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How do you define the modern agency?

How do you define the modern agency? Becca Bleznak

The role of agencies today is much different than it once was. On Monday, at the iMedia Agency Summit in Lost Pines, Texas, John Durham, CEO and managing partner at Catalyst S+F, asked three CMOs how they saw they kept up with the demands of today's brands.

Shade Vaughn of SapientNitro, said that one key element is to put yourself in a position to create meaningful conversation. With a rise in content ranging from micro-sites to events, you should be looking for talented writers who can tell a smart story. And, of course, you must be persuasive in order to win business.

One factor that has been a struggle for today's agency is the evolution of new types of players. Publishers like Hearst and Facebook are going around agencies. So how do you communicate your value? Dave Knox of Rockfish Interactive, said it's about relying on relationships. If you know who you are and what you're good at, your clients will be able to see this.

Vaughn added that it's also about identifying your strengths in relation to others. "There's an increased importance on partnerships," he said. "We make a big effort to position ourselves as an eccentric partner. We're experience-lead -- we understand better than a consultancy."

Another part of getting business is having the talent on your side. How do you foster -- and then keep -- this talent? David Berkowitz, formerly of MRY, said that he put a huge focus in his role on acquisition and retention. He worked to get everyone involved in the creative areas they were interested. Of course, this is a double-edged sword, as it makes your employees "more poachable," he added. "It's always dangerous, but I was at an agency where we wanted to help people build up their own brands and get new opportunities. This is a great way to bring in talented people. It makes us vulnerable, but it's worth it."

Knox followed this by comparing his experience at an agency to that of his brand background. He said that as an agency, there's a flexibility and fluidity that makes retention easier, referring to the "tours of duty" that many employees have with startups. "Our people come from a lot of different places, and leave and come back often. You might come back after trying a startup, and come back better."

Durham then brought up another thorn in the side of agencies: Big name, Fortune 500 brands that have a lot of resources. How does an agency deal with this? Knox replied that the things that made the Fortune 500s is now their biggest weakness, as personal connections are more important than ever. "It's the greatest time, because it's exciting to elevate marketing," he added.

Vaughn agreed: It's a "scary and exciting" time. He referred to a quote from the movie "Up in the Air," where the main character said that his job was to "hold hands as they cross into a new part of their life." This can be seen in the agency-brand relationship, as well. "They don't know what they're looking for; the solution you put together is a custom fit," he said. It's about creating longer, lasting relationships.

Durham also asked what advice they have for someone who is interested in becoming a CMO. What does it take it be successful in this role? Knox said that the number one thing is to be a connector. You have to connect industries, and interact with different players. He suggested that you try starting every day with meetings, in order to connect with all team members.

Vaugh followed by saying that the second most important aspect is the ability to "serve a lot of different masters." You'll be working to keep various personalities happy and needs met. He added, "People in leadership roles (my team) are like my clients. I have to juggle priorities and embrace chaos."

Berkowitz added, "What I realized over time [is that] the CMO matters more internally than externally. People want a sense of direction. What's our north star? Why are we showing up every day?" This is something you need to work to provide.

Becca is currently an editor at iMedia Connection, as well as a freelance entertainment writer for ScreenPicks.com and The Televixen. In the past, she has worked as a social media/community manager at SEO Savvy, Empower Digital, and Mahalo. ...

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