Media agencies if nothing else are polarising. At one end of the spectrum are skilled, trusted and increasingly strategic practitioners, using sophisticated tools and technology to drive a message to an increasingly fragmented audience, as well as expanding into increasingly diversified areas of service.
And, at the other end are shonky generalists, traders who pass off other people’s ideas as their own and who ultimately cream far more off the back than they take from the front. There’s no doubt that media agencies of today are almost unrecognisable from as little as five years ago.
So what’s real, and what’s rhetoric? I don’t think many would disagree that change is a constant. I would also argue, the degree of complexity faced by agencies and marketers today is huge, not least because they need to pick a path between the now and the next…
For a typical media agency, trying to drive forward-thinking media strategy is hard when the fact is, their bread and butter is the trading of paid media. So what does all this mean for marketers, when trying to choose the right agency partner? In my view it means looking beyond traditional ways of assessing the worth of a media agency.
Naturally, the fundamentals include buying performance, a good strategic process, the right FTE, enthusiastic people, market knowledge, and competitive pricing. These should really be the must-haves but there is so much more to look for and the list below is what I believe is the starting point.
1. The right balance between future-proofed thought leadership and traditional trading ability
The fit of the agency ethos as a whole should align with your organisational needs now and in the future. If your agency gets you, they’ll demonstrate a great understanding of both.
2. Flexibility around remuneration models
If agencies are really trying to adapt themselves in terms of service, they need to adapt their payment structures also. Commission-based remuneration is simply no longer appropriate. Look for willingness to work with you to build performance-based incentive structures that will help to establish a business partner mentality.
3. Gravitas in negotiation
Yes, agencies should be flexible around remuneration models – but this does not mean ‘the cheapest’. Your agency should be helping you buy the best fit, not the cheapest block. The way they approach cost negotiation with you (and also the way they structure their paid media trading approach) can tell you a lot about the state of their business and their mindset. Cheap deals do not always drive best results. Your agency should demonstrate strength in driving a mutually equitable agreement, not folding to the cheapest possible price.
4. Agnostic transparency
This should go hand in hand with the right remuneration structure. A healthy agency relationship should involve complete agnosticism of thought. If the correct answer to a strategic brief lies away from paid media, even away from the agency itself, then your agency should be telling you this. Your agency should be geared to the best outcome for you, safe in the knowledge that it is being paid well for its efforts.
5. Organisational acumen
A great agency should be able to mould itself around you, rather than you around it. Sometimes, this might mean adapting or deferring its own way of expressing itself to yours, or working together to achieve the right organisational sell-in. Your agency should recognise that progressive marketing, and the sell-in of new marketing concepts does not begin and end with the Marketing Director but extend to other stakeholders, including rostered agencies and marketing providers.