The marketing and communications world is in the midst of a major transformation. These changes are coming on swiftly – and are here to stay. But this undeniable paradigm shift is much more in line with the way today’s businesses operate. Forget the traditional advertising agencies à la Sterling Cooper of Mad Men fame. Today’s marketing and communications firms are in a whole other realm. This, according to Élizabeth Henry, Vice-President, Brand Strategy and Customer Experience, Adviso, who agreed to sit down with us to talk about this subject. As the digital revolution rages on, collaboration is the watchword for many organizations. And the agencies that are helping businesses achieve their digital communications and marketing objectives need to follow suit.
“The all-knowing, all-powerful agency is a thing of the past,” says Henry. “In my day-to-day dealings with various clients, I am often called upon to work closely with them to come up with new ideas. Given the competitive economic environment we are all operating in these days, these businesses are particularly attuned to their situation and resolved to improve it. They have their objectives and know where they are headed, and their growth and profits targets are clear in their minds.”
Needless to say, the agency-client relationship has evolved a great deal over the past two or three decades. This upheaval has forced specialists in the field to really do their homework so they can take into account the overall context of the business or organization they are advising, as Henry confirms: “For digital marketing and communications professionals, that means we need to have sharp insight into what can bring about positive and negative repercussions for the organizations who decide to team up with us. Essentially, we need to help our clients understand that getting their brands, their goods and/or their services out there is an investment not an expenditure.”
Obviously, the biggest challenge is in how to make this happen. What elements can help shape this kind of collaboration? “I am a firm believer in the potential for success that lies in recognizing the mutually held values that connect a business and an agency,” says Henry. “Whether we’re talking about a company’s future, its principles or its business goals, it is crucial for everything to mesh together. To find this common ground as far as values are concerned, the parties involved need to act with full transparency. At Adviso, we have forged these types of relationships with many of our longer-term clients, so much so that they look at us as more than simple communications and marketing service providers: we are true partners in their growth in their eyes.”
The benefits of this dynamic are easy to see. But these relationships do not emerge overnight. Today’s digital communications and marketing experts need to rethink their assumptions and establish new truths. “As part of what I teach in the Marketing Communications Essentials program at Executive Education HEC Montréal, I try to get across that it is critical to adopt a business-first mindset and put yourself in your client’s shoes if you want to build a close relationship with them,” Henry asserts. “This takes an in-depth understanding of their world and where their company is going, as well as the contributions that a marketing and communications expert can make toward their growth aspirations. And remember: the client is an integral part of the process. They need to open their business to us so that we can have a granular comprehension of how it works. We need to expand beyond the basic concept of branding to explore every aspect of the company.”
Although digital communications and marketing specialists may lament the loss of the absolute expertise they once held, any ground they may have yielded in this regard is offset by the strength of the connections they are forging with their clients. Henry agrees: “I, for one, find the new approach to building client relationships – one of the pillars of modern marketing and communications – to be deeply satisfying.”
In other words, against the current economic backdrop, it is more important than ever before for agencies and clients to embrace collaboration.