March 21, 2024

Going Beyond the Media Agency Brief

Gain a Competitive Edge in Pitching and Planning

By Tej Desai, Head of Advertising Agency Partnerships, Applecart

Tej Desai is the Head of Advertising Agency Partnerships at Applecart, where he brings Decision Maker Marketing programs to global media agencies. Tej previously held executive leadership positions at Interpublic Group, GroupM/WPP, and most recently, Dentsu.

As we enter a year of uncertainty, client services businesses – especially media agencies – will experience heightened pressure to differentiate themselves based on the ideas they bring to the C-suite, as well as to justify the budgets they request to support those initiatives. Media agencies play a significant role as the extension of many Fortune 1000s’ marketing and communications teams; however, they exist in a highly competitive industry. With year-end contract renewals and the constant flow of new business efforts, developing a unique approach to pitching opportunities as well as exceeding program expectations will become critical to defend the agency's rightful place as a strategic client partner.

Having spent twenty-plus years living and breathing brand marketing and agency life, I can attest to the power of a well-executed pitch and the client longevity that comes when you deliver valuable, results-driven work. My goal today is to shed some light on the ways agencies can consistently win business in the year ahead, and it starts by introducing a new channel to directly reach your clients’ critical business stakeholders. Decision Maker Marketing technology helps media agencies put their best content in front of key decision makers and those they trust, drawing a straight line between the dollars a client puts to work and the key business outcomes achieved for the CEO and CMO. 

Invest in Pitching – Before and After the Initial Client Meeting

Pitching will forever be the fine art of a truly successful agency. And while nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment when a client selects your visionary plan and team, effective pitching takes significant resources, and the inability to accurately project ROI for the hours committed to this critical cost center cannot remain the status quo for global agencies. 

Agencies need to leverage the same mentality they apply to their clients’ business problems to their own pitches: control the information environment around decision makers for the selection process - deploy content that establishes you as an industry leader and creates surround sound around your agency’s brand. Not only does this approach super-charge the agency’s marketing and communications strategy, but it also becomes the toolset for measuring ROI on the hours spent acquiring a new account while also improving visibility into the engagement of prospects and clients.

1. Surround the Brands You Pitch with Your Most Compelling Message

Many of the agencies I consult with have extensive thought leadership pieces on new marketing strategies that rarely reach the desks of the people who matter most in securing and/or renewing their business. To expand the reach of this content, agencies must implement a marketing and communications strategy that reaches critical decision makers well before any pitch meeting takes place. Decision Maker Marketing enables agencies to identify the decision makers and the influential team members partaking in the evaluation and selection process, and then reaches those exact people and those who they rely on for counsel (e.g. colleagues, friends, family members) with the high-quality content that sets them apart from the competition. This type of targeted, always-on communication ensures your brand messaging reaches the people impacting the agency’s future, even before the pitch takes place, driving your agency to the top of their mind.  I joined Applecart earlier this year because of the efficiency, reach and precision of its Decision Maker Marketing platform. This solution reaches key stakeholders and the people who influence them most (e.g. colleagues, family, and friends) with a company’s highest-value content across the channels where they consume information. This ability to precisely control the information environment around decision makers turns the entire adtech/martech game on its head because now agencies can reach the critical decision makers who determine outcomes without the waste of reaching those who can’t make a call.

2. Build Credibility in New Markets

Many agencies want to fill category gaps in their portfolio, but new market entry is ripe with competition. Use the same targeting approach made possible through Decision Maker Marketing to surround CMOs, CCOs and key decision makers in the segments you plan to enter. Most agencies use targeting technology that casts a wide net, capturing the attention of as many people as possible. This is effective for B2C objectives, but rarely reaches the ten to twenty people with budgets and decision making power to hire an agency.

3. Invest in Timeline Reduction and Curate the Right Team

Too often agencies undermine themselves by responding myopically to the brief, rather than working back from the source. Ask yourself: what are the business outcomes the CEO is trying to achieve and how can I build a marketing strategy that will deliver on those in a measurable way? Decision Maker Marketing gives you the tool kit to demonstrate a strategy for getting brand messages in front of the precise people the CEO cares about while also measuring the engagement of that audience. By digging deep into the business, you demonstrate the firm’s ability to embed itself in the company’s business goals, as opposed to being a vendor or partner that was given a brief to deliver. When I was leading a financial services pitch at a global agency, we gave everyone on the pitch team a small sum of money to open an account on the company’s trading platform and immerse themselves in the experience, the brand, and the overall platform. We then took “field trips” to several branches of the company’s retail bank locations to understand customer needs and services provided. Digging deeper into the various customer-facing facets of the business enabled us to come up with a smarter marketing strategy for the pitch that increased the likelihood of securing that business.

Implement New Approaches to Tackle Your Client’s Most Ambitious Media Goals

Obviously, job number one is to win the pitch; however, with budgets tightening globally, proving the value of your agency should be a continuous effort that doesn’t end after the deal closes and waits until renewal time to resume. The key in 2024 will be to prove results that no other team can deliver.

1. Become the Catalyst for Better Integration between Owned, Earned and Paid Media

There is a continuous dialog around integrating marketing and communications, yet we hardly see people doing it or doing it well. So much of the value for agency work is delivered through collaboration between these teams. A mentor of mine loves to say that working in an agency is the best team sport. I find this so true and it's really a testament to how a team that gels together, supports each other and shares ideas can win. It's especially true when thinking about thought leadership and innovation, particularly these days where martech can provide exciting new approaches in tackling a client's business problems. Agencies have the opportunity to become the bridging function between the owned, earned, and paid media for an organization. There’s overwhelming evidence that in many cases the best creative is credible, third-party content, such as earned media. For that reason, a communications team should be a paid media expert’s best friend. Partner with the communications teams to learn what announcements, earned placements, thought leadership and more are upcoming and leverage owned and earned content to create paid programs that promote these high-quality pieces while also facilitating a cohesive and consistent stream of always-on messaging.

2. Create Innovative New Channels for Your Media through Decision Maker Networks

The channels we use to garner the attention of our audiences have traditionally been the platforms that cast the widest net. Yet, when building media plans that are responsive to a CEO’s top business priorities, the strategy must shift to reaching those select people with decision making power. Through Decision Maker Marketing, we have invented a new media channel. Rather than a net to catch as many audience members as possible, Decision Maker Marketing pipes an agency’s content directly to decision makers and those they trust. Just like retail media networks focus on the particulars of e-commerce, Decision Maker Marketing is a channel that focuses on reaching the most influential key decision makers to a business. 

3. Deliver Insights Around Your Media’s Impact on Business Decision Makers

It is more impactful to show how the people with buying power sufficient to move the stock price are consuming a brand’s information versus the masses who rarely impact key business outcomes. Deliver insights that not only show the number of clicks, but who clicked, shared and liked an ad and how those people impact business outcomes. Something really unique about Applecart’s Decision Maker Marketing platform is its ability to measure campaign performance by comparing it against similar types of organizations’ campaigns designed to reach the same type of decision makers, rather than broad platform metrics. This type of benchmarking not only helps differentiate and prove your value as an agency, but also helps the client understand how they compare to competitors’ efforts to reach these high value stakeholders.

My goal for the coming year is to ensure that every agency leader has the opportunity to bring a differentiated voice to the table, showcasing their unique ability to support a brand’s ambitious media efforts. Winning new business and proving value to clients is no easy task, but Decision Maker Marketing can help provide agencies with the necessary strategic edge.

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