Truth Is Just Perception

Book Review: “Agency Mania: Harnessing The Madness Of Client/Agency Relationships For High-Impact Results” By Bruno Gralpois (2010, 256 Pages)

If you work in marketing, you would be mad not to read this book.

Bruno Gralpois is the co-founder and principal of Agency Mania Solutions, a Seattle-based agency relationship management solution provider. Before that, he was Director of Global Agency Management at Microsoft HQ where I can attest that he was instrumental in establishing agency management as a central global discipline within the company.

Indeed, for the sake of full disclosure, I should let you know that Bruno and I worked at the same time at Microsoft where we shared the same philosophy about agency relationship management even if we worked in different parts of the company with distinct objectives.

Agency Mania” covers the topic of advertising and marketing agency management from A to Z. Some of you might consider that this review would be more credible if I were to give my friend’s book a poor rating. But this won’t be the case, simply because Bruno’s book is remarkable.

Agency Mania

Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to manage both marketing services models, i.e. external agencies and in-house creative departments. It might have educated me on the importance of agency management.

This role is not always natural for communications and marketing people who are more inclined to develop creative craft and audience conversations than the process of establishing and managing agency relationships. Still, agencies being extensions of their clients’ marketing organizations, agency management is absolutely key to optimizing ROMI (return on marketing investment). As this book brilliantly demonstrates, agency management is a very specific skill. It needs to be managed as a clear-cut responsibility by a member of the marketing team. However, agency management can’t work properly if the whole marketing team doesn’t feel accountable for its success.

Today, the main issue I am experiencing with agencies is their inability to have a 360-degree view of their clients’ marketing strategy and programs. As I sometimes have to tell my agency counterparts, “you have at best a 10×36-degree view, at worst a 36×10-degree view.” It is a huge impediment on their and their clients’ performance.

Furthermore, as Bruno Gralpois states in the book, agencies are increasingly trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors to face increasing market pressure. My concern is that their differentiation always tends to be media- or audience-based. Their unique value proposition is never based on a 360-degree view. Yet, it would be the most unique of all value propositions.

In a time of unprecedented channel fragmentation, message consistency is more important than ever. Nothing fosters message consistency like a 360-degree view. For an agency, having a 360-degree view doesn’t mean by any means offering all marketing services under one roof. It means being able to understand, apply and enrich their clients’ 360-degree marketing strategy.

We, clients, also have a lot of work on our plate. I agree with Randy Wise, former VP, Online Experience of Safeco Insurance, who is quoted in “Agency Mania”: “The quickest path to a bad agency is a bad client.” We never spend enough time educating, briefing, and nurturing our agencies.

In my opinion, a client’s marketing strategy should never be defined by any agency; they are not equipped for this and asking them to do it is a recipe for failure. Marketing strategizing is the role of the CMO. If a CMO can’t strategize, they should find another job. Still, it is very important for CMOs to work with strategic partners that can (i) understand their client’s marketing strategy, (ii) challenge the latter and help their client explore new approaches, (iii) have a 360-degree view of their client’s marketing plans, (iv) propose creative ideas, and (v) execute the programs under their responsibility and measure their success in a cross-discipline, cross-agency way.

This being said, “Agency Mania” doesn’t limit its content to agency relationship management. It elaborates on many of the marketing transformations that we are experiencing – with the exception of the mobile revolution, which wasn’t yet a big trend in 2010 when the book was published. It addresses issues such as the new role played by data and analytics in agency work, the responsibility for cross-media analytics and the agency competition to own data, the shift from consumers to prosumers*, and the protection of IP related to software and/or design created by agencies and/or prosumers.

Agency Mania” is relevant for managing relationships with agencies of all sizes, from the boutique shop to the holding company. It will be useful to junior marketers and savvy CMOs alike. It is extremely comprehensive, and has a very good combination of theoretical knowledge and practical examples. My only knock on this book is that I find that its title and cover do not do justice to the depth of its content.


* People who are both producers and consumers.

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