This post was prompted by a couple of conversations over the past few days.
Conversation number one
A friend pointed out that they’ve got a new job, just received a document on what we’re doing from my global social agency ‘X’. What’s your opinion of them and where do you think client and agency responsibilities should lie? Question number two didn’t really get answered as ‘X’ is a social agency? was a much more interesting talking point. Would they be any good, when did they become a social agency? What just happened? The upshot of it is that social is a thing that everyone is now an expert in.
Conversation number two
I was in conversation with a potential technology vendor for a specific project and I outlined the point solution that I liked about their product, which was something that made them a particularly good fit for said project. They then explained to me why they were so much more than the point solution I required and were in fact a complete CRM-type solution.
Other peers (let’s not call them competitors, as they have a slightly different world view and do slightly different things) have been acquired by CRM or software vendors. Those that were too big to buy have done deals to integrate their offering as a kind VAR-like partnership.
What these two conversations are indicative of are a pair of distinct singularities in the marketing sector.
Think of marketing as a broadly horizontal industry sector rather than the vertically integrated leviathans that are often brought to mind by the words Martin + Sorrell or the letters W, P +P respectively.
I would consider the marketing groups to be more analogous to conglomerates than integrated marketing creatures. Competing clients and bespoke client needs create the need for different marketing brands and single purpose agencies but for many parts of the business they tend to operate independently from a day-to-day operation. Collaboration and genuinely integrated working are journeys to be yet taken rather than destinations that they will be soon arriving at.
WPP are an interesting organisation in that as a conglomerate they have tried to build a vertical stack of agencies and technology vendors. They own a variety of technology companies particularly involved in the purchasing of online advertising (programmatic advertising or real-time bidding as it has been called in the past).
There has been concerns amongst amongst the ad worlds largest clients that groups may use their privileged position as vendor and agency to play against their clients. Major brands seem to have developed a distrust of both agency trading desks and the lack of transparency into market data. Instead of giving agencies an unfair advantage and allowing them to play both sides of the trade, they are bring the trading desk in-house.
So there is both client pressure and expertise factors that come into play which suggest the horizontal model is likely to be dominant for some time to come – now matter how many spreadsheets using a Monte Carlo method are developed by investment banks predicting a sure-fire success.
However within this horizontal model there some consolidation happening. On the one hand tools are rushing towards total customer information awareness. The key problem is one of structure, tools are used to selling into one kind of person (someone like me), not re-engineering a business from the ground up. Secondly relationships with agencies are not going to provide the kind of trust and access that would be required to fulfil the full potential of this vision.
You could imagine the conversation in the board room
Hi Mr CEO, Sterling Cooper Draper Price, the marketing agency the last CMO appointed want to re-engineer our business with their social software.
Wait a minute Mr CTO, when did we have Sterling Cooper on board? What happened to McMann and Tate?
They were fired two years ago by the last CMO, who left six months ago
Our current CMO handed in her resignation yesterday, to start her own yoga retreat franchise. No doubt the new one will want their own agency…
Ok, so a bit of poetic license is used in this thought experiment, but the point is suppliers like marketing agencies tend to be changed more frequently than the vendors of key business systems. Something has to change radically for this work.
Whilst on the agency side of things everyone has tried to ‘own’ the social space as there is client fatigue over what that now means. And while social is now something everyone does at a marketing agency level, there are less individuals who are willing to admit that they have a specialism in it; as it seems to have about as much long term career growth in it as being a CB radio operator.