well enough to make progress on the journey toward the big audacious goal? What is practical to achieve within a given budget? What can be done in the context of a demanding timeline? CMOs that lead with realism do not burn out their teams and are able to sustain enthusiasm.


Be clear.

The CMO speaks through a megaphone. People hang on every word and work hard to please the boss. Because of this, it is very dangerous for the CMO to “think out loud” without clarifying when they are simply ruminating versus expecting action. Everything a CMO says can trigger action in an organization – so be careful and certain what actions you really expect.

A better path is for the CMO to ask questions and more questions, engage in dialogue and support the team in coming up with the right plans and actions.

And when you are ready to declare your expectations, do that clearly and concisely. It’s your job to be sure your team understands what is needed and what you expect.


Be Kind.

Many organizations and leaders today have lost many of the basics of good etiquette. Leaders that are routinely late for important meetings. Leaders that interrupt presentations to make their points before they understand the team’s or agency’s recommendation. Leaders that don’t genuinely thank the folks around them for their hard work and commitment. And in many organizations today, leaders are allowed to be mean. Instead of asking questions to build understanding, they interrogate to establish their own supremacy.

When a leader behaves in any of these ways – is late for meetings, interrupts, interrogates – their entire organization’s culture is negatively impacted. These behaviors cause damage that can last for many years.

What can a CMO do to avoid this trap?

Behave better. Be on time. Listen for understanding. Ask questions that build the team and lift the conversation to a higher level. Thank your people and your agencies. Be thankful for how hard they are working. Be gracious when their output disappoints.

Be kind.


Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, 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.