The Agency Business is Changing

It is apparent that we are going through a significant shift in the B2B marketing ecosystem.  Once upon a time, B2B marketers trusted their agency and considered them crucial partners to their marketing success. However, now, more and more often, they are challenging the actual value their agency brings without having a process to evaluate the benefits they are receiving. We will come back to that process later.

Over the past half-decade, we’ve observed a number of ways agency business models have changed among our BBN agency partners. And we’ve also witnessed an evolution around us that is strikingly similar to how we’ve been operating for many years.

The drivers to change

To be competitive and retain client loyalty agencies once claimed to offer a complete integrated one-stop-shop solution, in the belief that’s what clients wanted. At one time, that was probably the case and may just about have been achievable and realistic. However, marketers are now a little more sceptical of this ‘we-can-do-everything’ claim and rightly so. As a result, they are questioning the real value and strengths their agency brings to their ever-expanding marketing requirements. Today, we are hearing that marketers seem to expect their agency partners to deliver highly tailored and specialist marketing solutions. Those demands are so prevalent that many agencies are changing their business model as a result.

These business model changes are resulting in an increased divergence in the agency landscape, the most significant influence being the increase in marketing technology. These changing client needs are forcing agencies to re-evaluate their offering and think about how and where they can add value, embrace change and lead progress. One way some agencies are achieving this is by blending technology capabilities and skillsets to create a new agency model that crosses over to the tech terrain.

 

The relationship

There are as many challenges as there are opportunities for agencies navigating the technology landscape. Finding the right skill sets, higher salaries for tech roles, the threat of tech compromising creativity and GDPR. However, despite these hurdles, most agencies are excited by all that technology offers. Meanwhile, marketers are hindered by their organisation’s risk-avoidance to making the substantial tech investments and often feel their agencies are ‘too far ahead of them’. Nevertheless, marketers still need agencies as much as they ever did, perhaps even more.

Technology has in no doubt altered the marketing world, and that has, in turn, changed the relationship between marketers and agencies; This means the relationship needs to evolve to make it more aligned with today’s sophisticated marketing ecosystem. If agencies do not react to this re-alignment, marketers may decide it is better for them to take parts of the outsourced marketing function in-house. Of course, bringing everything in-house is unrealistic and would be unnecessarily expensive, so agency/brand relationships need to change, and our BBN partners tell us this is starting to happen.

 

Collaboration

B2B Marketing reports that another change trend in the B2B agency community is the blurring of boundaries between PR and marcomms agencies. These new hybrid forms of agency are very successful at offering clients the best of both worlds, and many of our partners are living proof of this.

With such diverse and expanding demands from the client, we at BBN have noticed that while our partners are separately branded and commercially independent, they have become increasingly collaborative. Our partners not only share a consistent methodology and process, they have also learned to leverage expertise from within the BBN partner group to meet increasing client demands. Many of our agencies are also heavily investing in tech-driven talent to offer their clients the tech support they need, therefore fostering longer-lasting partnerships. While these agencies provide a well-rounded martech proposition, they tend to be software agnostic, ensuring that their clients get a tailored solution to meet their needs. As marketing becomes more innovative, targeted and technology-driven, it is inevitable the skills needed to execute these activities will need to come from more than one agency; This will, therefore, demand greater collaboration or projects and campaigns could become fragmented and inconsistent. Many clients have said they have a desire to work with a lead agency that can work with other specialists and optimise relationships with them. Very much like our partners already do under BBN’s ‘Rules of Engagement’ model.

There has been a significant shift in the number of partnerships, acquisitions and collaborations taking place in the B2B marketing industry. Smaller, more niche agencies are recognising the need to be part of a larger group or organisation, but at the same time are reluctant to give up their independence and identity, which has been a significant attraction of BBN to our agency partners.

As one senior marketing leader shared at a recent B2B Marketing roundtable: “If agencies cannot collaborate they are not someone, I can see having a long-term relationship with. It reflects badly on them. I do not care if they feel slighted – if they want my money, they are going to have to do it.”

The change process

So, back to that agency assessment process. For agencies to consistently deliver value to its clients, business marketers need to be honest and transparent about what they expect from the outset. Then through in-depth discussion, a decision can be made as to whether the agency’s current model can help them achieve their marketing objectives or not. If not, then the agency needs to consider its options, which could include a more collaborative approach with other agencies and a shift to a more specialist, niche offering to support its client base more effectively.

Sources:

  • Marketing Land: Why are marketers talking about taking agency services in-house?
  • B2B Marketing: B2B Agencies Benchmarking Report 2018

 

For more information on how BBN could help you re-assess your agency’s business model email: annette@bbn-international.com

Thanks for the Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

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