Marketing Executives Speak Out on Agency Relationships

May 17, 2011

The number of ways that global and multi-disciplinary services can be obtained from communications firms and their networks has expanded dramatically over the past ten years. But these opportunities may not be truly optimized by agencies or their clients, said four successful corporate marketing executives to a sell-out crowd at a special speaker series of the Atlanta chapter of the American Advertising Federation on May 17th.

“What is lacking,” they remarked, “is a new order of collaboration and innovation. Strong agency partnerships occur when infused with honesty, transparency, a mutual ‘give and take’ and shared passion for the brand. Only then can your agency truly become an extension of your marketing team, helping to drive growth in customer loyalty and brand preference.”

The discussion was moderated by Kerry Kielb, Senior Consultant at The Bedford Group.  Panelists included Beth Ramsey, Strategic Procurement Manager from Coca Cola (NYSE: KO); Mauricio Parise, Manager, Worldwide Marketing Communications from Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL);  Mark Hendrix SVP, Director of Marketing from Fifth Third Bank (Nasdaq: FITB) and Rob Crigler VP Global Digital Strategy/Integrated Marketing from Rollins Corporation/Orkin Pest Control (NYSE: ROL).

Kielb invited comments on five functional areas of the client/agency relationship: Innovation, Access to Top Management, Enterprise-Wide Integration, Performance Evaluation and Compensation.   While several of the panelists spoke from a large enterprise point of view, take-aways from the conference could be applied easily by a company of any size.

According to several panelists, Innovation, though a critical part of success, can easily be lost in the daily grind of business and can be a big stress inducer because of the pressure to perform.  All speakers agreed that it takes a particular focus to weave Innovation into day-to-day thinking and each shared their own way of fostering Innovation through process.   One example of promoting creativity regularly was explained by Delta’s Parise who shared their program in which agency partners are encouraged and rewarded by spending 10-15% of their time in fostering ingenuity.

On the subject of Access, Hendrix, who recently launched a controversial campaign for Fifth Third Bank, said that his agency could not have created their newest work without being given access to C-suite leadership. However, access may be easier to put in place for smaller operations. “It gets complicated,” commented Ramsey of Coca-Cola, when working with multiple agencies and multiple brands, across multiple geographies.  According to Ramsey, Coca-Cola tiers their agency relationships by scope, brand and discipline and facilitates regular leadership access to Tier One partners. “This practice produces big-time results,” said Ramsey who also gives high marks to those firms that integrate well, too, with each of those associated with a brand across platforms.

While most companies require an annual performance evaluation for internal employees, Kielb and the panelists noted, organizational assessments with critical vendor-partners are not always as rigorous as they might be despite sophisticated inroads made for this purpose decades ago. Some of the smaller organizations speaking even admitted to not conducting regular assessments of the Client/Agency relationship at all. “The practice is an important piece of smart management and communications on both sides,” said Crigler, “but our process is of much more informal, more manual than technology driven nature.”  “No matter how we assess performance, a large part of the evaluation will be digitally focused” he smiled.  Kielb took a moment to give a commercial message for The Bedford Group and its Client-Agency Relationship Evaluation process, which is built on one of the best technologically friendly assessment tools in the world.  Even so, all concurred that nothing ever substitutes for on-going, open and honest dialogue at all times during the relationship.

Lastly, Kielb invited comments on agency compensation and the panelists deferred the subject to the category expert Ramsey at Coke.   “Transparency,” she said, “is the most critical piece when negotiating compensation.”  The Coca-Cola Company’s recent move to a value based fee structure with some of their key partners is proving to be a big success.  “The process has been about five years in the works, but the company, and the agencies involved, think it is a great program,” she said.  “Sometimes, though it works even better when a neutral third party is brought in to make this structure work.”

The “Mad Men” days of advertising are long past and Marketing leaders are heavily scrutinized for how they manage resources in the country’s budget stretched economy. According to Kielb, and her guests, “We are in this together, when a relationship is bad, it can be intolerable.  But, when it’s good, it can produce magical results.  But it requires a lot of work – this discussion must continue.”

For more information on the AAF events, visit www.atlantaadclub.com.  For help in optimizing your own client/agency relationships to ensure optimal productivity and quality of output, contact The Bedford Group at 404-237-4565.

About The Bedford Group

The Bedford Group is an Atlanta based Marketing Management Consulting firm that has been in operation since 1986. It has built its reputation on marketing organization support, agency search and relationship management and strategic marketing consulting.  Unlike traditional advertising consultants, The Bedford Group looks beyond traditional marketing disciplines to solve complex, enterprise-wide issues for efficient resource management and improving marketing ROI.

CONTACT:
Kerry Kielb
(404) 237-7471
kkielb@bedfordgroupconsulting.com