The Insights Blog

Yearend reading for Marketers and Agency execs

Yearend reading for Marketers and Agency execs

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By Stephen Boehler & the team at MIG

It’s been an eventful year for the team at Mercer Island Group!

We’ve shared a great deal of content aimed at helping marketers be better marketers, agencies be better agencies and how the two can succeed together. We’ve captured advice for 2023 from Yahoo SVP Jen Whelan, provided tips on building better client-agency relationships, given advice on how agencies can pitch better, shared how clients can earn better agency efforts and work, shared P&G’s leadership commandments and even gave tips on success from Carlos Santana!

As we wrap up an outstanding year, we thought it would be helpful to re-share many of our most popular articles. We’ve put together a special list of articles for marketers, a list for agency execs and a list that should appeal to both marketers and their agencies.

Advice for both Marketers and Agency Execs

There has never been a time when things were changing more quickly and when a client-agency relationship was more core to a company’s success. With all of this change it is the perfect time to review classic approaches to success that never seem to go out of style – like what we learned from studying the success of Carlos Santana.

Here are five key points marketers and agency execs can learn from Carlos Santana:

Hard, ego-less work sets the stage. Playing the violin at the age of five and guitar at eight. Washing dishes to afford a new guitar. The lesson here is obvious: there is both virtue and purpose in hard work. Hard work today can help you achieve what you want tomorrow.

Excellence comes from being a life-long student of your craft. When he was only eight years old he was already listening to blues guitar greats like B.B. King. As a teen he’d listen to everything from Jimi Hendrix to the Stones, Beatles, and even Miles Davis. From these influences and his own ingenuity, Santana arrived at his own unique sound. Throughout this life-long learning and commitment to his craft, Carlos Santana did not define the perfect music sound or philosophy; rather, he defined the perfect philosophy for Carlos Santana. Marketers can learn from this. The magic is not in just the principles of great marketing or the latest trends in what generally works; the magic is in knowing what to apply, and how to apply it, to your business.

Capture the moment. Santana shot to fame at Woodstock in 1969, before the band’s first album was even released! Santana captured the moment and left Woodstock as a rock star and still had to wait two weeks so that fans could buy the band’s first album. As strategic marketers we often do the hard work of deriving insights from our client’s brand, competition and the target audience. Yet it is also sound practice to add an element of time to the mix: just what is happening around our client’s business and in the world they compete in that matters?

It’s about talent and sharing the stage. Santana’s drummer on the famed “Soul Sacrifice” drum solo at Woodstock was Michael Shrieve. He had just turned 20 and was the second youngest performer at Woodstock. The drum solo was electrifying and nearly stole the show.

Michael Shrieve

Carlos Santana at Woodstock with 20-year old Michael Shrieve on drums

None of that mattered to Santana. Mike Shrieve was a drumming prodigy and Santana knew that Shrieve’s brilliance would add to, not detract from, the Santana sound. He was unfazed by a 20-year-old owning a crowd of 500,000 alone for several minutes. The message for marketing and agency leaders: marketing is a team sport. The industry may lionize a handful of loud voices, but success comes from building a team and sharing the spotlight.

Be distinctive. There is no more distinctive guitar sound than the Santana sound. It’s instantly recognizable. Great brands are also instantly recognizable, appreciated by their key target audiences and seem different. Marketers should ask: does my brand stand out like Santana’s guitar sound?

You can read our entire post on Santana here. And here are some of our other notes that can help clients and their agencies succeed:

  1. Share of Search is an underutilized yet compelling tool for marketers and agency execs. Read about it here.

  2. Employees rule in 2023, you need to continue to think like a customer, and the right marketing mix needs ongoing tailoring. Our discussion with Yahoo SVP Jen Whelan (here) highlighted these nuggets and more.

  3. Long term relationships help brands and their agencies succeed. Tips here.

  4. The Top-to-Top call is a key tool to maintaining a productive client-agency relationship. Read how and why here.

  5. The more things change, the more they stay the same. These 20 truths for marketers and agency leaders will serve you well.
Advice for Marketers

Marketing has become much more complex in recent years. Marketers need to represent the voice of the customer, guide customer experience, collaborate with IT on digital transformation, support sales, and… oh yea, do all that marketing stuff.

One topic we discussed in depth this past year was the role of leadership in marketing and across organizations.


Procter & Gamble’s 10 Commandments of Leadership from the 1980’s provides an evergreen template for marketing leaders:

  1. Set priorities

  2. Be willing to become personally involved in tough problems

  3. Be tough but fair with people

  4. Be committed

  5. Set and demand high standards of excellence

  6. Have a strong sense of urgency

  7. Pay attention to details

  8. Be innovative

  9. Work hard

  10. Have fun at what you’re doing

While some of the language could certainly be modernized, and additions reflecting DE&I are needed to enhance the list, most of the descriptions attached with each commandment seem pretty spot on today as they were forty years ago. You can see the descriptions here.

Some additional ideas that can help marketers succeed include:

  1. There is as much stress on growth and results as ever and agencies are expected to produce more with less. Here are 5 questions marketers should be asking their agencies.

  2. The best clients get the best work. Here is a helpful checklist on what it takes to be one of those clients that gets the great work.

  3. If you think it’s time for an agency review, here’s a checklist to make sure you’re ready.

  4. You’ve prepped and now you’re ready to run that review. Read this primer on how to run a modern agency review in a few quick sprints. And use these principles to guide your review.

  5. You’re working 70 hours a week and still can’t get everything done. Try this.
Advice for Agency Leaders

Just as the role of the CMO has changed dramatically in the past ten years, so too has the stress on the CMO’s agencies to be modern partners that can help marketers traverse increasingly challenging waters. Clients need help every day in ways that go beyond the basics of the SOW. The key to consistently growing your existing clients is to create an endless stream of discussions about their business – which can often lead to opportunities for your agency to help even more.

Organic Growth

Here are four ideas that can add value and lead to additional opportunities for your agency:

  1. Provide a Competitive Review: Your clients need to understand their competitors’ strategies and tactics in order to stay current with their own marketing activities. Providing an updated competitive review to clients is a fine way to highlight your commitment to their business and to showcase your focus on their success.

  2. Prepare a Key Marketplace Trends Report: There is a wealth of up-to-date free content available on the internet regarding topics like customer trends, consumer trends, media trends and hundreds of other topics. Curating trend information regarding topics that are important to your clients can be done quickly and cost effectively. Once collected, it is relatively easy to turn such curated content into helpful reports for your clients, focused on their business challenges and needs. And be sure to add your own POV on what these trends mean for the client’s business and what you recommend they consider where possible.

  3. Lunch & Learn Series: Agency executives see a broader range of business challenges every day than their clients do. And agency executives need to dive much deeper into many marketing and advertising capabilities than clients. The result is that agency executives have a uniquely deep knowledge base in several areas that can benefit clients. An easy way to leverage that knowledge to help your clients and further cement your relationship is by hosting a regular Lunch & Learn session.

  4. Updated Strategy: A refreshed look at your client’s customer facing strategies can be a powerful way to create important conversations about the client’s business and how your agency can help. Where possible, and certainly for important clients, we recommend that agencies make such a review a routine part of their relationship management efforts. This typically involves taking a fresh look at the client’s brand, competitors, and target audience. Look to derive important new insights where possible and recommend strategic evolutions as appropriate.

We provide additional depth to these four recommendations here.

There are several other ways that agencies can succeed in 2023:

  1. AdAge’s Small Agency of the Year: This prestigious award can really put an agency on the path to significant growth. Read about why you should apply, how the winners won, and finally the key strategies you can employ to win.

  2. Agencies need their own content and thought leadership to build their brand in a marketplace with tens of thousands of agencies to choose from. Read this quick guide to killer agency content.

  3. If you’re pitching, go all in. Your competition will be going all-in. No half measures! Read how to commit to the pitch process here.

  4. Kickoff pitches by highlighting the client’s business challenges. Make the pitch about them, not you.

  5. Be the best place to work. Be welcoming. Sign the Project 47 Pledge.
Cheers to 2023!

As you look ahead to 2023, you’re not alone. We will keep supporting clients and agencies and will keep sharing content and workshops aimed at helping both agencies and marketers succeed. Please let us know which topics you would like to see us address!

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 cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.