Do bigger agency networks mean better for marketers?

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

The announced merger of the Publicis and Omnicom Groups to form the world’s largest communications company has received much publicity and discussion. I have written about the impact of this on the advertiser and marketers previously. But I recently saw this video on YouTube about an agency pitching their recent merger to one of their clients and could not help feel that it really summed up the problem.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Agencies are not good at selling themselves
  2. Not everyone believes bigger is better

Agencies are not good at selling themselves

There is a saying in advertising that “you have to sell the sizzle and not the sausage”. No-one cares about what goes into the sausage. In fact I think most people would prefer not to know. But when you hear a sausage sizzling on the barbeque and you breathe in that smell of barbecue there is not a meat-eater alive that can resist. It is because the benefit of the sausage is not what is in it but in the taste of a freshly barbequed sausage. Likewise, advertising agencies know it is not the features, it is the consumer benefit that is of interest to the consumer.

Yet when agencies talk about themselves they invariably revert to listing features. I have prepared a video of a mythical agency credentials presentation that demonstrates this beautifully. The problem is that telling the client how many offices you have or how many awards you have won or your staff retention or your client longevity are all features.

None of it answers the question in the client’s mind which is “what is in this for me?” Or even worse “What is not in it for me?” After all, any change could have a positive or negative impact on the client.

Likewise, when an agency merges or acquires another agency. The client is not interested in what it means for the agency. They are more concerned with how it will impact them and their needs. Yet the agency is inclined to focus on the features of the merger or acquisition such as more offices in more locations.

Focusing on the features assumes that the client will automatically translate those features into benefits. But this assumption overlooks that the agency’s features may not even be the benefits the client rates most highly. And besides why should the client work so hard to understand the benefits?

Not everyone believes bigger is better

This was driven home to me recently when I noted on a LinkedIn group there was a discussion between some industry consultants on the benefits to marketers of the proposed POG merger.

The discussion focused on the media buying efficacy of the big, new merged holding company with two stating that there would be little benefit as the media market in most cases is already at the low base for these massive advertisers and another arguing that the market dominance of this new entity would deliver even greater media cost reductions.

In some ways this is the ultimate expression of the first point. Bigger is a feature. What is the benefit?

Bigger can mean more powerful, more opportunity, more resources, more coverage more of almost anything you want.

But bigger can also mean cumbersome, impersonal, slow, dysfunctional, costly and causing a whole array of unforeseen problems the client does not want.

The point is that they chose the agency for a particular set of reasons and any change in the agency comes with potential positives and negatives. The important thing is to extract the benefits for the client and clearly articulate them, rather than leaving the interpretation to chance.

The answer to the question “Is bigger better?” depends on the requirements of the client. As my colleagues at ID Comms suggested in their excellent media analysis of the POG merger, if you are one of the big clients of either Publicis Groupe or Omnicom Group, then there is significant potential upside. But for the majority there will be few major benefits.

The lesson for agencies is they need to remember that their clients are people and ultimately customers too. They are buying services from the agency and so they need the agency to turn the features of the agency into benefits if they are to be truly appreciated.

It is particularly important in pitches and reviews. But equally it is important to remember to do this on a regular basis and especially when any type of change in the agency occurs from a change in personnel to winning an award. Agencies should be thinking of communicating to clients in a way that reinforces the benefits of their offering and relationship and not just to talk about the features.

Don’t you agree?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com
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2 Responses to Do bigger agency networks mean better for marketers?

  1. We have found clients want a close responsive agency partner who acts as a virtual part of their team. An agency who is passionate about their market and can manage a stream of multi channel projects, fast, without a complex briefing process. Its not about size, small is agile, we have a network of talented associates without bloated big agency costs and structure – a new 'virtual agency model' for a connected world.

  2. Great article. As a member of a proudly independent experiential marketing agency, we frequently challenge the "bigger is better" myth. Couldn't agree more about the need to shift focus away from the features and toward the benefits.

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