As 2017 unfolds with a high degree of uncertainty on the horizon, timing couldn’t be better for top leaders to evaluate their marketing and communication strategies with an eye on building trust with, and demonstrating purpose to, key constituencies.
In a world where bigger is no longer better, and one-size fits all models no longer work, leading brands are looking to collaborate with a group of smaller agencies to meet a list of growing niche communication needs. This is a significant reversal from the singular relationships with big communication conglomerates that dictated the market in the past.
Consequently, following is a list of key things to consider today when choosing an agency partner:
1) Remember small is the new big.
Whether you are going with a large traditional firm or a smaller insurgent, it is important to understand whether the partner you choose has the ability to turn with the alacrity of a speedboat as opposed to the lethargy of an ocean liner.
Innovative creative firms function with an entrepreneurial and agile mindset no matter what their actual size.
Today strength is not determined by magnitude or heft, it is determined by an ability to constantly evolve, change, disrupt and create in real time, and ahead of competitors. There are no rules to follow to succeed, only ones to shatter to find better paths forward toward profitability and meaningful engagement.
The right agency partner will be driven by this maverick thinking, have scale and a breadth of offerings, but be small enough to be able to help you move in lockstep with both your industry and the cultural landscape you are seeking to communicate and engage with.
Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit
2) Look for a singular focus and vision.
Effective marketing and communications today happens through niche offerings and expertise. No one partner can or should be good at all things. The broader business environment no longer functions that way. Just look at the renewed singular focus of market giants like GE and P&G who have recently shed bloated conglomerate structures to return to their historical industry cores of industrial vision and consumer packaged goods innovation.
The right agency partner will present a strategic vision that offers end to end solutions comprised of niche offerings and expertise that can deliver meaningful and measurable results.
Be reminded of the acclaimed Steve Jobs adage of doing one thing and one thing better than anyone else when building your creative partnership teams.
3) Be as mindful of outcomes as creative thought.
Today marketing and communications are as responsible for driving business strategy and innovation as they are awareness, so being sure your agency partner is as riveted on results as they are on creative is critical.
The right creative or agency team will lead as much with a focus on measurable outcomes as they do with creative ideation.
Big ideas today are a dime a dozen. What’s more rare is seamless delivery of creative services that reach the people you want to connect with where they already live, work and play.
In today’s environment, no one should still be talking about quantity reach in the way of general impressions, views or likes. All of those are a given if a campaign is to be successful. What is more important is to look out for partners who can deliver reach to target groups in ways that elicit specific calls to action, the attainment of agreed upon overall business outcomes and real engagement that can be converted into positive business results.
4) Recognize that if you don’t have a great content strategy, social media and other distribution ideas are irrelevant.
Too often marketers make the mistake of having the goal of increasing their brand’s social media presence as opposed to first thinking through the right approach to content creation and management.
Think of it this way. You can have the most beautiful Maserati, but if you don’t maintain it and fill it with the right fuel, you still won’t win the race.
The very same thing is true with social and digital media. You can have the greatest presence on Facebook, with tons of followers and likes, but if you don’t consistently push out a stream of content that is designed to instigate action with the right people or drive toward specific business outcomes, what real value is there in your bright and shiny social media platform?
The right agency partner will work with you to uncover the most meaningful and resonant data and stories that your brand already possesses and push you to transform these assets into vibrant and engage-able content that can and will deliver the type of results your senior leadership team is seeking.
5) Connect with and hire great talent that can and will execute for you daily.
Too often the bait and switch move that has been defining agency reputations for decades still rears its ugly head. You know when you are pitched by a team of senior talent who bring out all the bells and whistles that you never see again after signing on the dotted line?
When selecting an agency or creative partner today remember it is you who is in the driver’s seat, with a more important and visible role to the CEO than ever before.
Your agency team should be as accountable to you as you must be to your senior leadership for any partnership to work, and the foundation of such success begins and ends with great talent, at all levels.
There has never been a time with more choices for marketers in the creative realm. Rarely does the one big agency model still work, so competition for business is keen and affords you the opportunity to push for the very best resources and talent and receive it.
When selecting your agency partner, make sure that the talent in the room is the talent you will be working with day in and day out. Check for creative chemistry, a senior leadership anchor who will drive the business for creativity and consistency, and ask for examples of work executed in an end to end fashion. Great ideas are not that rare. What is however is an ability to execute with consistency, scale, fluidity and an unrelenting commitment to excellence.
The year ahead is one where the role of the CMO will only continue to rise in importance. Step into the driver’s seat, find the correct partner to ride shotgun and don’t be afraid to floor it as there has never been a more exciting or opportune time to be a marketer. So start your engines and enjoy the ride!
Billee Howard helps brands use storytelling as a competency that informs business strategy, culture development and growth. She also wrote WeCommerce, a book on collaboration in the new economy.