This the second in a two-part series of posts. This past Friday I discussed the five key characteristics (‘pillars’) I believe will mark successful, integrated marketing services agencies in the future, I also cited some current barriers to firms succeeding in this ‘next-generation’ context. Click here to view the first post, “Next Generation of Marketing Services Agencies 1 of 2: Pillars and Barriers.”
Today’s post will complete the picture by presenting snapshots of several, specific firms I’m watching and that I believe are representative, forward-thinking leaders in the emerging, next-generation marketing services agency world.
Are there any firms out there, today, that exemplify the vision of a next-generation marketing services agency?
The truth is that no single agency, today, is at the stage of sophistication previously described (i.e., no firms are embracing all five pillars) … yet. But there are quite a few that are moving in the right direction and that have embraced different combinations of these pillars. Not surprisingly many are smaller, more-nimble (or at least holding-company-independent) firms that do not have scale investments in the old-school models and that are experimenting with new approaches; thus, it is easier for them to break the mold.
Who are these firms, and what are they doing differently?
Below are some of the firms (presented in alphabetical order) I’m watching and that I believe are forward-thinking leaders in the next-generation marketing services agency world:
> BluePoint Venture Marketing (Lexington, MA – Boston/128 Area): I like these guys for three reasons. One, they are dedicated to integrated marketing communications and to blurring the lines between mediums while maintaining a ‘holistic’ brand focus. Two, they are smaller, nimble and have an entrepreneurial sense that helps them to deliver adaptive client programs and enables them to experiment with new technologies and mediums. Three, they have a strong sense of the new level of integration and accountability required to better service next-generation, high-growth clients, especially the measurement imperative in such a context.
Agency co-leader Tim Hurley explained in a recent post on his company’s blog, “Since we often are serving as our client’s marketing and/or PR team, we’ve eliminated the ‘us vs. them’ and often have to view the execution and the measurement from both sides.” Hurley further noted on the roots of his firm, “Nearly five years ago, BluePoint was founded as a marketing services firm (decidedly not as a PR firm – Lord knows there are enough out there to defend a good sized country). We were started on the premise that young technology companies required smart, grounded, proven- and above all, measurable – strategies for establishing marketing infrastructure that would continuously support clients’ sales efforts.”
I think principals Tim Hurley and Alison Moore are on on the right track with their business model.
> CXO Communication (Palo Alto, CA – Silicon Valley Area): With the disclaimer I used to work for Andy Cunningham‘s former PR agency, Citigate Cunningham, let me explain that Andy’s vision about the changing nature of marketing communication and her previous firm’s insights into concepts such as Brand Momentum have had a significant and lasting impact on how I see the world. In fact, I think she and her cadre have been some of the most consistent forward-thinkers about the changing role of marketing services agencies over time. And she has clearly integrated these perspectives into her new strategic communications consultancy, CXO Communication.
What is most compelling is the firm’s focus on driving strategic and holistic brand communication, together with its sense of place in the continuum of planning and executing integrated marketing communication programs. The firm’s website explains:
Brand strategy defines your position and story, and brand communication makes sure your story reaches and influences the right people. We are not a graphic design firm, nor are we an advertising or public relations agency. While these types of firms view brand strategy as simply a bridge to deliver their primary services, it is our core competency.
So we focus on identifying a winning brand position, and finding the right words to articulate it. Once the words are right, anything is possible. That’s when it’s time to develop collateral, initiate an advertising campaign or pitch the press. At this point, we will gladly provide execution counsel and assistance, or locate an agency for you in one or all of the specialties you’ll need to propagate your brand. We’ll run the search and partner with the selected agency to get the execution underway.
> Lindsay, Stone & Briggs (Madison, WI – Chicago/Midwest Area): Marsha Lindsay is secretly a marketing researcher in ‘agency clothing,’ and she brings holistic brand-community insight and cross-channel, online and offline execution to her clients’ programs. “We help marketers achieve their ambition to create a giant jolt in the marketplace,” notes her firm’s website. “We start by discovering fresh consumer insights that your competition doesn’t know. From them we craft communications that jumpstart conversations about your brand. Conversations on Facebook, in text messages, on the news, or across the kitchen table.”
Moreover, she constantly pushes the envelope when it comes to technology and innovation both within her agency and through her agency’s annual conference for marketers and brand managers, Brandworks University. Last year’s program, which I attended, featured speakers as diverse as the CMO of Harley-Davidson, the CEO of American Girl, Sway mobile marketing firm founder Jason Weaver and former Forrester analyst, now social-media entrepreneur, Brian Haven.
> Sapient Interactive (Cambridge, MA – Boston/128 Area): Sapient comes at the agency world from a different path. Back in the ‘vintage’ dot-com bubble days (ah, the grand old days of big budgets and no accountability … but I digress), Sapient was one of the few, truly-legitimate e-commerce consultancies with an established track record of helping companies build the online aspect of their businesses. They’ve transferred this knowledge of sophisticated Web sites and of the online business world to a sense of delivering connected and measurable Web marketing campaigns.
They are certainly much larger than some of the firms I’ve mentioned above (and they are publicly traded), but when I think of agency-side sophistication in the areas of measurement, closed-loop analytics, underlying technology platform and of technology-based cross-channel integration, I think of Sapient.
We’re the only interactive agency to take creativity, strategy, and technology out of silos, and develop a truly blended approach to creating emotionally resonant, online brand experiences. Our creative studios – spanning from New York to Los Angeles and London to Munich – are home to award-winning creative strategists, designers, writers and developers, singularly focused on initiating and perpetuating a mutually beneficial dialogue between a brand and a consumer.
Our technology lets us know if our words are being heard, and of paramount importance, inciting consumers to take action. It measures the results of these online “conversations” in real-time, providing us with actionable data that supports our agile marketing approach.
> Showcase Marketing (Greenville, SC – Carolinas/Mid-Atlantic Area): This last firm was suggested by a Twitter contact (@nullvariable), and I must say I’m very impressed with his recommendation and with how this firm presents itself. They seem to really have a sense that their agency is an extension of their client’s business — the type of integration I believe is critical in next-generation agencies; moreover, they have a sophisticated set of cross-channel and multi-media capabilities under one roof.
The company’s Web site explains the firm’s philosophy: “While other agencies focus solely on image, we provide so much more. Our extensive backgrounds in design, marketing strategy, project development, and business management qualify us to partner with you in developing a sound strategy for success. We assist you in bringing your vision alive.”
What’s next? What do you think?
As always, this dialogue is just beginning.
- Do you have any comments on the list of agencies above? Please share your direct experiences, if you can.
- What are agencies you have found that represent best practices for the future? Please help me expand this list, above, with more suggestions and referrals for our readers.