Over the past two decades, digital marketing and digital agencies have moved from a specialty niche to center stage. Today, the lines are blurring out of existence. AORs are adding digital capabilities. Digital AORs are adding traditional capabilities. And all agencies are now finding themselves up against new players, from database/CRM companies like Epsilon to consulting companies like McKinsey to media companies like WebMD. What does this mean for agencies and pharmaceutical marketers—and how do we navigate this new world?
Differing Agency Reactions
There are, it seems, two ways most agencies respond. One: Declare they are a full service agency—they do it all alone. The opposite response: Declare an intention of constant evolution and adaptation, but with a commitment to sticking to core capabilities. The difficulty with either extreme: It’s tough to make promises in the face of an unknown future. It’s also hard to be effective when culture and talent can’t support the promise.
At the same time, the evolution and intermingling of agencies is causing another type of evolution—the structure of the agency-client relationship. Increasingly, the model requires agencies to collaborate or, at the very least, to play nice. Will we see the AOR and retainer models disappear? Will brands prefer loyalty, or “open relationships”—“agencies with benefits,” if you will? And will agencies want long-term clients or prefer selecting choice projects? Certainly, these answers vary.
While it can be unsettling when traditional industry paradigms lose shape, one thing remains the same. And, luckily, it’s the most important thing, no matter what—the customer.
Whatever label can be applied to the agency, the relationship, or the work, this is what always matters most: Does it connect? Does it find who it is meant to find, engage them, and mean something to them?
What To Do?
To keep that customer-centric connection, while still remaining on top of this changing landscape, what should you look for (demand!) in your agency partners?
Forward thinking. Look for a team that worries less about what label is put on them and more about what you want and need (and how to give that to you) at both the brand and franchise level.
Understanding needs—not selling prepackaged solutions. Is your team inventing answers? Whether they are “traditional marketing,” “digital marketing,” “tech” or “consulting” matters far less than this: Are they solving your problems?
Shaking things up. Every so often, you should see different players around the table. Structured events like innovation labs specifically draw new thinkers, providing a change of atmosphere and new voices to unlock creativity and answers.
Real relationships. When “more” is available instantly, it can be easy to forget the value of institutional knowledge. But ignore that at your peril. Both clients and agencies should value the relationships they build with each other and the people who make up their organizations.
Data-driven strategy. Programmatic buying and other data-driven tactics can ensure that, whether you think of yourself as a traditionalist or a disruptor, your work is as focused and effective as it can be. Look for a team that can provide you with the tools and, even more importantly—accurate analysis—to make decisions based on sound data.