By Carrie Golvash, Senior Continuous Improvement Consultant, SGK
Organizations both large and small are continuously challenged to make the most of their marketing dollars – do more with less and faster than before. Today’s marketers are tasked with generating demand for their brands, products and services and their marketing budgets are being scrutinized and squeezed like never before. Agency spend always ranks high within these tight budgets. Improving the agency selection process, which is usually missing or outdated, can yield great returns for organizations.
Too often, organizations will centralize work with one agency or use a partner based on historical precedence instead of their ability to best meet the strategic objectives. This may not be a conscious decision, since organizations often struggle to identify the level of strategic thinking needed to meet their creative objectives. Matching the right agency with the right creative job is a tougher task than most imagine. And the wrong choice leads to rework, spending inefficiencies and poor resource utilization.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Common pitfalls can be avoided by adding strategy, structure and rigor to the agency selection process. But first, you need to identify the current state of your agency selection process: are you giving all of your work to one agency, regardless of job type? Selecting an agency based on an emotional relationship or historical precedent? Are you dependent on your agency for brand knowledge? Is speed the biggest driver of selection? Identifying your situation can help you correct the course, and it’s worth the effort. Marrying the right agency to the right creative assignment prompts smarter budget decisions and leads to best in-class market executions.
AGENCY SELECTION PITFALLS
Organizations can fall into several traps that break or eschew a strong agency selection process. Sometimes there is a peanut butter approach, spreading all creative design assignments to one agency, from the most strategic brand campaigns to simple packaging edits. This approach is driven by a universal struggle for marketers to do more with less, often looking for efficiencies within their agency spend. However, while marketers may think that they are saving money by bundling all of their creative work to one agency, in reality very few agencies are suited to meet all of a client’s creative demands.
Organizations have diverse needs, however agency capabilities can be more singular. In a typical calendar year, marketing initiatives can include new product introductions, redesigns, packaging maintenance, package claims, marketing campaigns and promotional or limited-time-offer packaging. Larger initiatives are typically planned annually and have strong visibility throughout the organization; these can be appropriately sourced to your agency of record. Small, one-time, unplanned initiatives challenge this approach, since often this type of work may not be in the agency’s wheelhouse. For example, how often have you designated quick turnaround work to your strategic agency only to have the assignment languish from timing, cost and deliverable negotiations? Too often.
Another driver of this one size fits all approach is speed. You want a creative project done quickly, so you reach out to your trusted strategic agency. While they certainly have the requisite brand knowledge, quick, reactive projects may conflict with their established processes and conventions, making them unable to meet immediate deadlines and fulfill client objectives. Ultimately, you will end up paying additional fees for increased rounds of revisions on a low-level design initiative.
An analysis of hourly pricing for a low-level creative assignment compared two respected agencies, one strategic and the other more equipped for fast-turn work; the latter could save the client 37% of the total cost of project execution.
On the flip side, your single-sourced agencies might be better equipped for fast-turn production than solving for big branding issues. In this case, it’s large strategic initiatives that end up going through multiple rounds of revisions, either because the work lacks strong brand strategy or the creative is off brand strategy and does not deliver against the brand promise. After several rounds of revisions, you may then decide to do an agency search to find another partner with more strategic capabilities. Alternately, you could end up settling for subpar creative, leaving behind a huge opportunity for brand development and business improvement.
Other times, organizations select an agency the not because of budget or speed but rather a lack of brand knowledge and confidence. Within many organizations, it’s actually the agency that is the brand steward. They have more tribal brand knowledge than the marketing team, either due to length of brand service or the natural attrition and rotation of marketers. Most marketing cultures build an up-and-out mentality, so often the agencies end up on-boarding and training new marketers on brand equities and history. Their brand knowledge becomes invaluable, allowing them to ramp-up quickly to assignments. However, the tradeoff is increased creative fees for their strategic services.
Relationships and historical precedence can also influence suboptimal agency selection. Within most organizations, marketing is the owner of the brand equity, business results, and execution of marketing plans. If there are no tools in place like an agency roster or clear agency roles and responsibilities, work can quickly be awarded based on a marketer’s prior working relationships. This tends to foster a “wild, wild west” mentality to agency management. The number of agencies can quickly multiply, creating little rhyme or reason to agency pricing or project fees.
All of these traps involve insufficient rigor and structure. To correct the course, the most effective marketing organizations deploy these practices to add in process and visibility to agency selection.
5 SIMPLE TIPS FOR MATCHING CREATIVE WORK TO AGENCIES
1) Classify Creative by Levels of Required Strategic Thinking. Create classifications that link design assignments with the level of strategic thinking. Many organizations use a grading scale (A, B, or C) for the level of design work. The highest grade requires highest level of strategic thinking. An example would be new-to-the-world product innovations. Typically, there is a high level of organizational investment and financial investment in this type of project. Classifying this assignment as an “A” project ensures that the organization is investing the right level of dollars to guarante that consumers understand the product benefits and that the design fits into the overall brand architecture.
For the most part, it is easy to discern the most strategic “A” projects. Where this matrix comes in handy is when you begin to designate your design assignment as B or C projects. Pushing design work down the matrix can help expedite and save money on design adaptations or line extensions. Using this kind of framework for creative assignment has demonstrated up to 37% savings* within marketing budgets from improved grading of design initiatives.
2) Identify Agency Core Capabilities. After determining the level of strategy needed, it is very important to understand your agencies’ capabilities. This goes beyond just working with your account manager, you should know or at least meet or understand who is the creative team. This means asking how the agency has grown or expanded their capabilities over the years? What are their roots? For example, did they start as an industrial design agency and are now expanding into graphic design? This investigation helps reveal their core expertise.
Beyond agency history, know the creative team who will be working on your account, including their background and other accounts they support. Evaluate the agency’s body of work, understanding key contributions they make to the creative assignment. For example, did they simply take the advertising concept and adapt it to the package or FSI execution, or did they generate the strategy and creative idea?
After you feel confidently informed about the agency’s history and core competencies, then build and create the organization’s agency roster. Make it clear to the organization who should be engaged for different creative assignments.
3) Categorize Brands by Size and Scale. The size and scale of the brand can determine the level of creative and strategic support. How does that translate to creative assignments? Start to think about what common traits or characteristics these brands share. Can you begin to bundle brands that share similar insights or the same consumer landscape or the same shelf? Then assess the level of financial support the organization can offer – are these brands growing or are they struggling and need to refresh the brand’s identity? Does the brand warrant heavy or light design investment and would the brand benefit and respond? These are very hard strategic decisions.
After you have created a clear picture on how this brand ranks within the organization, you can then organize the brands and bundle them by common characteristics. This allows for natural design and process synergies, the ability to partner with right agency and actualize cost savings when developing creative statement of works.
4) Create Swim Lanes for Creative Agencies. Provide your agencies with guidelines that distinguish job sharing and responsibilities across marketing initiatives. Blurred lines between agencies will end up causing reworks and delay, increasing costs.
A swim lane diagram will document clear ownership and responsibilities for each agency across a project. This is especially critical within “big idea” sessions. For example, if a digital agency proposes leveraging augmented reality to support a marketing campaign, then the package design agency should choose how to execute this on the package. Of course, the digital agency may need to be consulted for idea intent, but be extremely strict. Defined boundaries will limit rework and excess agency fees.
5) Develop Adaptive Workflows & Brand Guidelines. Agencies often need to communicate with each other, and you can help facilitate seamless execution.
To do this, document the design workflow and designate when creative hand-offs should happen between agencies. This type of workflow is often referred to as production decoupling.
For help with brand guidelines, ask your lead strategic agency to develop this to ensure consistency with other agencies. Within these guidelines, executional mandates should be clearly stated and outlined, including logo treatment across marketing platforms and approved color palettes, type fonts and photography styles. This tool will help marketing teams evaluate incoming creative, but more importantly will drive brand consistency and communication across multiple agencies.
The successful implementation of the tools outlined above will help your organization match the right agency to the right creative assignment. This deeper understanding around agency selection prompts smarter decisions which leads to less rework, increased efficiencies in spending and better utilization of internal and external creative resources.
For more information on agency selection and agency resourcing models, please contact the SGK Continuous Improvement team to learn about how to use these tools and this framework within your organization. http://www.sgkinc.com/about-us/contact-us
About the Author
Carrie Golvash brings 20+ years of CPG expertise in agency management, brand design and launching new products into the marketplace. As a member of the SGK Continuous Improvement Practice (CIP), Carrie has strategically led initiatives with CPGs to increase their speed-to-market, reduce costs in the marketing supply chain and better utilize their internal and external resources. Prior to SGK, Carrie headed up the brand design and packaging department for Heinz North America.
* Estimate based on CI Initiative at $12B Global CPG Company that focused on implementing a more adaptive agency strategy rather than strategic agency strategy.
 Analysis between two agencies from a prior life showed agency one’s pricing was $175/per hour. Design Adaptive agency was $110/per hour. Based on estimates between the two agencies, client would save 37% on the project if awarded to adaptive agency.