January 2011

They No Longer Work Here

by Susan Zweibaum on January 21, 2011

On a recent post on Promomagazine.com where agencies provided solutions to client problems, they asked how companies can restructure themselves to best support integrated marketing initiatives.  While the answer given was dead on, the bigger question facing both agencies and their clients is, how do you best manage integrated marketing and promotions even as companies continue to downsize or eliminate marketing services departments altogether?

More and more companies rely on their brand teams to manage all aspects of the marketing mix, including PR, promotions, advertising and digital. These already overworked brand managers and directors are being asked to manage and communicate daily with each of their agency partners without any additional expert resources to help guide them or relieve the burden.  This can be a daunting task when you consider the possibility of separate agencies for consumer promotions, advertising, PR, customer marketing, digital and packaging.  If the brand managers spend so much time managing these agencies, when can they actually manage their business?  This pressure to do more with less ultimately burns out brand teams, hampers good client/agency communication and puts more emphasis on outsourcing activities to the agency partners.

As more emphasis is placed on the agencies, the lack of knowledgeable internal client representatives makes it difficult for those agencies to manage programs efficiently.  Agency partners want clear concise direction, and since they operate on tight budgets, they are often frustrated by the confusion, rework and misdirection that can result without the internal client expertise they prefer to have.

Even if the economy improves, it will not necessarily equate to more hiring in the marketing services specialties on the client side.  Those companies that are not structured for marketing service departments or have cut back significantly are not likely to go back to having a larger department or adding one. They have made a philosophical change in how they manage their marketing department, or decided they can live without the department altogether and continue to outsource more to their agencies. 

What then is the solution?  I have a few ideas, especially assuming the downsizing of marketing services departments is here for the long haul.  These same approaches also can be used by smaller, growing companies that are not ready for added staff to handle these areas.

1)   Train Your Staff:  Consumer promotions, PR, digital, etc. are all unique disciplines that require a certain level of expertise to manage them effectively.  Unfortunately, these disciplines are not generally taught within a traditional MBA curriculum, and while an associate brand manager learns by doing on the job, he or she needs guidance and training.  Hire an outside consultant or use your agencies to do some internal training – Promotions 101, Digital 101, Social Media 101 – to give your staff a basic knowledge of the disciplines and provide benchmarks for future activities.   Continue the training with more in-depth and specialized topics to build the expertise.  Knowing what to question and how to challenge agency plans and budgets only comes from ongoing experience and knowledge,  and that questioning and challenging will lead to a more efficient agency spend. 

2)   View the Agency as Your Partner:  Agencies prefer to be a part of the initial planning and strategy development and not just handed an RFP to do the work.  This earlier involvement benefits all parties because it means less interpretation of an RFP, clearer communication and more commitment from the agency.  In the Promo Magazine article, it was mentioned that having a clear process is important in effective integrated marketing initiatives.  It becomes even more important when you don’t have an internal team dedicated to solely managing this process.  By making the agency a partner in this, you can relieve some of the burden from your team because the external team is vested in the success of the plan from the onset.

3)   Require detailed execution plans from the agencies:  It means more work for your partners, but will make the process easier for the internal client team.  Instead of the magic behind the curtain, you will understand what each step of the process will be and enable the internal team to do a better job of managing the checks and balances associated with the program execution.  It will also make it easier for the agency partner in the long run since they will have a client with realistic expectations.  Unrealistic expectations are rampant when the client lacks the knowledge and expertise they need to manage the agency partner.

In the end, best practice says clients should retain at least one internal marketing services expert to help provide guidance and internal consulting.  Companies do not always believe in this practice or are unable to allocate funds for this role.  When they don’t, the above ways can help their marketing teams work better with their agencies and create efficient and effective programs.

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