Full service agency or marketing director: Who should be the conductor?
A view from Greg Delaney

Full service agency or marketing director: Who should be the conductor?

Who's better placed to orchestrate brilliance from the diverse specialists needed for a successful brand strategy? The CMO of the client, or a planner or strategist at a full service agency? Greg Delaney, consultant and former chairman of DLKW, sizes up the options.

Being a good chief marketing officer or marketing director used to be so much easier. In the old days, you just appointed a full service agency and more or less let them get on with it.

The trouble started when media agencies split away from agencies, swiftly followed by direct, sales promotion, and design and branding companies.

Later, lots of digital specialists and social agencies sprang up. Add PR, experiential, research, data and a host of other specialisms into the mix and you can start to see why a CMO’s life is now a lot more complicated than it was in Don Draper’s day.

Not only is there a huge choice of different specialists of every shape, size and beard length, but many agencies, have also adopted many other disciplines in addition to their original specialism, in order to maximize revenues in a convergent world.

There are PR agencies that will knock you up a nice bit of content, experiential agencies who will look after your advertising, and media agencies that will make you a TV programme. My newsagent at the end of my road is also thinking of rebranding himself as a content provider.

All this choice ought to make it easier to find the right people and put together the perfect team, but I think that for CMOs, deciding which blend of talents is right for their brand is actually getting harder.

After choosing from the plethora of specialist and semi generalists out there, there’s the challenge of getting them all to play together harmoniously – coordinating, motivating and conducting them for the good of the brand, not their company P&L.

It requires a CMO to be very good at managing a large and often quite disparate team – people who may well sometimes be competing with each other.

Managing a diverse bunch of talented people requires specialist knowledge and a pretty strong personality. Think Alex Ferguson, or Simon Rattle. Let’s face it, not all CMOs have that blend of charm and hair dryer. I can only think of a few I have worked with who could do this unaided.

The best CMOs, like the best conductors, respect all the different talents at their disposal and allow them the room to express themselves, within well-defined limits.

They stop all the internecine strife and are capable of making decisions based on intuition and gut feel as well as data and logic. In short, they can make the strings sit down with the wind section and the percussionists and make great music together

So is the back-to-the-future solution of a modern full service agency model best? The network agencies are offering this, saying that they can cover all the skills and channels in-house. Maybe not in the same house, or even in the same country, but the people you need are definitely to be found among their family of agencies.

They can even line them all up in the same room and make them act as if they know and like each other and won’t try to steal each other’s revenue as soon as the meeting is over.

The problem with this model is that it requires a person to lead it who is channel and discipline neutral. But is a media planner, a creative agency strategist, or a digital guru, always going to give you unbiased best advice? How do you know they aren’t like the Independent Financial Advisor’s who recommend the fund that pays them the best commission?

I still think the best model is one where the CMO leads by example – finding all the right specialists and making them all play together. But that probably requires occasionally wielding the axe, as well as the baton.