Are Ad Agencies Keeping Pace with the Marketing’s Massive Digital Uptake? (Hint: Maybe Not)
Today, marketing’s equivalent to the Brady Bunch’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” just might be “Digital, Digital, Digital!” This is with good reason. Since 2009, digital marketing spend within large B2B tech companies has grown, and is growing, at an enormous rate. As you might have seen, IDC expects the entire tech industry to pass the 50% mark of digital spend vs non-digital spend by the end of 2016! This is the client side, but what about on the agency side, are these important partners keeping pace with their clients? At the end of April, Ad Age published their most recent “Agency report”, it shows the agency industry’s digital revenue over the past 5 years. While, agencies’ digital revenues are growing and, as a percentage, these revenues are comparable to what their clients are spending on digital – the lack of substantial growth for agencies’ digital revenue is notable.
As seen from the image above, 5 years ago agencies were already generating over 1/4 of their revenue from digital, where as tech companies were spending only 13% of their budgets on digital. Since then, these same digital marketing budgets have grown at a CAGR of approximately 21% – agencies’ digital revenue have grown closer to a 6.5% CAGR, a third the rate of tech marketer’s digital budgets. This begs the question, are agencies keeping up with digital innovation? Does the agencies’ slower digital revenue growth give us a glimpse into the future where in-house marketers are the digital experts?
Below are two comments that I think help parse out this story:
- Chapter 7 in Scott Brinker’s (AKA: @chiefmartec) marketing book, A New Brand of Marketing, “From Agencies to In-House Marketing”, lays out the in-house vs agency shift perfectly. Traditionally agencies’ bread and butter is within the advertising campaign – as advertising has moved digitally, ad networks and ad-tech have continued to mature allowing practitioners to work directly with these networks and/or utilizing programmatic ad buying to optimize their spend. In a sense, cutting out the middle man (agencies). This might help explain the large difference in growth between digital revenue growth at agencies and digital spend from the practitioner. While companies are spending more dollars on digital, it is more of a do-it-yourself approach.
- Anecdotally, through my conversations with clients and marketing executives, on more than one occasion I have heard marketers bringing core agency work internal. The two main reasons for this action are:
- Scope: For marketing executives who are trying to build a full scale demand engine or attribution models, they are finding it very hard to identify an agency partner who can deliver this vision from start to finish, particularly with expertise across the entire project. (A fair caveat is very few companies can do this internally!) They are still utilizing agencies, but typically for projects around high level strategy or vision and/or very specific tactical portions of their larger campaigns.
- Speed: To truly compete digitally, marketers have realized that speed is an asset. From content creation, to adjusting advertisements in real-time and to making sure the latest and greatest technologies are being tested and used, speed is a factor. Advanced marketers are often realizing by bringing many of these activities in-house, it is much easier to increase speed – it is also much easier to retain the talent that can execute in the manner necessary to succeed.
The above instances and the overlying data are something for marketers to be aware of and agencies to be concerned about, but, like with most changes this is not a black and white scenario. With agencies, similar to most marketing organizations today, it’s about reinvention. My colleague Gerry Murray, outlines some of this reinvention that IDC expects to happen within the agency (or more specifically marketing services) world in his latest blog post, Marketing as a Service (MaaS): The next wave of disruption for marketing tech. Ultimately, the vendors that continue with business as usual, relying on media buys or traditional agency/client relationships, risk stagnant digital revenue growth and an outdated offering.
What success are you seeing within your “in-house marketing team” and how are you continuing to leverage your agency partners? I would love to hear your opinion in the comments below or by reach out to me on twitter @SamMelnick.