They spend a whole bunch of time converting their creative prowess into ROI for clients, but how on earth do agencies go about marketing themselves and does it even matter?
The media industry in Australia is a tight-knit one and Nicole McInnes, marketing director at Adshel believes traditional integrated marketing doesn’t deliver great ROI. Instead, she says: “Agencies utilise reputation to do the job of marketing and the currency of reputation in this instance is relationships and awards.”
“Some might ask why advertising agencies can create amazing ads for their clients but not for themselves. But it’s their ads for others that act as their marketing so there really is no need there,” adds McInnes.
Toby Hemming, director at Bold Media disagrees. He says: “It’s very important for agencies to market themselves. They are very good at telling their clients they should be investing in marketing, but they’re very bad at doing it themselves.”
Hemming argues that there is an over reliance on awards to market a particular agency and believes it isn’t a fair reflection of how that agency is performing industry wide.
“The old thinking is this ‘we win a load of awards and chuck them in the reception and people are going to know we’re great’. Awards are only as good as the people who enter them and often, you see the same people popping up over again,” says Hemming.
“Most people know that if you can be arsed to put in a submission, you’ve got a chance of winning it – but if you haven’t got the time and resources, then you don’t,” he adds.
Tom Spicer is the executive creative director at creative agency Arnold Furnace and believes that agencies are “notoriously poor at marketing themselves” but insists it “isn’t rocket science”. He says: “Of course it’s about producing great work, but that doesn’t just mean winning awards. It means work that gets talked about in channels beyond advertising and the narrow borders of industry magazines. Work that gets the attention of your mates, your Facebook feed and the wider news media.” Spicer believes work that draws attention through such channels will be a more effective business tool than winning an award.
Jon Holloway is the managing director at creative agency The Conscience Organisation and appreciates both sides of the agency marketing debate. He says: “Australia’s industry is built on a foundation of networking and close connections but traditional marketing practices such as awards and events also help – but they only get an agency so far. What agencies think, say and do is truly important but it doesn’t necessarily produce ROI.”
Founder of industry service start up MediaScope, Denise Shrivell says there’s substantial ongoing debate about there being too many awards. She says: “It’s a pay to play arrangement. It’s not necessarily an award for the best, but an award for a small group who have the resources and time to enter.”
“I see a lot of [agencies] try to market themselves through the numerous awards that are available in the market,” says Shrivell.
“Some agencies have their own blogs, websites, and Twitter accounts which are used as part of a marketing strategy – some put more effort in than others – but then you have the quiet achievers who just get on with it,” explains Shrivell.
Droga5’s creative director David Nobay believes “if an agency spends too much time talking about itself the obvious danger is that clients will think they’re too busy using their energy to talk about themselves than about the them.” Nobay admits however that the best agencies are brands, “they know they’re brands.”
McInnes says: “Where [agencies] do really well though, is when they turn their talents inward and create fun content that really captures the heart of who they are.”
But this doesn’t wash with Hemming who foresees a break down in the current agency culture and this means self-promotion. He says: “A lot of it’s got to do with the ‘Old Boy network’ – at the top are a bunch of middle-aged white men who all know each other and go out on the piss with each other, and they’ve probably all worked together at one time or another. The older agencies just believe they have to keep up their contact book and they’ll get the work.”
“That will change massively now we’ve got digital PR and digital marketing – there are small, new companies opening up that can cover everything, while the older ones can’t. Then [the older ones] are surprised when they don’t get the pitches,” Hemming adds.
McInnes likens the development of the digital landscape as a platform for agencies to market themselves as “a reputation economy”.
“Technology is making the world like a community again,” says McInnes.
“We’re a a really small market in Australia – less than six degrees separated from each other,” explains Shrivell. “I might be a little naive about this, but I believe getting the job done is the best marketing an agency can do.” She adds that some agencies sponsor events or have guest speakers, which are also means of marketing.
Holloway believes having constructive conversations with the right people at the right time is integral to building business. He says: “Being prepared to nurture new and existing relationships is necessary to growing a portfolio. Personal experience is that having an opinion – a different view of things – and being able to speak to it as opportunities arise gets one agency through the door.”
“These kinds of activities alone only appeal to certain types of clients who are willing to take a risk. Most clients want to work with people they trust or their industry friends trust. That’s especially the case for digital agencies where its increasingly difficult for awards to meaningfully demonstrate ability, reliability and breadth of services that a client may be interested in,” explains Dave Bentley, the Australian managing director of Lowe Profero.
“It goes without saying that a strong well established reputation in market combined with award winning work is a killer combination,” adds Bentley.
But despite the existence of real-life or virtual communities, Hemming is concerned that the phenomenon of dissipating client loyalty to brands is also occurring at the agency level. He says: “To a degree, clients aren’t as loyal to agencies as they once were; they are inclined to sniff around.”
So how do agencies prevent that from happening?
“I’m increasingly seeing marketing managers pop up into the scene,” says Shrivell. “I believe a lot of the relationships within our industry are still very important – so personal networks becomes important in building and maintaining business.”
Hemming argues that it would be so valuable for agencies to employ a marketing manager. He says: “The market is changing – it’s a no-brainer. Communicators are really bad at communicating. When you look at an agency’s social media, their PR, their marketing – not many people doing it well and it wouldn’t take much to change that.”
Just as agencies want their clients to be firm about what they stand for, perhaps agencies too, could benefit from identifying what differentiates them from other agencies this small, yet competitive industry.
“As a client, it would be nice to know what the differentiating factors are between agencies,” says Hemming.
Droga5’s Nobay believes this is the oldest debate on earth. He says: “There isn’t a simple answer and it depends on the client. I have clients who embrace Cannes and they go there and want nothing more than to see their own brand celebrated. Then I have other clients who don’t.”