When you sit down with Matty Candelario, you know you’re going to get down to business. This Firewood vice president and group account director has 15 years of experience leading brands such as Google, Airbnb, and University of Phoenix. She spends her days researching trends in the marketing space and finding out what clients need, and then evaluates it all against Firewood’s services and methods. However, sit with her a spell and you’ll find that she’s also part owner of a restaurant in Denver. And that her great-grandfather owned a Madison Avenue advertising agency that worked with some of the behemoths of American industry including United States Rubber Company, Eastern Air Lines, and Boeing. And that Matty is her real name—it isn’t short for anything.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with her to dig deep into the trends in client-agency relationships and how they’ve shifted over the last several years. As challenges for marketers shift and intensify, those marketers need to know precisely how to harness agencies to help. And Matty is just the person to explain it all.
A: As the marketing leader at a company, you’re responsible for keeping the marketing engine running to achieve company goals. You have so much going on and expectations around delivery have become more intense—everything needs to be done faster, at scale, and with absolutely no compromise on quality.
Because everything is done in sprints, companies oftentimes still need agency assistance, even if their full-time marketing team is substantial. The rapid iteration process shortens the amount of time that the marketing leader can spend thinking about the bigger picture.
And then it can get even more challenging: There are so many user touchpoints within a customer journey that it’s almost impossible to hit every one, given your time and budget constraints. The marketing leader may be able to see the whole plan, but feels stifled because they can only actually tackle a portion of it. So then the question becomes, Which one of these channels do I double down on? It’s a very different conversation that we’re having now versus three years ago.
A: An agency partner has the capacity to let in-house marketing leaders focus on running all of the marketing programs at their company, instead of getting caught up in one particular campaign. An independent contractor or boutique agency can serve as a way to outsource small tasks, while an embedded agency—one in which agency employees work alongside employees—can become a true partner. This partner agency becomes an extension of the company’s marketing team, sometimes embedding agency employees at the company’s offices and understanding the company’s business goals due to their proximity and in-depth knowledge.
Because of this close partnership and emphasis on business goals, an embedded agency can look across all of the possible services and home in on what can make the most impact. The agency essentially serves as a guide, navigating the complexity of the marketing channel mix.
A: The biggest shift we’ve seen is the migration away from the traditional request for proposal (RFP) process. Instead of taking a long period of time to vet the perfect agency and then locking in a year-long agreement, companies want to pick a partner and test the agency’s ability to deliver on a particular project’s deliverables.
That means looking for an agency that can cover a lot of different services—one that can help the company figure out what needs to be done in real time, not one that will plan out a year in advance and slowly work through the plan. At the same time, the agency should be willing to break out of a retainer model with a fixed monthly fee and instead provide support at the project level. If the agency can make it happen, this can lead to longer-term work and bigger projects.
All of this ultimately boils down to agencies needing to be true, flexible partners to their clients while also executing a lot faster.
A: Of course, budget is and will always be a concern for companies. Finding a way for companies and agencies to work together on this remains a high priority—hence, the need to be flexible and allow a company to decide how to work with an agency, whether it’s a project model, a retainer model, or a time-and-materials model.
More and more, though, we see cultural fit taking up more real estate in the in-house marketer’s mind. When an agency shares the same values as the company hiring them, trust is built faster. And it’s trust that oils the client and agency cogs within the marketing machine, allowing for faster results and higher-quality work. More companies are realizing that diversity (e.g., ethnic, gender, etc.) is not only the right thing to embrace and practice, but also that it actually affects the quality of the work. If you have a variety of backgrounds, you have a wider variety of experiences that can be pulled into the development of the work. Diversity really does drive innovation and business results.
A: In the past, we’ve seen companies hire a variety of agencies that specialize in each individual service they need in order to pull off the marketing plan—one agency for video production, maybe one for digital advertising, another for website design, and so on. However, with the need for flexibility to adapt after, and sometimes during, each iteration, a company cannot afford to attempt to communicate rapid pivots to every agency it hires while still expecting a seamless flow of communication; workflow will be disrupted and interpretations of the pivot may vary from agency to agency.
Because of this, we see a higher value placed on agencies with integrated marketing capabilities. The in-house marketer has one point of contact with the agency, and that point of contact disseminates information to the team. The team members, while specializing in their own areas of expertise, know how to work with each other and to speak with one voice across all deliverables. Pair those integrated capabilities with an embedded model and you’ve optimized your client-agency communications.
So, to sum it up: Shortened timelines, too many customer touchpoints, restraints on seeing the bigger picture, and an avalanche of tactical choices—it’s enough to make an in-house marketer throw up their hands in frustration! That’s where the flexible, integrated, and embedded agency comes in. Although the client-agency relationship is what it is right now, we in the marketing business know that the only constant in marketing is change. And Matty will be researching it all the while.