Agency strategy: demanding clients and shifting budgets

At Collabosphere 2012, we gathered five experts from different agencies to talk about agency-client trends and survival strategies. Here’s a condensed transcript from the first portion of that chat, focusing on new client demands, the shift in marketing dollars and the evolving meaning of ROI.

The participants on our “Panel Island” were: Rachel DeFriend, Director of Technology Development at Javelin; Mona Heggem, Central Desktop Project Leader at CAHG; Brenda Miller, Project Manager at St. John & Partners;Anne Marie Schiller, Global Chief Client Operations at RAPP; and Jackie Stagg, Director of Operations at e-storm.

For more insights from these panelists, check out their talk on the 4 top challenges for the modern agency.

What kinds of new things are your clients beginning to demand of you?

BRENDA MILLER: More results. We get a lot of data, we get a lot of numbers, but how do you use that and get those results to your clients? I think they are wanting to be able to quantify everything that we do. We’ve added a program called Tableau that takes all of that information and data and puts it in a real, useful, meaningful database for them. They can go into their dashboard and see results in real-time; they used to wait a month and get feedback. Now you can get those numbers in real-time and adjust your media. If one banner is working well, you can actually add media weight to that, make it 80 percent. Some of your other banners aren’t doing well, you can lower them to 20 percent. It really is effective.

RACHEL DEFRIEND: What I mostly hear is “Can we make that for mobile? Can we mobile optimize? Can we have mobile optimized emails? Why do I have to pay more for that?” Video is another big thing that I hear a lot of our clients pushing for. They’re trying to be more engaging and have more interactivity with their customers.

MONA HEGGEM: Our clients are wanting to work with fewer agencies; they want a one-stop shop. They don’t want to go to multiple agencies to get all of their marketing materials done. The biggest thing we’re hearing is that they want an A-team on every single one of their assignments. They want experts on their digital tactics, they want experts on their managed markets. We’ve developed something called custom configured teams, where we pull from across all of our practice disciplines and pull the experts that are particular to that job. They also want efficiency, which is why we bought Central Desktop. We need to be able to operate more efficiently and turn around things faster than we have in the past.

ANNE MARIE SCHILLER:  Our clients are asking us how we leverage social data very quickly. Can we harvest tech strings and conversations and everything that’s happening online and make it meaningful to them so they can react quickly? We’ve developed a new group called Sparks & Honey. They actually harvest tons of conversation and put it into an analytic algorithm and provide trend analysis to help us get in front of what’s happening, so we can bring ideas to the client before the idea has already been made. It’s a cool intersection of analytics, data and technology.

JACKIE STAGG: Our agency is very much focused on the digital aspect. What we’re finding is that more of our clients are demanding more information around the performance of their campaigns – not just how they’re performing, but what publishers are performing the best.


What kinds of shifts are you seeing in how clients want to spend their marketing dollars?

BRENDA MILLER: We’re seeing more and more dollars go to digital. Right now it’s about 11%.

MONA HEGGEM: In the health care space, you’ve probably heard about the patent cliff. A lot of the pharma companies are pulling back their advertising dollars and putting it into R&D. So they have fewer dollars to spend in marketing and want to make the most effective use of those dollars. They’re asking us to take our traditional print pieces that we’ve done and translate that so they can live in a multi-channel world.

RACHEL DEFRIEND: We see way more quantitative results – what kind of media will help us get those numbers, those metrics, so we can optimize them and be smarter about the way we’re spending our dollars out to our customers. We have a massive analytical think tank as part of Javelin Marketing Group… what’s great is that they can take complex algorithms and make something that’s really simple for clients to understand. My team builds the apps and dashboards where they can visualize that.


What kind of impact are you seeing as clients shift marketing dollars to digital?

RACHEL DEFRIEND: My team gets to do more cool work. We need to find people who can actually do more digital and think bigger and have more conceptual thinking about what’s out there.

BRENDA MILLER: We can be online really fast now, and I think that’s helping our clients tremendously. We have Florida Lottery and when they do jackpot rolls, we can get online really fast. It used to be the old print boards and billboards; now we have digital boards. It’s not just digital online.


How have you made a greater effort to quantify ROI for your clients?

ANNE MARIE SCHILLER: For RAPP, our history is in attribution and data, so this is a state that we should be very familiar with. For us, the difference now is that it’s not just ROI, it’s ROI with scale.

MONA HEGGEM: Our clients are wanting to work more efficiently, so that’s why we looked to Central Desktop to improve our processes and turn things around more efficiently. We’ve been able to differentiate our agency compared to other agencies because everything we produce for our clients falls under regulatory compliance. We felt that it was important to invest in our staff, for all client-facing staff to be certified in regulatory compliance. We are the first agency in the U.S. to be certified by the CCC. That has proven to be a huge value add.

RACHEL DEFRIEND: ROI is great, but we also look at how they can get improved ROI. What’s the lifetime value of the customer? You’re looking at not just “What is it doing to my books?” but “What is that customer going to get me in three years? Ten years?”

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.