Agency rebundling is the future, not the past

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By minimizing the number of competing P&Ls on their roster, clients are closer to knowing who and what delivered marketing success, writes the chief operating officer of RPA.

Senior marketing and agency leaders have predicted for the better part of a year that a "great rebundling" was coming. Agency reviews by McDonald’s and AT&T resulted in bundled services with dedicated client teams. Both from existing clients and in new business pitches, we hear more marketers call for a "one team" approach—sometimes by tight coordination between core roster agencies and sometimes with work given to a single agency. With either approach, it’s clear that rebundling continues gathering momentum.

This return to focused, strategic partnership between agency and client is clear. But, even further, it is an evolution of agency deliverables moving forward. Here’s what that means for marketers today and what we should be ready for:

The big-picture still matters.  Last year, Marc Pritchard, P&G Chief Brand Officer, told agencies they are looking for "greater end-to-end integration ... Frankly, your complexity should not be our problem, so we want you to make that complexity invisible."

This means that the definition of marketing success must be unified between creative, media and ad-tech parts for the greatest impact and efficiency. Bottom line: there should no longer be a creative strategy and a media strategy—only the strategy.

Agencies must develop bespoke, best-in-class services for each client, forge great relationships with the most valuable media partners, master the marketing and ad tech, and offer production services to meet today’s pace and variety of formats.

For the holistic agency of the future, unified strategy and management of advertising complexity are the two major competitive advantages.

Data and tech management is key. Technology and access to data have been hailed as the new battlegrounds. But access to such tech has been increasingly commoditized—anyone can work with any of the big marketing cloud platforms, DMPs or programmatic technology providers.

Thousands now claim to be data-centric. But there can only be one real center to anything. In response to that, we’ll continue to see more clients demand that this center be within their marketing organization—not the agencies, ad-tech service providers or media partners.

Why? There are all kinds of ways to misuse data: you can limit your audience with a single targetable attribute as the key distinguishing factor, infer motivations incorrectly due to poor quality, or focus on only the lowest-hanging fruit of shoppers (many of whom have already made their purchasing decision).

Like having one harmonious strategy, the holistic agency of the future has a single data strategy for each client, and partners with each to apply the right tech to put that data to best use.

Strategic measurement is mandatory. Media isn’t the only thing that’s fragmented—our measurement system is broken. Clients don’t know whose KPIs to trust, and with each agency telling them something different, they’ve lost faith in having a true understanding of their marketing investment’s ROI. Up until now, each agency and service provider has been focused more on looking valuable than being straightforward with the client.

One of the great truisms of business is that nothing matters more than incentives. By minimizing the number of competing agency P&Ls on their roster, clients are closer to knowing who and what delivered marketing success.

The holistic agency of the future aligns insights, targeting and measurement. KPIs between media channels are interconnected. Brand-impact measurement is connected to behavioral measurement, sales and, in many cases, profitability.

"For it is in giving that we receive"—St. Francis. A rule of thumb for agencies in this new era is to focus more on organizing your business around each individual client’s needs rather than your own models. Over the past decade, client procurement departments clamped down on agency profits—and some agencies responded by hiding profits through rebates, arbitrage and "creative" accounting. This "predatory optimization" too often pitted clients’ interests against their agencies, and it’s a hallmark of unsustainable relationships.

Looking forward, the approach we should see much more of is focused on each client’s success so that the agency becomes indispensable and shares in that victory. Now, agencies must operate with a single strategy across the board and manage complexities with each client at the center. More consolidation is coming. How holistic will your agency be?

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