Agencies are an odd beast. We’re consultants who happen to make things.
This hybrid approach — part consulting, part production — is a unique strength, as it combines responsibility for both the strategic aspects of the work and the tangible creation of outputs. It’s not enough to build a better mousetrap; agencies must ensure that a mousetrap is the right thing to build in the first place.
However, this multifaceted business model can lead to some “fuzziness” around how agencies can best support their clients.
In our experience, this often occurs when an engagement is oriented primarily towards the required outputs (the website, the ad creative, the email marketing strategy, etc). This makes intuitive sense, as an agency isn’t just a management consultancy — when all’s said and done, we do need to build something tangible.
But consultancies are more effective when they have a sense of the broader business and customer contexts and can draw from a broader toolbox. This applies to agencies as well, as an agency that can infuse the outputs they’re responsible for with consideration for what’s occurring throughout the rest of the customer’s experience simply leads to stronger, more resilient work (on a related note, this article from CMO.com goes into more detail on this from a CMO’s perspective).
However, this subtly but meaningfully shifts how we could approach scoping an agency’s responsibilities. Anything an agency generates can either inform the solution as an input or be created as a tangible output. While most briefs primarily focus on the outputs, the best work comes from “going wide” during the input phase, only zeroing in on a particular niche during the output phase.
Branding; mass advertising; email and content marketing; direct mail; digital products; the web; social media. Each of these fields is a multi-billion-dollar industry in their own right, but they’re fundamentally just different slices of the same pie.
No agency can be excellent at production across more than a small handful of these fields. But, informing the work that an agency produces with the best thinking from across them — alongside the context of higher-level business objectives, marketing goals, and the key customer journeys — will lead to a better solution, whatever the solution happens to be.
For instance, a mass advertising campaign that considers how it would be supported via email marketing and updates to the corporate website makes a better ad campaign. A branding project that considers the mass advertising message or in-app microcopy and animations alongside the nuts-and-bolts of the corporate identity makes a better brand platform. A website that considers brand messaging, customer needs, email/CRM marketing, and how it can support future mass or trade advertising campaigns makes a better website.
The key is that this “consideration” doesn’t require one agency to be solely responsible for all outputs across all these dimensions, all of the time — but it does help “shoulder the load” for bigger-picture planning between agencies and clients, leading to closer relationships, and ultimately more impactful work. It may not be rocket science, but we believe that nailing the fundamentals is the biggest driver of ongoing success. And keeping the eye on the bigger picture, and how the specific tactics can support it, is a practice worth keeping in mind on every engagement.
The marketing landscape is a complex one, with endless channels to consider, an increasingly data-driven and hyper-targeted way to reach customers and prospects (unless privacy laws get updated, and the world turns back to mass messaging across all channels), an influx of ever-more-specialized vendors, and the continual push to bring work in-house. We’re all getting pulled in many directions at once, and the agency model needs to keep evolving to continuously adapt to the needs of clients and customers.
Sharing the load and working that much closer seems like a great place to start to us.