Beyond the Sales Pitch: What You Should Know About Your Next Marketing / Advertising Agency

How Expectations of Marketing and Advertising Agencies of Record have Evolved

The traditional role of a Marketing/Advertising Agency of Record (AOR) was born in the 1950s and 60s, Mad Men-era, when television and mass media buying became a specialized industry and brands wanted agency expertise and leadership protecting their advertising dollars. They looked to advertising agencies for it all: strategy, creative development, media buying and execution. And, the commonality in most client-agency relationships was that the agency knew the mass market advertising industry and could be trusted to make educated decisions and act in the client’s best interest. Inherit in this relationship was that of agency as the knowledge leader when it came to marketing and media decisions.


Back in 2010, the forecasted the demise of the Agency of Record, telling clients, “it’s time to rethink your Agency of Record and take advantage of the diversity of professionals out there who can help you conquer the challenges of new media” and enable hyper responsiveness for the digital world.

Today, marketing agencies signed to big-dollar retainers are signed for a very specific service set, i.e. Social Media Agency of Record or Advertising Agency of Record. For clients with significantly smaller budgets to share, the Marketing AOR manages brand integrity across almost all marketing and advertising initiatives.

Increasingly today, agencies are being asked to work with other agency’s teams to cohesively market brands, products and services, becoming a Team of Record rather than the traditional Agency of Record. “Team Pepsi,” for example, is led by Omnicom and includes marketing and advertising teams from TWBA, BBDO, and 180LA. They want the best of the best involved in their finished work.

The marketing agencies of today that will be thriving 10-20 years in the future are those that recognize technological shifts and react to smarter, more savvy audiences. It’s as simple as survival of the fittest.

So, what does this mean for you, the client, in choosing the right agency, or agencies, to work with?

Look at the inner-workings of potential marketing agency partners – what is their approach, their philosophy? How do they get business done, what are their goals for the next few years, and how will these processes and intentions benefit your projects now and in the future?

If your organization is constrained by the RFP process, be prepared to take a new approach to writing requirements. You won’t be able to take one off the shelf, dust it off, and update it. Our world—the one you compete in—is changing too fast. Your new RFP language must pre-qualify candidates more in terms of strategic approach and ability to keep pace with evolving mass media and audience trends; less on laundry lists of qualifications and deliverables. You need to evaluate your finalists less on what they’ve done ten and fifteen years ago and more on how they’re making things happen for their clients today.


Agencies Eat, Breathe, and Sleep Marketing and Advertising — All Day, Every Day

Each day at a marketing agency is consumed with thinking, creating and executing marketing and advertising strategies and tasks for various clients, industries, projects and products. Every task is geared toward achieving a marketing goal. Whether the current to-do is a website development project, a social media calendar, execution of a marketing campaign or a brand guideline document – the agency always keeps the mindset and environment focused on end products and end results.

Unlike a typical corporation’s or government agency’s in-house marketing staffs, agency teams aren’t distracted day-in-day-out fielding requests from other departments, or from third-parties focused on their own agendas. They deal with clients and client needs as their first and only priority.

What this means, is that by their nature, agencies that specialize in marketing are inherently better suited to offer assistance and expertise in three areas:

Strategy from an Outside Perspective.  

No one knows the inner workings, competing dynamics and agendas, or other daily challenges and realities your organization faces than you do. You’re surrounded by it every day. However, with new initiatives and especially responses to a shifting audience, this can cloud your judgment. It usually takes expertise from outside the organization to assess your true strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats and bring them together into a clear, actionable, go-forward strategy.

Production and Project Management.  

When it comes to creation of a new website or digital platform, or the execution of a new social media campaign – agencies are better equipped to handle production and project management on time and with brand integrity intact from start to finish. They aren’t subject to the same pressures that in-house marketing teams are, and agency staffers handle complex and demanding projects such as these all day, every day, so they know potential pitfalls and speed bumps to avoid to get the project done on deadline and in budget.

Future Marketing Value and Equity.

Successful agencies stay focused on new and emerging marketing tactics – combining what are known best practices with an eye on new consumer trends and communication preferences. They are always thinking ahead – not only a “what works now” mentality, but also consideration of “how will this resonate for months, even years down the road.” This means that agency-produced marketing initiatives that go live today are based on long-term strategy and impact.


Experts and Specialist Exist in Every Kind of Marketing Role

Most agencies, depending on size, carry diverse, specialist sets of marketing and advertising team members. Make sure the agencies you vet have the full range of expertise on board that you need.

Beyond the expected staffing for the services they offer, do they have research analysts, strategists, creative teams, developers, specialized marketers and other expertise in house?

PRO TIP: Look for agencies where individuals field teams of specialized professionals who will be directly involved in the production of your project.

Except for highly dedicated specialty shops such as a Public Relations firm that only deals in the healthcare industry, most agencies have team members with broad and deep experience in marketing and advertising projects across a variety of industries, requiring a number of different marketing approaches, strategies and tactics. Take advantage of the insights and expertise this experience has taught them.

PRO TIP: Look for agencies where past projects, successes earned and lessons learned will benefit your current project.

Always, always, always, at a marketing agency of value, there will be team member(s) whose primary focus is to look to the future, identifying trends and forecasting consumer behavior shifts to stay relevant and engaging. Without this foresight, eventually, an agency will no longer exist – losing in the race that only allows for survival of the fittest.

PRO TIP: Make sure any agency you choose to work with is telling you how to prepare for future market shifts in any strategy or planning meeting or document production.

Questions to Ask Today of Your Marketing Agency to Realize their Long-Term Value — What's Going on Behind the Scenes?

  1. Can you list similar clients/industries/projects you’ve worked with like ours?
  2. How do you provide ongoing training for your staff?
  3. How can you ensure the team on our project stays up to date with the latest and greatest approaches and trends?
  4. Are your service fees standardized or do they vary by the requirements of the project? If so, are consulting and recommendations services more or less expensive than production services for creative and marketing campaigns?
  5. What is your criteria for selecting the right people to work on our projects?
  6. Are you helping to push us forward to stay current and relevant in our market?

Open communication is key with your agency of choice. These questions may lead to productive next steps together or may help you make the decision to explore other options. If the latter, consider that it’s time we discuss your brand’s past, present, and future.

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Written by
October 1, 2014