What marketers really value from agencies

By AdNews | 16 October 2023

Marketers view strategy and specialist skill sets as the most valuable contribution agencies can make to their business, according to research by Spark Foundry Australia.

However, many agencies believe that data and seniority are at the top of the most critical list for clients.

The results come from a study, Finding the Holy Grail: The Quest for the Ultimate Client Agency Model.

“To set the scene, our 2022 ‘In it for the Long Haul’ report found that there is so much upside for sustained client/agency relationships, and yet the industry operates a system that works against long-term tenure,” says Spark Foundry CEO, Imogen Hewitt.

That study report found that while 80% of respondents believe that longer-term relationships made for stronger brand performance, the average tenure of a CMO has dropped to 2.4 years and the average pitch cycle is as frequent as two years.

While 62% felt that longer lasting relationships generated greater creativity and innovation, the industry agrees it takes 3-9 months to onboard a new partnership.

“In 2023, we set out to understand what agencies can do across service or structure to help create the conditions for more sustained engagement. And it exposed some practical solves and some interesting disconnects,” Hewitt says.

This year’s follow-up study, Finding the Holy Grail, reveals clients want agency teams composed of experts who can interpret brand, category and consumer data, with 67% of marketers saying strategy and strategic insights are the most valuable contributions agencies can make to business conversations.

Only two marketer respondents referenced seniority as the most important factor.

A quarter of agency respondents, the highest grouping, stated the provision or reporting of data represents their most valuable contribution.

“Interestingly, marketers are calling for ‘column-shaped’ teams. Less hierarchy, more expertise and greater flexibility,” says Hewitt.

“And an agency’s ability to differentiate, think broadly and creatively, to innovate and to connect best with customers trumps the tsunami of data many agencies bring to the table.

“For agencies, that means drawing out the insight and action in the data, not just providing it to clients as a standalone deliverable.

“We all have plenty of data, so it’s about how you best use it as one of the key ingredients of good strategy. As an agency, we’re relentless about using the data to shape future recommendations for our clients, not as the means to retrospectively mark our own homework."

Marketers identified business understanding (30%) and responsiveness (30%) as the most important drivers of successful relationships, however cost reductions remain the most pressing issue year on year.

And while marketers reported knowing that fully retained teams work best for the agency and client, 46% say the greatest pressure they receive from non-marketing stakeholders within their business is substantiating why agency investment is required.

“So, what does this all mean?” says Hewitt.

“Marketers and agencies want the same things – the time to develop relationships, and the ability to deeply understand business and people. Access to the right skills at the right time and at the right cost as well as mutually well-understood value creation.

“At its heart this is an age-old story: clients and agencies need to collaborate on building the team, skillsets and access that optimally meets their needs.

“This has to be ongoing and as a partnership. Get this right and everything else follows – relationship, longevity, trust, innovation and business results on both sides.”

The latest study is based on responses to a qualitative and quantitative survey by more than 65 agency and marketing professionals.

The client-side results are from CMOs and marketing leads across a range of industry verticals, while the agency participants are from numerous brands and include MDs, business directors, strategy directors and client service directors across all media and communications disciplines.

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