Have You Fully Explored Smaller Agency Partners?

Why marketers should look beyond traditional agencies for agility, creativity and specialized skills.

“Flexible,” “collaborative” and “responsive” are the superlatives of agility bestowed upon the best agencies in a survey of over 100 Gartner clients. That’s encouraging news, with marketing increasingly responsible for growth and relying on agile behavior to deliver that growth. Marketers now oversee or heavily influence customer experience, digital commerce and business innovation.

In the survey, marketing leaders bemoaned their agency partners’ rigid processes, communication breakdowns, inefficient intra-network challenges and overall cost structures. “Small and midsize agencies can operate in ways that larger agencies, in particular agencies part of larger holding companies, cannot“ said Jay Wilson, research director, Gartner for Marketers. “The independence, agility, willingness to take risks and desire to make their mark for clients can make small and midsize agencies worth a look.”

Regional and boutique agencies are increasingly able to deliver a balance of strategy, creativity and technology. These agencies lack the global reach but may be appealing when paired with a large lead agency. To explore smaller agencies and look beyond traditional agency partners, examine your existing roster and answer a few pointed questions:

  • Are your agencies well-positioned to be long-term partners to your marketing team as channels and marketing disciplines evolve?
  • Do they have a deep understanding of your business, your customers and marketspace?
  • Do they challenge your assumptions, help your organization overcome internal inertia and include outside partners to help solve problems?
  • Have they delivered results? If not, it may be time to replace or expand your roster.

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How to identify and engage smaller agencies

  1. Be clear on objectives
    Define what a potential agency would be tasked to deliver, particularly in the context of existing agency relationships. Make priorities clear for the selection team and consistent in the context of any agency engagement. Clearly outline the distinct role the new agency will serve to avoid duplication of efforts when added to a roster of agencies.
  2. Seek referrals from peers and industry associations
    Word of mouth and peer networks are effective ways to find potential partner agencies. Other companies will be able to attest to real-world examples of an agency’s capabilities. Also look at preferred agency partners of larger technology providers.
  3. Narrow your options
    Realistically, there will be many different options when it comes to picking an agency. Narrow your search parameters to a particular geographic location. From there, look to specific industry agencies or those that offer a specific capability, such as video, that supports a high-priority business goal.
  4. Be an attractive partner
    Agencies want to work with companies that excite them. When looking for a partner agency, make sure you tell the story of your organization, your industry and the problems you’re looking to solve to get teams enthused about the opportunity.
  5. Be clear on objectives, but open to solutions
    If you’re hiring an agency to complete a specific task, make sure you don’t unintentionally micromanage to the point where you interfere with the process that made the company an attractive partner. Don’t try to do the agency’s job, but make sure processes and concepts align with your organizational needs.
  6. “Date” before you “marry”
    Start with a project or small set of projects to get to know each other — selecting a small or midsize agency is a progressive relationship. It’s important for both parties to develop a healthy relationship, so be clear about your intentions and expectations.

“Build out your roster of agencies by examining small and midsize firms to meet your specialized needs. These smaller agencies can provide the agility that marketers of all sizes require,” said Mr. Wilson.

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