Dear Agencies: Stop Being Interesting. Be Critical.

Kate RichlingThis is a guest post from Kate Richling. Kate is the head of marketing for Birdsnest, a strategic marketing and business attribution tool for agencies. With Birdsnest, your Client Services team can bank, manage and track client activity and opportunities – turning every relationship into a strategic one. You can contact Kate on Linkedin or at

Research has shown much of the C-suite believes marketers and their agency partners live in a creative and social media bubble according to the Fournaise Group. In an effort to provide instantaneous results, they’re too focused on parameters like impressions, shares and downloads, the kind of data deemed “interesting, not critical” to the C-suite. It’s a major challenge when you consider the shifting responsibility of CMOs to deliver on business-quantifiable outcomes.

Expectations for today’s CMO and required capability sets are shifting, upping the ante on demonstrating ROI and impacting business outcomes organization-wide. While consultancies continue to swallow up creative agencies, and other agencies founded and built on digital respond with consultancy-like services, often under the moniker Business Transformation, the race is on for client dollars. And who can blame any of us for trying – considering advertisers spent over $600 billion last year according to eMarketer.

Agencies Must Broaden Their Scope

In a quick, and often hasty, attempt to answer the demand for measurable ROI, many marketers and their agency partners are left relying on the short-term KPIs they’re already measuring to try and demonstrate business outcomes. But much of the time, this “in the weeds”-type data isn’t critical to a CEO’s definition of success. And as an agency partner, it’s impossible to work your way up the ladder with clients if you’re not demonstrating value across the C-suite.

Unfortunately for agencies, this is where consultancy players shine with extensive experience working with data at all levels, and findings backed by years of research. However, that’s not to say agencies don’t offer plenty of advantages themselves – including a deep understanding of consumer behavior and pop culture, helping clients reimagine their business and customer experience from beginning to end.

But in an attempt to deliver instantaneous results, agencies are often left scrambling to compete and end up looking like they’re just adding to the noise as opposed to adding real value. For agencies, this results in wasting time, resources and money with some common missteps, including:

  • Implementing more and more data tracking tools in an attempt to provide greater value, but ultimately failing to attribute execution efforts to business outcomes.
  • Building custom reports that tell the C-suite little to nothing about the agency’s impact on their business.
  • Hiring a strategist or building out a strategy team as a cure-all, but lacking the support and/or know how to implement strategy as a service agency-wide.

While all these efforts have a time and place, they often fail to resolve the real marketer’s dilemma. It’s easy to see how we got here considering more than 80% of advertisers currently use data to manage agency relationships according to a recent survey from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). No wonder everyone is left just trying to figure it out.

Shifting The Agency Perspective On Data

Data provides integrity behind decision-making, but it doesn’t guarantee desired outcomes. Without context, data is useless, misinformed and can even be dangerous in your pursuit to reach success. You’ll find plenty of marketing tools out there that demonstrate instantaneous results using data, but very few that ladder up to the type of outcomes crossing business units and delivering what’s expected of CMOs today. And today, it all matters. While many attribution platforms begin to connect the dots, they focus on efforts in silos. They house goals without connecting execution to overall business outcomes that matter to the C-suite and move the needle.

 As all marketing efforts are now business efforts, they too should impact a client’s bottom line and generate revenue through more customer demand. As such, agencies must partner with clients to deliver on success as the common deliverable – in lieu of a project. To earn a seat with the C-suite, build more strategic relationships for your agency, unlocking opportunity by consistently demonstrating business impact. That all starts with simply being more curious – identifying what success looks like for clients and identifying what business goals they’re looking to achieve across the entire organization. It’s business attribution – and for that, your agency will need to start thinking and talking like a business consultant.

No matter what player you are in the space, competing for ad dollars, your charge is shared based on the demands of today’s marketplace – provide clients with a holistic experience, backed by marketing and strategic oversight, and paired with measurable execution that moves the needle for your client’s business. What separates the players is where they come from and how it shapes their perspective when working with clients. Each is striving to carve out a unique space within the ecosystem before it’s too late.

So agencies, this is where you now start taking proactive steps to building a culture based on growth. Start thinking about the critical data you can offer clients within your current ecosystem of capabilities. With every client request, consider additional KPIs you could influence. Expand your metrics to assess short-, medium- and long-term goals. Finally, start leveraging strategic development to make your agency a critical partner – and achieve success for both your agency and clients.

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