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July 02, 2019

Challenging the traditional agency model

Written by Madison Steele

Across the corporate landscape, we’re seeing the rise of cross pollination of brand stories to different audience groups. This theme was observed at the annual NIRI and IABC conferences, where communications executives discussed the necessity of highlighting CSR to generate positive investor sentiment and showcasing important aspects of leadership to shape media perception. While there was much discussion around driving audience action through holistic company narrative, little was said about how traditional agencies often impede communicators from doing so.  

A Snapshot of the Corporate Communicator 

At both events, a picture emerged of today’s corporate communications executive whose role is becoming more important and yet complicated. 

  • They wear many hats. Regardless of their titles, communicators need to possess the brand savvy of a CMO, foresight of a chief strategy officer, and customer savvy of the best customer service teams. They need to serve a rapidly converging audience that spans prospective talent, employees, investor relations executives, influencers, and customers.  
  • They must combine speed with communications savvy. As the world becomes increasingly fast-paced and fragmented – with audiences rapidly forming opinions of a business across apps, social media, and a corporation’s own website – communicators are under a tremendous amount of stress to drive action through brand alignment. As one executive told us, “I feel like I am responsible for everything. Our CEO asks me ‘What are our best practices for X?’ and I never know them.” 
  • They work from the inside-out and outside-in. As we saw at both events, communicators are learning how to empower both internal employees and external audience groups to become stronger brand stewards. The communicator needs to figure out how to weave together a brand narrative across multiple platforms – and then help all stakeholders to consistently share a business’s brand and messages across the digital landscape. And most of them are struggling to do that. 

Now, here’s the problem: Because today’s communicator needs to wear so many hats and move so quickly, they’re often unable to design the necessary workflows for collaboration and exchange of information. And when each internal business partner has its own agency support, it becomes increasingly difficult for the communicator to maintain control over the brand message. 

corporate communicator 1

Communicators often turn to outside agencies for help, but most agencies, especially those under holding companies, are not meeting their needs. Why? Because: 

  • The holding company structure, which involves operating companies with different specialties, are challenged to effectively marshal those specialists to create integrated teams that wear the many hats of today’s communicator. On the other hand, full-service agencies are usually well suited to manage big projects – but they often lack the agility to put out new fires that ignite daily. A good full-service agency can help tackle critical business challenges, but they’re usually too large to be a true partner to someone who must respond at the speed of audience expectation. 
  • To more effectively service the client, an incoming agency will often work in tandem with the client’s existing agency partners. Synergy through collaboration is key, yet partnerships often fail due to lack of process, breakdown in communication, and actions taken by one agency to encroach on another’s scope of work. 
  • Moreover, brands are demanding more project-based work, which is leading to the decline of the AOR model. With project-based work, agencies are increasingly reliant on freelance talent to scale up and down quickly as project types evolve. Freelance talent is expensive and more likely to hop around, resulting in high price tags and inconsistent talent spanning projects. 

The communicator needs a new type of agency – a business that knows how to align internal and external communications, build infrastructure to support cross pollination of content, and provide support after work has been delivered. Thus, creating an environment that looks like this: 

Corporate communicator 2

At Investis Digital, we’ve helped some of the world’s largest companies expand their capacity to align brand, problem solve at scale, and drive audience action through flexible access to infinite team constructs across strategy, technology, and design. Contact us. We can help.   

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