Susan Baier and Sharon Toerek partner up for advertising industry events, co-sponsorships, and other endeavors. Baier is the head honcho at Audience Audit, a marketing research firm serving small to mid-size agencies. And Toerek is the big cheese at Legal + Creative, a law firm helping agencies with trademarks, copyright, regulations, and so on.
The former helps agencies protect their reputations as thought leaders by supplying in-depth market intelligence. The latter helps agencies protect themselves and their intellectual property through legal counsel. They each have unique service offerings, yet they have a lot in common, too.
They both agree that this is an age of co-opetition in the marketing-agency business. Less fear of client thievery. More willingness to test the partnership waters… albeit with caution, yes.
Each of them can cite statistics and trends regarding this new-found “frenemy factor”.
They note that agencies are more specialized today, serving specific industry niches. There’s less overlap. More focused thought leadership. These marketing firms need to form partnerships to land certain types of businesses. In addition, clients are hiring agencies that way. Clients want a true specialist for branding. And a different one for media. And another for web development. Etc.
And so those clients have delivered a new edict: Play nicely in the sandbox together. Work in sync (versus in secret) to better serve your one boss, a shared client.
Plus, agencies are running leaner today. They’re pandemic-weary and recession-ready.
Fewer employees translate to less overall bandwidth. Teaming up with partners and outsources helps navigate the busy times without being overstaffed for the slow times. It’s “AGI-wise,”… keeping adjusted gross income in check.
This is a reversal of perception, for sure: Partnering can now protect the agency.
Take the example of the “strategy” agency being asked to make a “web-development” pitch for a new chunk of business. Would you want to make that pitch with a development resource the client sticks you with, or would you like to go in there proactively with your very own trusted outsource web-dev partner and get that business together?
There’s only so much pie to share, might as well share it as one unified source.
Now, look at that example from another angle. There’s another protection built in. The strategic agency has paired up with a productized commodity provider… the development outsource. That outsource is focused on production, not strategy. It doesn’t have the inclination nor the skills to go pitch strategy like a thought-leadership agency can.
The white label instead is geared up to offer programming and maintenance and design and tech advice and SME. Whereas the agency is geared up to provide big ideas and creative thinking but also account management and care-and-feeding of clients. Agencies are good at account service. There’s a lot of money in it. In contrast, the outsource is good for hands-on technical work.
Less to be fearful of competition-wise.
Also, partners that only work with agencies understand deadlines. Understand the need for paperwork and scope adherence and SOPs.
They can talk the talk and interface with clients but not go after them. They will understand confidentiality and be mindful of NDAs… they’ll know all about essential contracts and questionnaires… and they’ll appreciate fixed pricing, not change orders.
Look for these types of agency exclusives. True, trusted partners that protect each other and make each other stronger.
Make a frenemy. It makes sense. It’s economic.
I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict adherence to the view that, for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well.
—Alan Greenspan, former Chair of the U.S. Fed