Rock, Paper, Scissors: Which marketing agency do you use?
By Gordon Price Locke, President, D Custom
The game Rock-Paper-Scissors dates back to the Chinese Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD).
The objective of Rock-Paper-Scissors is to select a gesture that defeats the gesture of the opponent. It is not about aligning on the same gesture or outcome. Gestures are resolved as follows:
- Rock blunts or breaks scissors: rock defeats scissors.
- Paper covers, sands or captures rock: paper defeats rock.
- Scissors cut paper: scissors defeats paper.
If both players choose the same gesture, the game is tied and the players throw again.
One could argue that the human need to buy, sell, and trade has been around since the dawn of modern man; hence the need to market a service or product, manage one’s reputation, or promote oneself or a business is likely as old as the game. It has just gotten a little more complicated as of late as marketing continues to evolve.
So why the reference to Rock-Paper-Scissors? It is a classic representation of how many marketing services buyers feel as they engage new and traditional marketing agency practices and specialties in a fragmented market. There are almost too many choices to consider. Then there is the model of mega-agencies who create one-stop shops that offer anything and everything related to marketing, many fighting across P&Ls to be the client’s rock, paper, or scissors. Not being clear on your needs as a buyer can create a maddening land-grab mentality with you as the ultimate prize.
As I meet with CMO’s and other senior marketing executives around the world (and having been one myself), a common theme emerges. It seems that there are far more people and agencies claiming to do a large set of marketing practices than there are great ones that do it and enough meaningful buyers. This means the marketplace is crowded, competitive and noisy. After meeting with ad agencies, PR firms, digital agencies, content marketers, social media agencies, brand strategists, direct marketing agencies, and customer engagement services, a buyer can be left with a mind-numbing view of what is out there. Further, many agencies claim to be good at it all, others clinging to the latest frenzy or buzz in marketing.
Do you choose an ad agency—specialists in outbound marketing—for content strategy, content creation and curation? Do you choose a custom content agency that gets audience engagement, can create visual and written content based on buyer persona science, and happens to know media buying? Do you use both and stand firm about the rules of play?
The issue deepens for many buyers as they grapple with how providers across a vast sea of marketing services define themselves based on true ability. It is not always about knowing what you want. It is also about who claims to be the expert at what.
In the case of custom publishing, custom content, and content marketing you end up with a powerful “main course” agency model that can create a brand voice and tone, define audience through content science, design and deploy custom content assets across channels, and measure success of sales lead impact or brand visibility. Within this same span of work, the content agency may not always be the best choice for an overarching creative strategy, or for architecting outbound content deployment in advertising, specialized promotions, public relations work, coding interactive websites, or even formalized market research.
There is a need for storytelling and engagement. However, many businesses in the B2B and B2C spaces also need the transactional nature of promotions, cut-to-the-chase point of sale price pushes, and a waterfall of calls to action. There is also the age-old proof that some advertising and other forms of paid placement marketing convince consumers of a brand’s investment and sheer presence.
If you are not sure what you want as a buyer and you are not educated on the different roles agencies can play, then the conversations, if left up to the providers to define, often will accidentally turn into a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors for your business.
Here are 5 things that a buyer of marketing services of any organization can do to navigate this age-old dilemma – what agency or agency combinations do I use? These are not exhaustive but were put together by me, as a former CMO (buyer) and current president of a content marketing agency, along with insight from my executive peer, Kim Elenez, formerly with Tracey Locke/Omnicom, and now running a large business media publishing operation that includes print, digital and television.
1. Think about the type of relationship you want to have with the agency before you make the first call.
Do you want a business partner or simply an agent to execute what your internal staff cannot? Do you want a strategic adviser or a team that simply listens to your needs and solves those problems? Maybe somewhere in the middle? This is an important element in ensuring that all parties involved are very clear about expectations. The alternative will result in frustration on both sides. Plus, if you go into the relationship with this clarity, you may be surprised how often the agency offers expert partners to execute new ideas and areas of strategic value.
2. Talking at 30,000 feet is paramount to ensure like-mindedness, but take a moment to get granular.
No matter what model you choose, meet the head of production. It will save a lot of heartache later. It is certain that hours of time will be spent in finessing the strategy, messaging, copy, and design for your content. However, the buck stops in production—quite literally, at times. When the head of production knows you and what you value from the output, you will have invested in a very important, yet too often forgotten, piece of the process.
3. There is no better example of the work you can expect than the work that is already done.
All agencies showcase their best work on their websites and blogs. Use those resources to vet the type of communication they actually create as well as the thinking and attention to detail they value. This can either validate your interest in that company, or nullify it—are they actually doing what they say they can do for you?
4. If you choose a multi-agency model, be specific with the team.
Before bringing the agencies together, clearly outline who is responsible for what. Identify an agency head of the team. This may be a little uncomfortable, but being clear about where specific types assignments belong will limit the backstage politics of jockeying for assignments and poaching business from each other. It is in your best interest for these teams to work together, not against each other.
5. Certain agencies are built to do certain things, so think about specialty firms versus broad-spectrum firms. They both may have the answers, and they both may have a resourcing curve too.
Be acutely aware of what each agency/firm’s purpose and competency is. An ad agency or an interactive agency is simply not a content marketing firm. Practices may have been combined, or mergers may have expanded a practice, but essentially they are built to do different flavors of marketing. In some cases, it may be good to learn new territory together in awarding some extended work to a marketing services partner who gets you and will get it done. In other cases, you need to identify the sandbox someone can play in and add an agency that has expertise and define how they work together. It isn’t their job to get in the sandbox and fight it out—you have to set the tone.
D Custom began in 2001 as an extension of D Magazine Partners to fill a niche and help companies create highly effective, branded content for their customers. As our clients’ needs grew, so did we, expanding our services into developing and distributing branded content through different media channels. We helped drive a revolution in the merger of custom publishing and content marketing, before content marketing was ever the popular marketing buzzword.
Today, we drive award-winning content marketing initiatives for a growing list of local, regional, and global B2B and B2C customers like Omni Hotels, Texas Farm Bureau Insurance, Teradata, Nestle Purina PetCare Company, Insigniam, Lennox Industries, and HP. We serve as an extension of any marketing team, providing streamlined, white-glove service for all our clients through our care for details and passion for results.