This week in an interview with The Drum, Nissan marketing chief Roel De Vries decried the fact that his quest for an integrated marketing solution had forced him to coordinate the work of numerous specialist marketing services partners. Now, while I had thought that the role De Vries is objecting to is nowadays pretty much that of any Marketing Director, I have to say that marketing services firms tend generally to be insular and self-obsessed and the evidence clearly points to their inability to deliver a truly integrated solution – ie: do their job.  To my mind, the marketing services sector is generally missing the boat and have been watching is sail by for a while!

In the case of the large marketing services groups this is just bad management. They talk about integrated marketing, but their offer, as Roel De Vries has found is invariably a kit of parts provided by individual relationships with each of their specialist agencies rather than a neatly packaged, workable, plug-and-play contribution. In fact this isn’t integrated marketing at all. It’s wasteful and inefficient. The benefits are all with the agency group and as far as the client is concerned, it fails to realise most of the advantages of integration.

My point has always been that because agencies just don’t “get it” clients have had to take on the coordination role and so, like it or not they, by and large, now own it. Nevertheless De Vries has forced his agency TBWA into the light by creating Nissan United and in so-doing has shown the agency world a model that it needs to take note of.

For agencies to make the change will demand more than a quick fix of course, but the large groups have the basics required to be able to fall into line. Maybe all they need is the will? Their resources are usually pretty comprehensive and it would seem at first glance that all they need to do is build the bridges between currently siloed specialities. Smaller agencies though face a dilemma. Do they try to follow suit and fail by definition because by dint of their size they can’t hope to match the breadth or depth of resources offered by their larger competitors? Or, do they focus on one particular area and hope to be included by marketing directors in project teams designed to deliver integrated solutions through the coordination of individual businesses? There’s already a growing trend for small agencies to offer a part solution by puling together some of the more popular marketing disciplines and trying to package these as a 360 degree solution. Its not, of course. In fact it’s a compromise that no client should accept.  Clearly any agency that’s structured like this and chasing sole partner status is forced by commercial considerations to promote the solution they can deliver rather than that which is best for their client, purely because they are invested in a limited range of disciplines. Many are already taking the specialisation route and I think this is the right call, but, as I have always said, in the end the real spoils will go to whoever owns the strategy.

In my experience this depends on the size of the client business. Large organisations tend to have the resources to build and manage decent strategies, whereas smaller clients usually need help, which is where a small agency with a consultative approach can win. The fact that the larger clients like to create their own strategies may also have something to do with the unconvincing, piecemeal delivery of their agencies. Will that improve? I imagine that eventually it will, but if history is anything to go by the world will have moved on a bit by then and we’ll be debating why agencies are slow to have adapted to another need. Its easy to understand why the large agencies are slow to adapt their model. They suffer from the age-old problem shared with organisations in every sector. Large organisations are only manageable with processes and bureaucracy and processes and bureaucracy inhibit change. The business landscape has and is forcing the big groups to seek volume through mass therefore there’s increasing restriction and reducing scope for change.

You might think that small agencies therefore provide the answer, but most small agencies are so because their capabilities and vision limits growth and those that are visionary and skilful are snapped up by the big groups, usually, as has been the case with some of my agency clients, never to be seen or heard of again.

You have a right to be concerned that maybe the marketing services sector is perpetuating its own demise and you are probably right. One thing is for certain, Roel De Vries is going to be micro-managing his agencies (or, as he refers to it “herding cats”) for a while longer.

Phil Darby
October 14, 2014

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