Full-service agencies are advertising agencies that cover all aspects of advertising and promotion. Their death has long been predicted because of the rise of social media agencies, and the blurring of lines between PR, advertising, editorial and media planning.
However, rumours of the death of full-service agencies may have been exaggerated. In November 2019, Octopus Group, a 60-strong London-based agency focused on B2B technology clients, won prizes in four categories at Drum’s annual B2B Awards, including the overall Grand Prix. We caught up with Jon Lonsdale, MD and founder, to talk about the value of full-service agencies in the digital age, and what he thinks the future might hold.
Why do we still need a full-service agency approach in B2B?
As a full-service agency, we can work across the whole campaign to link brand reputation to lead generation. Since 2008, economic trends have driven significant reductions in clients’ marketing resource. Marketing teams are smaller in tech companies today. It’s common for even larger companies to have just a handful of marketers in-house, so they really need to make marketing count. CMOs also tend to stay in post for much less time. They often don’t have time to build a long-term strategy for brand and pipeline.
This means they need to deliver campaigns quickly. At the same time, digital marketing is now an essential part of marketing, and has to be incorporated into an integrated approach. This means that having a full-service agency managing everything makes a lot of sense. It’s also much easier to report, track and attribute when you are only using one agency, and that makes it much more cost-effective for clients.
What are the main challenges facing B2B tech agencies and clients?
One of the biggest challenges is finding a balance between long-term brand building/positioning work and lead generation. This is particularly true now that so many CMOs only stay in post for around 18 to 24 months. Why should they take a long view, and try to cultivate a brand and messages that will stand the test of time? We are also seeing a move away from a dependence on physical events, and this has been reinforced by COVID-19. It will be interesting to see how this evolves over time. Brands want to reduce costs, improve content quality and focus on innovative delivery—and events are ‘old school’.
Finally, I think the biggest challenge is to keep the buyer central, and stay in touch with how buyers and buying are changing. Most buyers are businesspeople first, and they have also grown up with technology. They may be finance professionals, say, but they understand both tech and business—and that means they influence buying decisions way beyond their function.
Do you think bringing in agencies adds real value for clients, over and above anything that in-house marketers can provide?
The traditional view of marketing is that it drives awareness, and that generates leads. However, these days, this process is neither sequential nor simple. We might get a brief asking us to address a perceived problem such as awareness. In our prep work, though, we often uncover other specific problems that require remedial action in sales or operations before we can go ahead with any marketing investments. As an agency, we bring an external perspective that can help companies to identify and address business problems, commercial issues and opportunities.
If B2B agencies want to deliver value, they need to attach clear commercial outcomes to campaigns—even if that means digging deeper into the client company first. I think we can ask questions that perhaps would not even occur to in-house marketers—and especially as a full-service agency, we have that broader perspective.
So full-service agencies are alive and well in a digital world?
Absolutely. I think full-service agencies can add enormous business value to clients in fast-moving and turbulent tech markets. However, as we move beyond COVID-19, I think we will see agencies being challenged to innovate around shifts in client strategy. I expect to see a focus on smaller teams, and changes in execution, especially away from face-to-face events. It will be crucial to focus on ROI and stay flexible to help clients manage increased multi-channel complexity.
It won’t be an easy ride for many agencies, though. I think the most important elements will be to focus on adding business value, and filling skill gaps. Agencies that can do that will survive and grow.
The long view
These concluding words from Jon encapsulate the most compelling advantages offered by a good full-service agency today: flexibility, knowledge, holistic perspectives on project planning, execution and measurement plus cost / creative advantages take a good agency way beyond the ‘one stop shop’ proposition and into full scale business partnership