Article

Michael Nutley
Michael Nutley 19 March 2013

Collaborate to accumulate

The nature of agency relationships, with each other as well as with clients, is changing as collaboration become vital to survival.

In the discussions at the Digital Leaders’ Briefing last month, the question of agency relationships poked through a number of times.


It’s a perennial issue, and one that seems to be broadly cyclical. A period of clients wanting to save management time by having a single lead agency managing all the others is followed, in better times, by a period where clients want to hand-pick the agency for each role and channel.


This is a generalisation, of course, as on one hand the history of the marketing department over the past 20 year has been one of outsourcing more and more to agencies, while on the other there will always be clients that subscribe the “right agency for the job” approach. Likewise there will always be individuals who prefer a single point of contact and others who enjoy playing the ringmaster.


Two things, however, are changing the nature of the discussion. The first is the growing emphasis on collaboration among agencies. The second is the hollowing out of the UK agency sector, which has seen the medium-sized independents absorbed into the big groups, leaving a small group of big multi-functional agencies and a long tail of small specialists.


This picture is further complicated by the question of what constitutes a specialist. What, for example, is the difference between a specialist search agency of 100 people, and a similar-sized search department within a bigger agency? How much is specialist status within digital marketing merely a reflection of how new the specialism is, as bigger agencies and groups wait to see how much resource to commit to the new channel?


But collaboration seems the most significant force. Speaking at the Briefing, Nicole Yershon, Director Innovative Solutions at Ogilvy Group Advertising, stressed the importance of collaboration as a source of new ideas. Her argument was that no business can be expert in everything, so having a wide network of collaborators is essential.


It’s certainly crucial for the big advertising agencies as they try to adapt to post-digital world. Having finally come to terms with the internet, they now find themselves having to rethink once more as the future looks increasingly mobile and data-driven. With their primacy under threat - as demonstrated by the recent acquisitions by WPP - drawing new expertise and approaches from small, agile specialist collaborators looks like the only viable survival strategy.


At the same time there’s still a lot of interest, particularly outside London, in developing clusters of small agencies; turning a disparate group into a community that benefits all its members and allows them to punch above their weight. The philosophy of such clusters was summed up by Jon Bains, founder of digital agency Lateral and also of a cluster in Shoreditch, as being a way to allow small agencies to compete with WPP. And with the hollowing out of the agency sector described above, the need for small specialists to collaborate in this way becomes ever more pressing.


The crucial point then becomes the business model. What makes collaboration different from simply sub-contracting out the stuff you can’t do? And if collaboration is based on ideas, how are they accounted and paid for?


These are questions that will have to be answered in the short to medium term. But beyond them there is the sense that, if and when the cycle starts to turn back in favour of the ringmasters, the balance of power may shift too. One of the things the big agencies bring to the table is access to clients. But if more clients are adopting the approach Jim Stengel lived by as global marketing officer at P&G, that he’d work with anyone as long as they were right for the brand in question, access to clients - along with size - might not command the value it once did.

Please login or register to add a comment.

Contribute Now!

Loving our articles? Do you have an insightful post that you want to shout about? Well, you've come to the right place! We are always looking for fresh Doughnuts to be a part of our community.

Popular Articles

See all
Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing: Which One Is Better?

Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing: Which One Is Better?

What's the difference between digital marketing and traditional marketing, and why does it matter? The answers may surprise you.

Julie Cave
Julie Cave 14 July 2016
Read more
4 Important Digital Marketing Channels You Should Know About

4 Important Digital Marketing Channels You Should Know About

It goes without saying that a company can't do without digital marketing in today's world.

Digital Doughnut Contributor
Digital Doughnut Contributor 5 November 2014
Read more
Instagram Contests – How to a run an excellent and legal contest

Instagram Contests – How to a run an excellent and legal contest

Running Instagram contests is a great idea! Instagram is a huge social media platform, with 700 million monthly active users. So just being active on it already significantly increases your reach and social media presence. But running contest can take it to the next level by increasing your engagement, generating leads, and making your audience happy.

Jan Zajac
Jan Zajac 15 August 2017
Read more
Twitter: The Complaint Box?

Twitter: The Complaint Box?

Twitter has proved to be a vastly versatile platform over the years – but has the facilitated interaction between brands and customers turned it into a complaint box?

Teodora Miscov
Teodora Miscov 18 August 2017
Read more
3 reasons why pdf files shouldn't drive your content strategy

3 reasons why pdf files shouldn't drive your content strategy

Technical communication is everything related to the creation and distribution of your company’s product support information. But while product documentation is created to help users - partners, suppliers, installers and customers - it’s not always user friendly! In fact, creating immersive and personalized experiences to all potential end users is one of today’s biggest challenges faced by marketers.

Inês Pimentel
Inês Pimentel 17 August 2017
Read more