This post is by Zena Churchill, a Senior Consultant at TrinityP3. Over the past 20 years, Zena has worked for some of the biggest international and national brands. Having worked both agency and client side, Zena has strong insight and experience across most facets of marketing, specialising in media, strategy and BTL.
Do silo marketing structures hinder the effectiveness of your agencies?
In a nutshell, yes.
I have previously written about the negative impact silo structures can have on the function of marketing inside a business and, consequently, its brand. However, left to their own devices, silo structured marketing teams will eventually damage more than just the effectiveness of a business, it will also negatively impact on the effectiveness of your agency.
Why? Because quite simply it’s hard to be effective when you have a fragmented client with competing goals, inconsistent processes and a disjointed approach to client-agency relationships.
When these factors are at play (and they always are in silo structures), the result is inevitably frustration across the agency-client relationship and internal frustrations at both the company and agency level, whether you are aware of it or not.
By default, silo structures create competition and while some of this can be healthy, driving teams to perform better, it will also end up creating a lot of waste across both agency and client side. Wasted time, effort, resources and money, resulting in a lot of destructive behaviour that delivers nothing more than relationship breakdowns, trust issues, decreased productivity and ineffective output.
No one delivers their best work disgruntled.
At TrinityP3 we have worked with numerous marketing departments that have been organised or organically morphed into siloed teams, be they product or channel focussed. And, without exception, every single time we find a group of people navigating their way through a spider’s web of agencies and relationships.
Even with a lead agency in place, we scratch the surface and inevitably find a group of people, on both sides of the fence, trying to deliver on commercial outcomes who are frustrated, exhausted, combative or, at times, all three. Worse still, no one is delivering their best work, which the agency resents and the client incorrectly blames them for.
So, based on countless hours talking to both agencies and clients who have found themselves in this situation, here are the top 3 ways silo structures impact on agency effectiveness and what you can do about it
1. Conflicting deadlines
The most common issue to arise is conflicting deadlines. This conflict occurs way too often, and in my experience no matter how far in advance a job is briefed, if another unplanned and urgent reactive brief (and they are always reactive) hits the agencies table, the first job gets overshadowed and often pushed back.
The stress this generates within an agency who wants to deliver for both teams is enormous, often forcing them to work ridiculous hours to meet both deadlines.
The result is balls getting dropped, mistakes being made and tempers getting frayed. On top of that, not only does the work suffer, costs inevitably blow out as mistakes are fixed or freelancers are brought in to help with the workload.
As a client it’s easy to think this situation is a problem for the agency to solve or avoid in the first place, but in actual fact conflicting deadlines is 100% the client’s problem to rectify by making sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.
If you are a fragmented marketing team with no chance of a structural change, the key to successful silo – agency relationships is big picture planning. This type of strategic planning not only gives an agency insight into what is coming up over the planning period it also lets the other marketing teams know what are key timelines across the business.
Clear insight across all stakeholders allows for proper resources planning, particularly when it is evident one period of time will be busier for everyone than another.
2. Conflicting priorities
Conflicting priorities is not the same as conflicting deadlines as there is usually no end to teams who feel they are the most important client the agency has.
Conflicting priorities happen daily and are not necessarily brief reliant, they are more personality driven. Examples of conflicting priorities include phone calls, emails, meeting requests that must be answered within a nano-second or requests for campaign files that must be sent over immediately or the client has a breakdown.
Each of these actions take the account manager, production team or traffic manager away from what they are doing to attend to the client eating into the time they were spending on another team’s work.
As a result, not only do conflicting priorities impact client-agency relationships it can also create issues within the agencies themselves, particularly agencies with small creative and production teams.
Being asked to ‘bump’ one marketing teams work in favour of another ‘urgent request’ causes huge stress at agency level and can result in rushed work, cutting corners and unsatisfactory output, particularly for the marketing team deemed the lesser priority.
Regularly checking in on agency-team relationships that work under these types of structures is vital to help monitor, identify and address issues that could be causing this type of stress and impacting on the agencies effectiveness.
Understanding where the issues are arising and why is a great step to nipping bad behaviour in the bud and putting in processes to ensure they cease happening.
3. Conflicting communications
One of the biggest casualties of silo structured marketing departments is consistent, on brand communications.
Believe it or not in some larger organisations, the overarching brand can be interpreted differently from one marketing team to the next and when confronted, each team will argue vehemently that their interpretation is the right one.
And, whilst this may sound ridiculous, we have experienced this many times when working with large fragmented marketing teams. The common denominator driving this type of brand misinterpretation (and in one instance, a number of product marketing teams within one organisation couldn’t confidently tell us what the overarching brand strategy was – we kid you not) lies at the feet of silo marketing teams being left to get on with it, without anyone checking in.
The result, is an agency delivering work to market that is based on weak or incorrect strategy, poorly communicated and completely off ‘brand’. This type of issue comes down to leadership and internal communications flow.
For a fragmented marketing department to have any chance of managing the most effective agency relationship for them there needs to be in place solid leadership and clear communication channels at a business level.
What this means is a marketing CMO who is not only engaged with each and every marketing team under their remit, but also one who can communicate clearly the strategic boundaries within which these teams need to operate.
Often, we have found to achieve this a complete overhaul of how marketing behaves at a functional level is needed, and whilst this can sound cumbersome and destructive, it doesn’t have to be if it is handled strategically and through process.
If any of the above sounds familiar to you, it may be time to take a look at how the way you handle marketing within your business is impacting on the effectiveness of your agency.
It’s easy to blame the agency, but the reality is often the blame lays with you.
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