Fall '12 Agency

December 2-5, 2012 | Scottsdale, AZ

Why successful agencies lean on strategic alliances

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Data provide valuable consumer insights, but the sheer volume of information is staggering. Here's why smart agencies rely on partnerships to navigate the increasingly complex advertising world.

It is a universal truth that today's marketers face an increasingly complex industry. While data points become ever more useful to advertisers, the proliferation of information from varying sources in countless formats is staggering. Given this information, what is an agency to do?

John Montgomery, COO of GroupM Interaction North America, delivered a definitive answer in his keynote address at the iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week.

"Partnerships in our data-driven tech world are critical, and you can't survive without it," Montgomery said.

According to Montgomery, there is something in the "agency DNA" that compels agencies to want to do everything in-house. Montgomery conceded that the do-it-yourself businesses model worked when he began his agency career 30 years ago, but the explosion of technology has made it virtually impossible for today's agencies to fly solo.

Let's take a look at some of the stats that today's marketer faces: 

  • 100 billion apps
  • 1 billion smartphones
  • 1 billion Facebook users
  • 5 billion tweets per month
  • 5 million searches per day
  • 400 million new Hulu streams

And it's not getting any simpler. According to Montgomery, there are 60 million impressions served per month by GroupM agencies, 200,000 requests seen in RTB per second, 728 million profile updates in any given week, and 10.1 billion segments attached to profiles per 30 days.

"Given this, the potential for confusion is staggering," Montgomery said. So that begs the question: Do you really want to do this on your own? Consider the advantages to agency partnerships: They offer the fastest time to market and help manage complexity, conserve resources, reduce risk, and allow agencies to test the waters before making a deeper commitment."It's like living together before you get married," Montgomery said.

Not only that, strategic alliances inspire client confidence -- especially if agencies take the time to really narrow down prospective partners. So how does one do this? The best way to choose preferred partners is to use a selection matrix, which -- Montgomery admitted-- is "quite a process," but well worth the effort. Once criteria are established and suitable partners are selected, appointments are made to meet with each and every potential. "[This is] painstaking and thorough, but ultimately rewarding," Montgomery said. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all partnerships are suppliers. Smart agencies use partnerships for real innovation.

For example, "In the Motherhood" was a campaign that sprang from a Sprint and Suave client partnership. Both clients needed to appeal to the mom demographic, and GroupM determined that the best way to reach moms was through peer-to-peer communication. This resulted in a partnership with Microsoft. Moms submitted blurbs about their experiences, and a script-writing program converted the stories into scripts. These scripts were then professionally filmed and voted on by moms. The campaign received a terrific response and created partnerships with the consumers themselves. The growing alliances continued when network television approached the stakeholders to covert the stories into a prime-time show.

In all, this one campaign resulted in breakthrough third-party results, 760,000 hours of consumer engagement, and a new marketing model.

In summation, here are the golden rules of agency partnerships:

  • Check your ego at the door
  • Agree on what business partnerships look like
    • Who does what
    • Who is accountable for what
    • Remember that a rising tide floats or sinks all boats -- no "blamestorming"
  • Approach partnership from the user's POV

And, according to Forbes, here are the four things that determine a good partnership:

  • Partnerships that make money  
  • Partnerships that save money
  • Partnerships that grow a user base    
  • Partnerships that build a better product

Jennifer Marlo is associate editor of iMedia Connection.

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