Multiple Agencies vs. Consolidation – What’s Next?

There’s a buzz in the market – from time to time – that clients are consolidating their digital mandates. Is that even possible, given the range of services and specialties that exist within digital? After all, digital is a term for brand presence, messaging, interaction, or commerce through any connected touchpoint.

As one former marketer says without wishing to be named, asking an agency to handle all digital is like asking an agency to handle all non-digital marketing and communications. We all know the answer to the latter. But there could be a “main” branding agency, say some practitioners.

MediaNews4u.com asked a handful of clients and agencies: Have marketers globally consolidated their digital mandates – from the 8-10 digital agencies they previously worked with? Is consolidation in space feasible? And what is the ideal situation in terms of the number of partner agencies?

Aniruddha Haldar from TVS Motors, Aparna Tadikonda from Interactive Avenues, Arjun Bhatia from Matrimony.com, Hareesh Tibrewala from Mirum, Karthi Marshan from Kotak, Kartik Sharma from OMG, Pratik Do from Performics IndiaNgaonkar and Sabyasachi Mitter of Fulcro weighed.

While several agencies we spoke with indicated a consolidation trend, clients pointed to the challenges of achieving it.

The many digital buckets

Arjun Bhatia, Marketing Director at Matrimony.comgoes against the idea that brands have always worked with “8 to 10” digital agencies.

“I don’t think companies were using eight to ten digital agencies at any given time. It would really dilute the communication and have too much overlap. Of course, digital has too many great specializations and it becomes difficult to work with just one or two because not everyone can be an expert in all areas of digital,” he adds.

Aniruddha Haldar, Senior Vice President – Marketing, TVS Motor Companybreaks down the broad mandate of digital marketing into three parts.

“We find that our relationships come in three forms,” he explains. The first is what it calls “super specialist” partners who offer industry-leading capabilities in a specific area (like ML, AI Voice, etc.). The second, he calls “anchor” partners who are co-owners of brand performance and the work of diverse but well-understood aspects of digital marketing. “Finally, the capacity or innovation partners with whom we are renewing a lot of exploratory and experimental work in specific digital skills,” he adds.

Within each space, it is now necessary to work with several agencies. Is there a consolidation trend?

Karthi Marshan, President and Chief Marketing Officer, Kotakjokes, “I think buying becomes monogamous, especially on the performance side. But brand work still feels like a messy soap opera. Everyone’s in bed with everyone else because no one knows who knows the right moves.

On the question of whether consolidation is feasible and necessary, he advises otherwise: “It’s not advisable, because we’re still in high school. It’s best to go on several dates, and learn from our varied experiences, before committing.

Four or five years ago, brands were looking to hire specialized digital agencies for each of their digital needs while building internal teams to coordinate those agencies, recalls Sabyasachi Mitter, Founder and Managing Director, Fulcro. However, this posed its own challenges, with individual businesses siloed in their own echo chamber, and overall digital strategy and brand impact diluted, he adds.

“The flavor of the current season is that brands are consolidating with a few select agencies with more strategic KPIs that are better aligned with brand marketing ambitions,” note Mitter.

Consolidation: intention or trend?

The choices are many, but customers would do well to think about the chaotic consumer journeys of the present, notes Kartik Sharma, Group CEO, Omnicom Media Group India.

“While some marketers believe that having multiple agencies translates to higher creative output, it would also be important to note that while this may seem true to some degree, it also involves having multiple agencies. hands working on your brand without having a unified macro vision of the business and its goals and which is not beneficial for the brand”, he adds.

Hareesh Tibrewala, Co-CEO, Mirum Indiaagrees that brands are now consolidating their digital mandates, primarily with one partner.

He adds, “Consolidation is entirely possible, especially when working with a network agency. Master agencies can leverage the capabilities of other parts of the network and create a unified team that can handle the entire digital mandate for the client. »

Sharma says forward-looking global companies are leading the way in consolidating digital needs. “We surely see many more brands today taking an integrated and unified view of their business goals and I expect this trend to proliferate further,” he notes.

He cites two reasons for consolidating services: “To build and grow a brand as a whole, it’s essential to have a holistic understanding of the big picture of the brand and customer needs – it goes beyond just digital, and that’s where registered partners/agencies come into play – helping to effectively manage time, effort and resources.

Multiple agencies on board can also pose reporting and ROI issues, he points out.

While conceding that specialists like technology and specialist agencies bring their own unique set of USPs, even then, the OMG India official urges brands not to lose sight of the bigger picture to create a seamless synergy.

While consolidation is the intention, the association of multiple agencies is the reality of the present, says Aparna Tadikonda – EVP (South), Interactive Avenues.

“Although the intention of the marketers is to consolidate and they try to go in that direction, the fact is that it is still a multi-agency association because of the capacity and agency expertise, particularly around branding and performance. That said, many agencies are investing in demonstrating bundled expertise, although it will take some time to build that trust with clients,” she explains.

Consolidation works really well for brands from a consumer journey perspective as well as efficiencies, Tadikonda points out. “However, this needs to be done correctly and therefore new models of engagement need to be built,” She adds.

Pratik Dongaonkar, AVP, Performics India, notes that marketers previously worked with multiple partners based on specialized skill sets such as SEM, SEO, and Social, but were often unaware of the overlapping skill sets within their partner ecosystem.

He explains, “This led to inefficiencies, duplication of skill sets and waste. However, the scenario has changed a lot over the past few years with marketers playing an extended role within the organization. »

With marketers responsible for greater business efficiency and consistency, agencies bring integrated capabilities to the table, he says.

Dongaonkar adds that brands are increasingly trying to move towards partners who can take ownership of global business KPIs and seek a partner they can work with across all digital channels.

And after?

Asked about the specialized needs of a consumer-facing brand in digital and how many agencies are needed to meet them today, Kotak’s Marshan says, “Advertising, content, thought leadership, performance, email, design points of contact… How many agencies? Too many.”

Indeed, we admit the need for consolidation, but we recognize that the ecosystem may not yet be ready for it.

Tadikonda reflects, “It’s not about the number of branches but about the different stages of the user journey and therefore seamless integration of solutions, even if it’s about messaging and communication. Currently, if there are four or five working agencies, it will ultimately come down to one or two.

In today’s non-linear consumption process, a brand must cover all its bases, says Bhatia from Matrimony.com.

“In my opinion, it’s important to have a consumer digital agency that can work with you on your overall digital strategy from both a brand (long term) and performance (short term/sales) strategy. But you need to have additional relationships with one or two additional agencies depending on your industry and your consumers. For example, some industries may need a lot of influencer content, so you need a partner who can scale it for you across all platforms, while another industry may be more heavy on the performance of your content. installation of applications or SEO/SEM campaigns. So you have to choose, but stay manageable,” he observes.

Miter of Fulcro adds, “In an ideal world, having a single agency that brings best-in-class capabilities across the digital services spectrum with a strong strategy and planning capability is the best bet for brands. However, in the current agency landscape, especially in India, this is a bit of a pipe dream as not every agency is equally good at all digital services.

As an alternative, agency networks offer single-point services through a master agency while aligning the capabilities and skills of their local and global network agencies. Some large independent agencies also create their own network of specialist partners, he observes.

Bhatia highlighted, “Digital marketing is an ever-changing field and no individual or agency can claim supremacy in its disciplines. So full consolidation seems difficult to me. We need to keep experimenting with new advertising platforms and solutions and updating scale the ones that work well, for this you will come across niche providers who are very good at a certain area and can give disproportionate returns, so one cannot afford to be complacent and bet on one or two agencies only because your competitors are trying everything.

The need of each brand/consumer set is different, resulting in diverse needs sets and therefore possible number of partners/skill sets. So again, there’s no silver bullet or magic formula, Haldar of TVS Motors points out.

“But a clear vision of the digital roadmap aligned with consumer and business goals will prevent the phenomenon of chasing every new fad with a new partner or, even worse, getting comfortable with a partner and missing out. the next big thing”, he assumes.