Agency Edge study shows B2B brands are still ‘playing the field’ with their marketing partners

2019 Agency Edge research
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The majority of brands are still “playing the field” and farming out work to multiple agencies, particularly when they have bigger budgets, according to research from the Agency Management Institute and Audience Audit.

Known as the Agency Edge research series, the two firms gave a first look at the results of a study that’s been conducted since 2014 at last week’s Content Marketing World in Cleveland. While the majority of responses came from marketers in the U.S., this year marked the first time the study offers perspective on agency trends across Canada, the U.K. and other marketers. Approximately 69 per cent of the responses cam from B2B firms.

As Audience Audit’s Susan Baier noted in the CMWorld 2019 session, things haven’t changed much since the initial 2014 version of the report, which lumps brands into categories like “Looking for Love” (actively thinking of changing its agency), “Playing the Field” and “Single And Satisfied,” or firms that work closely with one agency.

While 38 per cent were “Playing the Field” in 2014, for example, that number is still high this year at 45 per cent, she said. Back then, however, it wasn’t uncommon for brands to change agencies “even if they were doing a good job,” she said, whereas now the research responses expresses a sentiment that marketing takes a lot of technical expertise.

“There is a heightened recognition that this ain’t easy,” she said.  Believe smaller agencies are focused on clients needs. That said, “They believe outside marketing help costs more than it should. They’re not only working with a lot of agencies but they see the value as markedly lower in terms of cost and benefit.”

Agency Management Institute owner Drew McLellan said the “Playing the Field” group are also showing a tendency to only engage with an agency when they have a specific activity in mind, versus bringing them in to develop a holistic marketing strategy.

“It is a much more focused thing,” he said. “They have ready decided when they go looking for an agency what they want that agency to do.”

Back in 2014, things were a bit different, where 29 per cent of those in the “Looking for Love” category indicated they were thinking of their agency as a true partner, where they would have an opinion about the business instead of simply running a campaign or creating a piece of content. In 2019, the proportion of brands in the “Looking for Love” category has fallen to 25 per cent.

Want to have one agency that has an opinion about the business.

On the bright side, the two executives said the demand for creativity, particularly for the development of B2B assets like white papers, case studies and so on, remains high. Seventy-eight per cent of those in “Playing the Field” said they outsource content development to their agencies. Overall, 85 percent of those surveyed outsource 25 per cent or more of their marketing. This does not relate to how big their team is — even those with a marketing budget of under $250K outsource 53 per cent of their marketing work, based on the research results.

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Shane Schick
Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.