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In the latest issue of Marketing News, Josh Bernoff (VP, Forrester Research and coauthor of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies) asks the question—Is Your Agency Relationship Past Its Expiration Date? He says it's time for marketers to rethink your agency's role, and then rethink your own. Based on a new Forrester report titled "The Future of Agency Relationships", his premise is that in a stable media era, agencies can specialize. As a result, many marketers have a silo-driven approach to their agency relationships—an advertising or creative agency, an interactive agency, a direct marketing agency, a PR agency, etc. While this approach creates additional effort for brand continuity oversight and often some internal squabbling, it is the price you pay for getting the best experts in each discipline.

According to Forrester Research, that approach works fine for a world where channels are relatively stable, campaigns have a beginning and an end, and customers respond to messages pushed at them. But that stability no longer exists. The number of channels continues to explode - today its Twitter and phone apps, but what will you need tomorrow? As word of mouth becomes more important and push marketing less effective, marketers will need a consistent, long-term relationship with an agency model that is more adaptive and understands the need to think more broadly than the current specialization model provides.

The new Forrester study concludes that with the rise of social media and digital proliferation, we are entering an Adaptive Marketing era. In this era, mass media is no longer the foundation of marketing communication, and will force a change in the expectations of what marketing agencies can and should deliver. Marketers will need agency partners that are more agile, can build long-term relationships with active customers and communities, and can use data to drive real-time decisions. The key needs marketers will require from their agencies are ideas, interaction and intelligence.

Agencies must think about ideas that not only build the brand, but will work across every appropriate platform. Instead of creating an idea and leaving it to the silos to plan and implement, creativity has to be collaborative so that all possible communications get considered at once. And as customers change, marketers and their agency must change along with them.

Agencies must develop a framework for a new level of interaction with customers. Agencies have always been good at outbound messages, but have not played a similar role with inbound interactions. Smart agencies will need to adapt their approach in order to listen to online discussions, identify and connect marketers with their online social community, and build brand experiences that allow for interaction.

Finally, agencies must find ways to monitor and assimilate customer intelligence from multiple channels and be flexible enough to respond quickly to this information. Marketers and their agencies will need a more comprehensive view of quantitative and qualitative information and insights in order to react in real time and across channels to maximize efficiency. The resultant need for even more data than marketers currently have will require a shared role in evaluating and recommending strategies and tactics.

The Forrester report predicts that these changes will have consequences for both parties. Specialty agencies will need to rethink the depth and breadth of their service offering if they expect to meet this new level of need based on ideas, interaction and intelligence. As interactive channels multiply and interactivity and the intelligence it generates become more available, metrics like gross rating points and clicks may go away in favor of more esoteric measurements like energized customers and share of influence.

At the same time, marketers will need to reconsider their own role and a new level of marketing collaboration with their agencies and this will surely require a re-evaluation of the current compensation model. Forrester predicts that successful marketers will need to focus more on long term relationships and on speedy, adaptive actions that take advantage of the fluid nature of consumer attitudes and responses. And if agencies continue to only deliver silo-based expertise rather than ideas, interaction and intelligence, they will soon be replaced by a new agency form that meets this need.

What do you think? Are you satisfied with your current agency service offering, or does this new model sound more appealing to you?

—From the Sound Marketing blog of the Pugent Sound Chapter of the American Marketing Association