B2B organisations are proactively plotting brand stretch and moves into new geographies and industries in 2021, but their PR and Marketing agencies aren’t on the same page, says Simon Woolley.

Researchers predict major economic downturns due to the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy, with sectors requiring human interaction such as aviation, tourism and entertainment being the hardest hit. And they also suggest that UK industries that might emerge unscathed by the pandemic are likely to be badly damaged by the fallout of Brexit.

But IBA International’s roster of B2B companies based in the UK, Europe and North America, are expressing no such doom and gloom. When we conducted some primary research using CINT, a market research technology company that operates the world’s largest sample exchange, we found a completely different outlook for 2021. Focused on B2B businesses in UK, North America, New Zealand and Australia, across multiple vertical markets and spending on average between $5k and $40k a month on marketing support, the research, conducted in August and September 2020, paints a very different picture.

B2B organisations prove resilient

The research discovered B2B organisations are proactively adjusting their marketing and PR strategies to ensure economic recovery:

  • 86% of marketers have responded during the pandemic lockdown by “developing new products and testing new marketing formats”;
  • 26% of B2B organisations are looking to venture into new geographies and a further 28% are looking to enter new industries.

And in response to Brexit, the findings suggest that many B2B organisations would consider a proactive international expansion – with a major prerequisite being the agreement of favourable free-trade arrangements and the introduction of low tariffs on selling products.

But here’s the rub – 45% of B2B organisations have had to cut spending and only 11% of marketing managers are happy with their current agencies. When asked more detailed questions, it would seem that agencies are just not providing the services businesses need to support further campaign expansions.

But many question the value of their agencies’ work

Nearly half of marketing managers (40%) admit they find it difficult to measure the contribution of their PR and Marketing agency to the overall business. Out of the marketing managers surveyed:

  • 34% feel their agency is ineffectual as it places content in the same small selection of media
  • a further 41% believe too much focus is placed on high levels of media engagement with people they already know rather than content placement metrics.

When compared to the amount charged by some agencies, only 27% of businesses feel very satisfied with the value they receive in return. Couple this with 38% of marketing managers struggling to find affordable agencies that would work across multiple countries, and these figures demonstrate that agency fees are a pertinent issue.

For many marketing managers, the cost of partnering with public relations agencies is the biggest impediment to their expansion plans. The majority of respondents are spending between $10k and $20k a month – but 30% feel the cost outstrips all return. Further,

  • over half of respondents believe that agency fees are too high;
  • 88% feel that a large portion of their agency spend is wasted.

The figures don’t bode well for marketing managers looking to expand their campaigns internationally with the help of traditional agencies.

Agencies need to adopt a different approach

There is a lot of criticism for the old school agency system. A third of respondents believe that budgetary waste is a result of too many status calls as opposed to achieving measurable results. And a fifth of marketing managers feel pressured by senior management to work with well-known agencies, even if those don’t align with their own organisational goals.

Many were unhappy with agency attitudes and staffing practices. Amongst 24% of marketers, a feeling they were under-valued by their agencies as a small-spend account corresponds to the 20% that feel their budget was wasted by agencies starting on projects which then dead-ended because of poor management by junior staff members.

As one of the respondents wrote, the issues of 2020 have meant that they are now looking for their agencies to supply “a more targeted approach that is agile to emerging market needs”, particularly as many are now looking to new markets and industries and budgets must be justifiable.

At IBA, we have always advocated and taken a new approach to international PR and Marketing campaigns. Marketers do not need to pay to employ an agency in every new geography they target and every piece of content can be placed more than once, and should proactively be cascaded through media placements, social and blogs. This sort of scalable and low-cost, single-hub approach could be the answer to driving international campaigns forward. A central hub which aggregates customer stories, whitepapers, leadership articles and delivers thought-leadership articles, social media and influencer programs – all of which can be geographically localized centrally – puts the client brand front and centre in new markets.

Adapt and survive

The necessity to operate on reduced budgets has left marketers needing to balance cost reductions with expanding their campaigns into new industries or geographies. This is something the research has shown current agencies cannot provide. Deep dissatisfactions, such as high costs with little return and disconnects between regional offices, point to the growing inadequacy of the traditional agency model to meet demand. Agencies need to find a new approach to satisfy ambitious B2B growth plans in a more cost-effective and results-driven way.