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Five Imperatives for Agencies to Solidify Strategic Client Relationships in 2020

AMA Baltimore
November 21, 2019 |
7 minute read

Historically, CMO’s have had the shortest tenure of all C-Suite executives which makes decisions such as choosing an agency of record that much more critical. Combine that with the rise of new titles such as Chief Growth Officer, Chief Brand Officer, and Chief Experience Officer, which are blurring the lines or replacing the CMO role entirely. Taco Bell, Uber, Johnson & Johnson, and Hyatt are already doing this, according to Ad Age. Trends such as defining new titles and roles are emerging and represent the shift towards marketing permeating an entire organization. Marketing’s current goals revolve around being seen as a revenue generator rather than simply a cost-center, and marketing technology and attribution reporting are the keys to the kingdom.

With the growth of the marketing technology landscape, which now eclipses 7,000 tools according to, we are also continuing to see a merging of marketing and traditional IT roles. All of this is to say that marketing, as it has been defined, is undergoing a paradigm shift and an internal rebranding within organizations. With an uncertain path forward, agencies should be partners to both the individuals and their client organizations to solidify a position as an extended member of the team. In the 2019-2020 Gartner CMO Spend Survey, Ewan McIntyre, VP analyst says it best when mentioning that “While in-housing may be a la mode, agencies still offer an unparalleled breadth of scope and an ability to offer much-needed, external input.”

As year-end approaches, corporate marketing teams enter into a period of evaluation of 2019 progress and begin thinking towards 2020 goals and planning. According to Gartner’s spend survey, anticipated marketing budgets as a percentage of revenue have dipped back to levels last seen in 2014. Martech tools and vendor support are some of the high-cost line items often under discussion for renewal and a critical eye is taken to optimize this spend. With this decrease in budget, it would benefit ad agencies and other vendors to analyze their client partnerships, proactively solidify their standing, and reiterate how they complement internal marketing resources in enterprise departments. Agencies should deliver a personalized client experience that goes beyond just a voice of the customer survey and a generic holiday gift.

So, what are corporate marketing teams struggling with? Following are five areas where we are seeing challenges that vendors can lean in and lend a hand.

  1. Competition for talent and the breadth of skill sets needed. Corporate teams do not have the luxury to hire specialists in the way an agency might. We are also in a historically low-unemployment environment, and there is a noticeable skills gap with demand far outpacing supply of talent with creative, web, and general digital skills. As such, corporate marketing teams look for generalists or T-shaped marketers who can contribute in a variety of ways and adjust to the ebbs and flows of different business demands. The depth of specialization that agencies can provide is needed, appreciated, and truly seen as a value-add. Don’t be afraid to showcase your depth of knowledge and make recommendations that demonstrate that you know both your client’s business goals as well as how to apply the specialized resources to drive business results.
  2. Third-party validation. Corporate teams often need help selling ideas to business stakeholders who do not understand marketing’s potential or best practices. Agencies and other vendors can lend credence to ongoing efforts as well as help pitch new internal ideas with their marketing partners. Strategic decision-making is being more and more dispersed across an organization in our increasingly complex business world. This is especially true for organizations who are undergoing dramatic digital transformation initiatives, as traditional c-suite players might not have the depth of knowledge to make well-informed technological decisions. When they lean on their more technical colleagues and subordinates, it is an opportunity for agencies to put forth their ideas and enable and empower their corporate counterparts with the data points, knowledge, presentation materials, and validation needed to advance a project or new idea.
  3. Strategy and Execution. If budgets are tight moving into 2020, then the chances of growing headcount are slim to none in mature organizations. As such, lean corporate marketing teams have to do more with less as increased workloads and complexity continue moving up and to the right. Client-side teams are also pulled in many directions as businesses are undergoing digital transformation initiatives. This pivot can cause redundant work and misguided efforts as marketing adjusts to play catch up to new strategic initiatives. Outside guidance and perspective on the macro- and micro-environment can help internal teams prioritize and stay efficient in this sea of change. First, listen to your client and ask questions about their struggles. Don’t be afraid to adjust your approach to see how you can provide the tailored help that corporate teams desperately need.
  4. Martech access. With a landscape of over 7,000 martech tools, navigating the waters can become overwhelming. Additionally, budget limitations and system integration complexity prevent in-house teams from justifying the cost and effort of onboarding specialized tools. That is not to say they wouldn’t benefit from all the innovation that is happening. Vendors can help provide the access at a lower cost by distributing usage across multiple client relationships. These tools include reporting, automation, and machine learning optimization. Could agencies better leverage their strategic vendor partnerships to offer bundled packages to clients, minimizing risk to the client through intermediary access? This approach will help corporate marketing teams from having to deal with the bureaucracy of legal and procurement departments which can slow down onboarding and implementation efforts and help you produce results for your client faster.
  5. Help the CMO be a unifier of the business. According to McKinsey & Company, 83% of CEOs see marketing as critical to driving growth, but one must ask how many CMOs are up to the challenge. The previously discussed title changes are reflecting that traditional CMOs do not have all the requisite skills in order to evolve their departments as central to company growth. Corporate marketing teams still struggle with reporting on metrics that matter to  business leaders. While marketers spend our days thinking about pageviews, click through rates, and lead conversions, we are not doing enough to tie those leading indicators back to opportunity and revenue metrics that the c-suite is used to seeing. Agencies can help with this translation and help equip corporate marketing teams with the insights that can help them better tell the revenue story. As marketing transforms into more of a business development function on equal footing as client service and sales in the client lifecycle, aligned reporting is paramount. Cracking this nut will not only unify you with your client but unify your client with their business leaders.

Now is the time of year when many companies send out an annual voice of the customer survey. This is a prime opportunity to engage in dialog that helps companies learn and uncover the attributes an agency needs to demonstrate to maintain a positive sentiment. Try not to fall into the danger of going through the motions of this annual exercise. Take any feedback you receive to heart and schedule follow up calls to dig more into points that stand out. Even if the feedback is critical, taking the time to better understand then taking actions to correct is exactly the type of two-way relationship that clients want and need.

For more information about agency fit, please read this article.


AMA Baltimore

The American Marketing Association Baltimore Chapter (AMA Baltimore) is Maryland’s leading provider of networking, educational programming, and resources for marketing professionals. AMA Baltimore provides extensive opportunities for marketers to expand their networks, grow professionally and learn about current industry trends.
The American Marketing Association Baltimore Chapter (AMA Baltimore) is Maryland’s leading provider of networking, educational programming, and resources for marketing professionals. AMA Baltimore provides extensive opportunities for marketers to expand their networks, grow professionally and learn about current industry trends.


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