Tales from the French Quarter

Who dat? Hello from New Orleans where I just sat in on an interesting session at &Then, the DMA annual conference.  The panel, featuring five senior female executives, represented some heavy-hitter brands - AmEx, Microsoft, Comcast, Chase and Nutrisystem. The topic was a timely one. With data and technology changing how large enterprises do business, how do clients best navigate the landscape of whether to hire a consulting company, an agency or bring the services in-house? 


You can imagine why this topic would be of particular interest to me. The landscape of traditional agency relationships is changing. At Hacker, our data driven heritage is what drives us – but from the outside looking in – may not differentiate us as much as it used to.


What did I learn? In general, the panelists were pretty much in agreement.  Consulting groups hired for the ability to solve business issues while agencies are deployed more creatively to come up with the “big ideas”.  With that said, the lines are blurring.  Consulting companies are offering creative and agencies are offering consulting services. 


Bottom-line according to the panelists, hire the best company to solve your own unique challenge. But, given that there can be multiple companies supporting the end client, collaboration among agencies and consulting groups is key to a successful partnership.   


The reasons for bringing services and capabilities in-house tended to more varied.  Not surprisingly, agility and speed were the primary drivers, as agencies can take too long to complete what are considered simple requests.  Secondly, in situations where quality control is part of a sensitive equation. For example, when services like data management are core to their business, companies may choose to own the practice to minimize inclusion of external factors.  Interestingly, cost savings was not mentioned as a reason and I’m not sure what to make of that.


The truth is, competition makes us better. This new kind of pressure on agencies is a natural evolution and culmination of a variety of factors. At the same time, as the landscape has changed, our clients’ marketing plans are fluid right up until the last minute. Our new “normal” is expecting last-minute project requests flowing into the agency. Winning on these terms, and being successful with this relative lack of planning requires mastery of a different approach.


Now, we begin with the premise that projects are unpredictable, uncertain and change is inevitable. In fact, you need to welcome the change – and be prepared for it. Quickly. Because we have found that sometimes, speed can enable strategy in this brave new world.