Big agency rosters are complicated by ‘egos and turf wars’ says CMO as panel debates the future of marketing

Brand owners were divided on the role of the agency at the All That Matters conference yesterday afternoon, with the CMO of a pharmaceuticals firm saying that he yearned for the days when he only had one agency to deal with, and that these days large agency rosters were complicated by “egos and turf wars” between specialists claiming they can do everything.

All That Matters marketing panel

L-r: Stephene Alpern of The Future’s Company, Sameer Desai of Mundipharma, Sheelpa Patel of Infiniti, Judah Ruiz of Unilever, Ogilvy’s Jerry Smith

Talking on a panel of marketing and agency bigwigs, Sameer Desai, regional head of consumer health for Mundipharma, and the newly elected Asia VP of the World Federation of Advertisers, said that in his view the best way of working is to appoint one agency to act as a consultant to manage the rest.

“I yearn for the days when we had one agency,” he said in response to a question from panel moderator Ed Pank, the Asia boss of Warc, on what he expects from agencies. “It used to be a very simple job. Nowadays you have 20 people in the room. I think you need one partner who can be a business consultant and who can organise all the agencies around you.”

Sameer Desai of Mundipharma

Desai: “Every agency wants to do what everyone else is doing”

“Marketers are spending so much time dealing with different agencies, and with egos and turf wars, because every agency wants to do what everyone else is doing now,” he said.

“How do you define the difference between a shopper, digital, content, creative or media agency now?” he said, adding that agencies increasingly overlap in what they offer their clients.

Desai said the ideal scenario, which is in place at Mundipharma, is to have one agency to talk to as a “trusted partner” who can coordinate the other relationships.

“We have one lead creative agency. We still work with other agencies but everything gets coordinated and presented to us together, and it works well.”

Sheelpa Patel, a senior marketer with Infiniti Motor Company, was in agreement that it should be the role of the lead agency to coordinate the others, and not the client’s responsibility, and said that her company is increasingly looking outside of the traditional agency model for new thinking.

“The one-stop agency is not the solution, but it should be on the lead agency to find the right combination of partners on behalf of the client,” she said.



Patel said Infiniti is working with an “amazing” augmented reality startup that she would like to see work on other areas of the company’s marketing, but current procurement processes stand in the way. Infiniti is working with this company through an accelerator programme.

However, Patel suggested that the role of the agency could be replaced by an accelerator. “It [the accelerator] is bringing to our attention great startups who we could then recommend to our lead agency as an outsourced supplier,” she said.

The ideal of clients working with a simpler agency roster also emerged during the last session of the day, which was on the role of the CMO.

Rahul Asthana, regional marketing director for Kimberly-Clark’s baby and child care business, said: “People talk about harking back to the days when you worked with one partner. But that’s not the reality,” he said.

“The reality is that clients have to get comfortable working with at least four agency partners, and the marketer needs to be comfortable with the role of integrator.”

“You’ll get some [agencies] wrong, but you’ll some of them really right, and you’ll stick with those for longer,” he said, adding that there was an increasing role for more agile tech-focused startups to bring a different sort of vision to the brand “that you never thought possible.”

The regional head of marketing for luxury jeweller Tiffany & Co, Erica Kerner, went one step further to suggest that consumers were replacing at least some of the duties of agencies.

“A lot of what we do is user generated content. So how do you let the consumer be the agency, and give away a little bit of the control as a marketer to let the customer create the content? The traditional agency model has to change as creativity can come from anywhere now,” she said.

Role of the CMO panel

WFA’s Ranji David, Rahul Asthana of Kimberly-Clark, Microsoft’s Jolaine Boyd, Erica Kerner of Tiffany and STB’s Lynette Pang

Representing the agency side of the business was Jerry Smith, COO of Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific. He cautioned clients against being seduced by technology and losing sight of the value of ideas.

“Some companies have lost their focus on the brand and are chasing after shiny new objects that are cool but don’t do anything for the consumer. But ideas do,” said Smith.

Hinting at a criticism often aimed at programmatic, Smith said that the quality of content is often getting forgotten in the scramble to use technology and data.

“Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you can create a valuable exchange with the consumer. I think that’s why the agency of the future needs the left and right brain coming together,” he said, adding that the role of the agency is increasingly as an orchestrator and consultant.

“I see an awful lot of left-brain stuff that is very clever in how it reaches the consumer, but what is served is an atrocious piece of content, and no value at all in taking it to the next step [in the consumer journey]. You need to think about the next step that leads to a sale, a relationship or advocacy,” he said.

Smith was also voluble in his criticism of another hot-button issue, digital metrics, calling on the industry to come up with a new way to measure marketing performance.

“It’s a real challenge for the industry. We have seen what happened over the last decade with vanity metrics – people chasing ‘likes’ that are pretty meaningless. You’re chasing 12m ‘likes’ – why?”

“The industry needs to give marketers a stable base of metrics, like it used to have. We’re seeing lots of different trials, but everything is still in beta [with metrics].”

“I would like to see the industry create a set of modern metrics that will be around for a while that aren’t about vanity and aren’t just about reach – they’re about brand and brand value.”

The lack of a reliable and consistent measurement system is, Smith suggested, “why we’re seeing the fragmentation of ideas – because people are trying anything. And that’s not good,” he said.


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