Senior Marketing Executives Share Best Practices in Agency Relationship

April 23, 2013 ATLANTA–The increasing pressures on client side marketers to prove marketing ROI, leverage big data and stay relevant in a constantly evolving consumer landscape have put pressure on the already sensitive client/agency relationship. But with strong partnerships, you can get ahead of your competition in setting the stage for future growth, said four successful corporate marketing executives at the AMA’s Signature Luncheon on April 16th. The discussion was moderated by Kerry Kielb, Senior Consultant at The Bedford Group. Panelists included Vance Overbey from ATT (NYSE: ATT); 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 Cam Glover, Director of Marketing from Rollins Corporation/Orkin Pest Control (NYSE: ROL).  These brands are represented by four of the top advertising agencies in the US: BBDO, Wieden and Kennedy, Leo Burnett and The Richards Group According to the panel, strong agency partnerships occur when infused with honesty, transparency, a mutual ‘give and take’ and shared passion for the brand. Only then will your agency truly become an extension of your marketing team, helping to drive growth in customer loyalty and brand preference. Kielb invited comments on five functional areas of the client/agency relationship: Innovation, Access to Top Management, Multi-partner 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. Innovation is critical to business success but only when it drives customer value, noted Delta’s Parise.  Several panelists commented on how they foster ingenuity among their agency partners by encouraging them to think more about business creation than advertising.  One example of this type of innovative thinking was shared by Rollin’s Glover who talked about his agency’s  help in developing a mobile application for use in the field by sales inspectors. Kielb noted the importance of instilling a spirit of partnership in the relationship as one way to drive creativity and innovation. She pointed to a quote by Jane Bedford, founder of The Bedford Group, who once said, ‘Great advertising can only be developed in the absence of fear.’ Kielb also led the panelists in a discussion about facilitating Access to those on the Executive Leadership team as that closeness to the decision makers drives great partnerships and experimentation.  Fifth Third Bank’s Hendrix, whose “curious bank” campaign has been noted for its creativity, said that it is with “enlightened self-interest” that he has facilitated a relationship between his agency Leo Burnett and Fifth Third’s senior leadership.  “Clients get the work they deserve.  It has been said that Agencies should be co-creators of great business ideas, not just new creative”, he noted As the media landscape continues to fragment, integration among traditional and digital advertising agency partners and with internal groups like IT is becoming more important.  All panelists agreed that it is the client’s responsibility to play the role of integrator and provide clear expectations around roles and responsibilities to avoid competitive fears.  “We, the client, need to moderate that discussion between agencies” said Delta’s Parise.  He also noted that successful integration begins internally – if your marketing organization structure is siloed, your partners will behave that way, too. Setting clear expectations is also important when evaluating agency performance.  While most companies require an annual performance evaluation for internal employees, Kielb and the panelists noted, organizational assessments with critical agency vendor-partners require both a quantitative and qualitative approach.   ATT’s Overbey talked about the benefit of their formal evaluation system and noted the importance of having clear metrics that monitor almost daily.  All of the panelists concurred that nothing ever substitutes for on-going, open and honest dialogue at all times during the relationship. Last among the panelist discuss topics was compensation.  Fifth Third Bank’s Hendrix spoke about a recent change in their compensation strategy that puts the emphasis on specific strategic initiatives instead of hours or FTEs.  “The labor based system can put an artificial governor on what is needed to meet the objectives” he said. He highlighted that a compensation strategy of this kind requires a lot of transparency, some historical knowledge of requirements and strong metrics. It’s never been more important to build a strong agency partnership and, according to this panel of successful marketers, the path to success is through collaboration, shared goals and transparency.   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 supportagency 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. For more information about our services, please contact Kerry Kielb at 404.237.4565 or