Every brand relies on external resources to round out their marketing operations.
Even businesses with fully functional internal marketing departments or a dedicated team rely on specialists and vendor partners for various execution needs, including data management, application development, media placement, etc. If those processes become too fragmented or the internal team needs support that can't be filled with a new hire, brands often look to find another partner to help sort it out.
So what defines the right partner? How broad does their expertise need to be? Is the need one of strategic oversight or more tactical? Is it narrow and deep or broad and varied? Does the partner need to deliver a better approach through recommendations or implement plans and deliver on the results?
In the past decade or so, we’ve seen a rise in the variety and number of specialized agencies and digital consultancies that challenge the model of full service ad agencies. We’ve also seen more traditional agency models adjust to the changing needs of clients by expanding capabilities through internal development, acquisition and strategic partnership.
Regardless of the accelerated change occuring in our industry, a marketing partner’s strengths must align with the client’s prioritized needs.
Wherever they land in the spectrum and regardless of the vocabulary, most firms operate as tactical teams or strategic advisors but rarely deliver both in a unified way. The client is served in specific facets of execution or from a high-level POV but can often be left feeling a little unglued.
So what’s the solution? Amid all of this, the brand itself or one of the marketing partners must operate as “lead agency.” This has become apparent as brands team up with multiple partners and vendors. Specialist partners don’t just have blind spots, they tend to have tunnel vision on their area of focus. Full-service agencies on the other hand may be able to see the big picture and connect more of the dots but will inherently also have some strengths and some weaknesses.
So, you might be asking. "What is a Lead Agency? Is it the same thing as a full-service agency? Is it an integrated agency, an agency of record, a brand partner agency, a digital agency, a creative agency, a media agency, a consultancy?"
Let’s put the vocabulary aside and just define it: A lead agency can function as a full-service marketing partner, but they must understand priorities and the capabilities must fit. They have to be able to consult and deliver a clear vision, but the role can’t stop there. In an industry where collaborating partners often compete like siblings for client favor, a lead agency is able to defy that tendency and act as an extension of the brand’s internal marketing team in advising and serving the business’ internal leadership. They must provide real value to the brand’s stakeholders, including partners, and most importantly, customers in the form of service, support, direction and execution.
A lead agency knows how to keep the business objectives at the forefront, design the right measurement plans and inform the correct strategy to pursue and assess results. A lead agency is able to help everyone in the equation deliver more value on the client’s own terms.
Our next post profiles a few different perspectives on how lead agencies are expanding their roles. Check it out.
Director of Interactive Media