Are marketers ready to embrace the full-service model?

Even though agencies are back to offering a multitude of services under one umbrella, marketers are sticking to buying services from specialists

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Nov 13, 2017 8:55 AM

The rise of television gave us the all-powerful media buyers of today. They remained a core part of the advertising agency until the 1990’s when advertising agencies began to consolidate the media buying business into separate standalone entities. Now, with the digital ecosystem coming into place, it seems like the advertising world has tweaked the agency model to return to an era where all services are offered under one roof, be that creative, digital, PR, or even media buying.

This racy ride that the advertising industry undertook led to the creation of specialists and super-specialists. Marketers benefited from the specialists but are now forced to explain their briefs and business problems to multiple specialists to get the job done. The problem is that the specialists are now spread out. As hard as agencies try, marketers are still seeking solutions from multiple service providers with very few, rare clients who really leverage the full-service model.

The full-service model has made such a huge comeback in the recent years that every significant player in the ad world is offering full-service. In some cases, it is the agency itself that is offering full-service and in others it is the network as a whole that is consolidating the services under one umbrella. Agencies that do not want to be left behind are building and adding competencies every day.

But, “Hardly any significant player is buying full-service,” said Vikas Mehta, CEO, PointNine Lintas. “While the model seems extremely promising on paper, its market adoption has been excruciatingly slow in progress. You can count on your fingertips the number of clients who have one agency doing all the marketing duties for them. The problem is that the promise of full-service is a complex and difficult one to keep,” he said.

Unless a few more kinks are straightened out, marketers claim it will be hard for them to truly embrace the full-service model.

Uniform Specialised Expertise

The industry is constantly becoming more complex, creating the demand for specialists. Especially in the digital ecosystem, there are multiple areas that need specialised focus, such as social media, performance marketing, content, apps, design.

As an advocate of the unified agency approach, Amit Tiwari, VP Marketing, Havells, said that for a marketer to completely embrace the full-service model, it is important for the agency itself to have the specialisation and expertise in all the services that a marketer requires. “But the point is that very few agencies have the competence where they can provide best in class services across disciplines,” noted Sandeep Goyal, Founder, Mogae Media.

This is a two-way street; once agencies up their expertise, the ball is in the marketer’s court. Tiwari felt that marketers themselves need to have the conviction towards leveraging this model. “A good number of marketers, around 30-40 per cent, have developed the conviction for this model. This conviction has to be supported by agencies improving their expertise because one cannot allow the business to be affected at the cost of adopting the full-service model,” he said.

Talent Acquisition

While one of the benefits of the full-service model is that clients can have a single touch point at the agency, talent is at the core of this model. Unless there are people who equally understand all the focus areas, implementation of this model will remain on paper. “Talent is the crux of the issue. Integration will remain notional until the talent issue is addressed by agencies,” said Vivek Sharma, Chief Marketing Officer, Pidilite Industries.

“Advertising agencies are all about people and not products,” said Sudip Ghose, Senior Vice President –Sales, Marketing and Service, VIP Industries, adding that “very rarely will you even find talent who understand digital media and traditional media.”

Digital Integration

For most marketers, the real struggle is to find an agency that understands both traditional and digital media. It is this sweet spot that agencies need to find, in order to win the trust of marketers. “Unlike the traditional media environment, in the digital environment, I have not found an agency that delivers the complete digital package,” said Karan Kumar, Head of Brand and Marketing, Fabindia. He says that though he is a proponent of full-service in the traditional medium, the digital medium remains one where he as a marketer gets his various services from multiple agencies.

Full-service Network and Full-service Agency

Consolidation is taking place in the advertising world with networks either building or buying competencies. It still is not enough for marketers to choose a full-service network to work with. “If the best expertise lies within a network, I do not mind working with multiple agencies within a network. But that is not my top priority,” said Kumar. Marketers feel the same way about networks as they do about agencies. The ease of working with a single touch point is not as much as a priority as the performance of the business and achieving business goals.

Sharma added, "The onus of integrating the brand’s offering and communication lies with the client. They are the ones who have to ensure that they maintain consistency in terms of positioning, values and persona, offering across all touch points in all mediums."

Client Maturity

Not all clients are buying full-service and this also has to do with the type of clients. Mature clients with very high advertising budgets who have very strong marketing history and competencies choose to opt for specialised offerings and best available expertise. “They may choose to go with one agency that offers the best of two worlds, but that is not driven by the need for ease or integration,” explained Sharma.

Mid-size clients who have an annual advertising budget of around Rs. 100-200 crore are a mixed bag and “may opt for the full-service agencies or specialised agencies depending on their maturity,” felt Sharma. The third bag of clients, Indian companies that are building their brand locally, “Who do not have the marketing experience, maturity and competencies may choose to go with a full-service agency for their comfort as they begin their marketing journey,” said Sharma.

“As clients mature and their needs become complex, they will choose to go for specialised agencies,” added Sharma. Echoing his thoughts, Ghose also said that complex requirements demand specialists and therefore the future will belong to specialists.

The Way Forward

This phase of consolidation of services under one umbrella will create the opportunity for clients to come on board for multiple service even though they may not start out with more than one or two services to begin with. “It is not likely that all clients will use all the 26 Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) agencies. It is more like there are a number of doors and windows to enter the house of DAN. A client may enter through any of the routes available and over a period of time, the effort is to provide as many marketing communication services as we can,” said Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO South Asia Dentsu Aegis Network. He said that the one Profit & Loss model that that DAN follows has immensely helped the network serve clients better.

Agencies and networks recognise the need for experts and specialists in every field and said that the full-service of today is not the same as it was thirty years ago. Explaining how it all comes together, Anita Nayyar, ‎CEO India & South Asia - ‎Havas Media Group, said, “The unbundling of services will stay as expertise functions within the full-service model. In the realm of the agencies there will be one brand custodian who will deliver to the client and take the services from the unbundled offerings within the agency.”

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