Agencies fail to adapt to new marketing era

30 March 2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass: Most agencies have not responded to the "adaptive marketing era", meaning clients must take greater control of the communications process, according to Forrester, the research firm.

The company polled 106 interactive marketers, and found only 22% believed their interactive shop could "lead their brand", while just 24% thought traditional agencies would effectively head up their digital activity.

Sean Corcoran, a Forrester analyst, said that while the industry had previously responded to the rise of TV and radio, and substantial social changes in the last century, current structures do not reflect reality.

"Most traditional agencies ... were slow to adopt interactive skills which opened the door for a new kind of interactive agency that would work with a new kind of marketer focused specifically on the digital space," he said.

Social media, Corcoran argued, has also essentially "broken down the walls between agencies" as players across the communications sector all attempt to employ this channel for their customers.

"All of this creates somewhat of an agency purgatory – where different agencies try and take on each others' roles but no one type of agency is ready to take over," he warned.

Another major offshoot of this trend has been "some significant confusion for marketers as to the roles of agencies," said Corcoran.

For example, specialist social media operators like Powered, Crayon and Converseon have emerged, while Crispin Porter + Bogusky, widely seen as a creative pioneer, is building up its interactive capacity.

Starcom Mediavest, the media network, has also stated its intention to focus on "human experiences", while Edelman, the PR company, has made considerable strides in the social media space.

More broadly, R/GA, a digital specialist, was handed both online and offline creative and strategic duties for Ameriprise, the financial services provider, in December last year.

Bob Greenberg, the ceo of R/GA, suggested that forming partnerships is becoming increasingly vital, but further work is required in this area.

"Agencies have been designed to be fiercely competitive, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it makes it more difficult to collaborate," he said.

"Not only does the client have to lead the relationship, but they also have to force collaboration."

Elsewhere, Honda, the auto manufacturer, challenged RPA, a more traditional full service shop, to shift its brochures away from print and towards digital.

"Agencies are exposed to much more than us, and they have to bring in raw ideas, market reconnaissance and intelligence," said Steve Center, the carmaker's chief marketing officer.

"But they will not tell us how to organise our company to accomplish our marketing mission. That responsibility should always fall entirely with the owner of the brand."

Given the complexity of the overall situation, Corcoran similarly posited that clients must understand the qualities offered by each of their partners, and know when to take on programmes in-house.

"Until the agency world shakes itself out, interactive marketers should clearly define the roles of their agencies," he said.

This is particularly the case for social media, where agencies can help with regard to tactics, identifying influential consumers and building communities, but are not yet expert enough to take on total control.

"The reality is marketers should own their social media strategy since it is about creating direct conversations with consumers, with agencies playing a supporting role," Corcoran stated.

Data sourced from Forrester/AdAge; additional content by Warc staff