Powerful as MarTech might be, it does not replace an agency for strategic insight – Amy Rodgers and Dr Emma Slade explore the practitioners’ view.

WARC recently published the latest edition of our annual report on the MarTech industry, in association with BDO (download the full report here), in which we partnered with the University of Bristol to conduct some qualitative research into perceptions and uses of MarTech by a group of UK-based marketers and consultants.

The following is part 2 of a three-part mini-series, showcasing the highlights of this research, conducted by Lecturer in Marketing, Dr Emma Slade.

Part 2 focuses on the role of agencies in their clients’ investment in and use of marketing technologies, and looks at how effective our respondents feel the agency-client relationship is in this space.

Agencies should be the client’s eyes and ears

“An agency’s role is to ensure that clients have the best tools for their needs, because the market changes so rapidly,” says Helen Greatrex, Research Manager, Wavemaker Manchester. “There’s such a choice, agencies have to make sure our clients have the one that’s most relevant to what they need it for.”

Simply, it’s not usually a part of clients’ day-jobs, Simon Kingsnorth, CMO at City Relay suggests. “Client-side, you often don’t understand the digital world, the technology opportunities, the challenges around data as well as an agency that’s buried in it and working across multiple clients does.

“Your agency should be proactively being your eyes and ears in the market. When you’re focused on the client or customer, your agency needs to be telling you about tech that’s just launched and what possibilities it could have for your business. They should be doing the research for you to help you understand the steps you need to take to implement a new technology and what the best tech is.”

Bringing the capability in-house creates its own problems: namely objectivity, says Steve Dawson, CEO of Ratio Creative, “even when you have an external agency on-site very, very quickly.

That macro-view agencies provide, combined with on ongoing collaboration on what experience the client is trying to create is really important. “Agencies should act more as brand guardians on a macro level,” according to Danyl Bosomworth, Director of Marketing Innovation, The Home Agency, adding that articulating the details of that brand and customer experience the overall work aims to create before mapping it onto the available technology options.

Beyond these considerations, agencies help to take MarTech capabilities further. “The more mature the client is the more they are looking for insight to take it to the next level to optimise it, and less looking for someone to do the work for them,” says Alina Jingan, MarTech Practice Lead, MRM//McCann. “And that’s only because they already have built in house capabilities, they already recruited those specialist skills, they already invested in them, trained them and they are, I think, looking for that external input, that external recommendations on how to make it better.


Despite one of the main motivations for in-housing being greater speed, it can have an ironic opposite effect. “The perception is that the pace of in-house tends to be slower than the pace of agencies,” Mark Wainwright, Associate Director, Teneo suggests. “People in agencies also tend to move around more, whereas people in brands tend to be there for a long time. I guess the feeling from an agency side view, is that if you’ve been somewhere a long time, unless it’s this really, really great place to work, is that you can get a bit stale in your thinking.”

The effectiveness gap remains but collaboration is improving

“I think there is still a disconnect, and I think there probably always will be, because there are very, very sensitive commercial findings that are not going to be shared openly with people, so you have to ask the right questions,” Carey Trevill, Co-Founder and Director of Mission Element contends.

“If we understood what data could be available to us and the right questions are asked, I think that could be a much healthier relationship, rather than it being a stand-off, with the agency saying ‘Well, they never told us, we don’t really know how it performed because we didn’t get to see.’ 

“Agencies are evolving their way of working with clients. We’re seeing a lot of collaboration – clients are expecting their agencies to help them work out MarTech. I think we will see more and more of that in future as people try and rescue client relationships that they don’t want to lose. They are willing to collaborate and work out the billing later.”

Complexity and practicality

In a context of not only agency-client, but also agency-client-vendor relationships, a frank discussion of strategy is key. “What needs to happen in reality is everyone needs to come to the same table and ensure that they go into the same direction, because all these parts can have slightly different agendas. That's why I think strategy is very important because it helps you align on the same common vision,” says MRM//McCann’s Alina Jingan.

But some agencies are also lacking expertise in key phases of the overall process, not just on the practical level off delivery, but helping the client “through the maturity curve, not only helping the client buy the right technology in the right order and not all at once,” says Bosomworth, “but also helping them crawl before they can walk.”  

Read part 1 of this mini-series on MarTech investment here, and look out for part 3 on the skills and critical factors needed for success with the use of MarTech in marketing strategies.