A CMO's view - The agency relationship

Belinda Gruebner
By Belinda Gruebner | 1 August 2022
Belinda Gruebner. Image: Supplied

With an uncertain economic outlook bearing down on us, client-side marketers are reviewing their agency relationships and considering the best partners for the challenge ahead. Could that be an independent agency? CMO Belinda Gruebner explains why she made the switch.

The best agency/client relationships are built on collaboration. Rather than the client simply handing over a brief and the agency handing it back, when you genuinely collaborate, both sides get so much more out of the relationship. Agencies want to feel part of the thinking and strategy and the best way to do that is to be open to the expertise of your partners and say to them, “This is our problem or opportunity – how would you approach it?”

In my experience, you don't always get the chance to do that when working with big agencies.

For several years, Moose Toys worked with a large multinational agency. While we saw the benefits of a holding company relationship reflected in our media rates, we sometimes paid for this in other ways. We were a small fish in a big pond. And while we were considered the “fun” client to work on, the size of our budgets meant we didn't get the same level of service as larger brands.

We also found the fast-paced nature of toys wasn't conducive to a larger agency model.

Like plenty of brands, we were grappling with the changing media landscape and for us, that meant the dynamics of how to market a product for kids. The significant reduction of kids’ programming on linear TV amplified the move to subscription

TV and YouTube. To address that, we needed more than simply a reach and frequency model.

So we set out to find an agency partner that could understand a day in the life of kids and different ways to engage with them. A partner that was trying to do things differently in an evolving media landscape; one that had its finger on the pulse of the shifting requirements of consumers whose behaviour continues to change across different touch points.

At Moose, our Aussie team is lean so we needed a partner that would effectively be an extension of our marketing team. My instincts told me a smaller more nimble media agency could better address these challenges.
In my experience, independent agencies, by their very nature, tend to be leaner. They have to be to remain competitive.

Not only that, they usually have an entrepreneurial spirit that flows from the owner down. They look at the task as if it's their own business which leads to a different way of thinking.

The beauty of working with independent agencies is that they are open to experimenting and exploring new ways to service the needs of the business that might not be a true “media buy”. Whether that means bringing in new skillsets or partnering with other independent agencies across experiential, outdoor or PR, they're up for looking at the opportunity across all of these touch points which brings different ideas and thinking to the table.

No brand wants to sit still and stagnate. We all want to stay ahead of the game. The best way to do that is to have fresh ideas coming into the business. And indie agencies have that in spades.

The service independent agencies provide can make them more valued partners with the smarts they bring to the table outweighing the cheapness of a holding group deal. With this comes a high level of trust because they care about their partnerships, the work, the clients, the people and the results.

I firmly believe multinational agencies have a rightful place in the ecosystem. Depending on the size of the brand, you may be better off with a large agency. This is especially true for big retailers and large FMCG brands who need that scale to handle the volume of work. But if you’re a smaller or mid-sized brand, an independent will provide a more intimate level of service.

For marketers out there that are considering their options and weighing up whether to appoint an indie, identify your own internal gaps first. Think about the strategic capabilities you have at your disposal and those you don’t. What sorts of skills can an agency partner bring that will complement what you have in-house?

There’s a growing shift between traditional and digital-first marketers. Every business needs a mix of both, but not all have adapted to having a blend. If you’re a traditional marketer, look for an agency partner with a digital-first mindset to fill that gap and vice versa.

Ultimately it boils down to understanding the role you want agency partners to play and for us, that led to appointing an indie. Maybe it will for you too.

Belinda Gruebner is the Chief Marketing Officer of Moose Toys

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