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What role do the agencies hold in a marketer's life?

Do you remember when last year Cadbury Dairy Milk recreated the iconic 1996 ad?

Although this time it was reversed with them celebrating women as India was wishing good luck for the Women's Cricket World Cup, held last year.

It caused quite the stir around the marketing world with everyone from brand managers, to marketing heads, to agencies applauding the people behind the idea and recreation of the ad.

But when we talk about agencies, as a marketer, we often get the opportunity to work with various agencies and in this growing technology era, we always have a new type of agency popping out and helping us reach our customers more articulately.

So, what are these different types of agencies? How do they work together on a single idea for a brand or product? What all do we need to keep in mind and what information should we always keep handy while interacting with these agencies?

Let's hear it from Saurabh Bajaj


The most important partner for any marketer is their agency. We lean on them for virtually everything. From building ideas for advertising and activation to media buying and digital initiatives. But for all these different tasks, there are different types of agencies.

The question is -What is the right way to manage all of them?

There always seems to be such an overlap between a creative agency & a digital agency. As a brand manager, the fights I enjoyed the most were between my two equally passionate agencies – the Creative Agency & the Media Agency.

To note, there are also agencies that exist beyond our retainers from Public Relations, such as Social Listening Agency, Media Houses like Times of India and then the several Agencies offering Promos from PayTm, QR Codes and others.

However, what are the key competencies that these agencies bring to the table?

What is their organizational structure? What are their deliverables?

How do you evaluate their work & how do you negotiate a retainer? Let us explore some of these interesting questions and more in this article.

Organizational Structure of a Creative Agency

While most corporates are organized into Sales, Marketing, Media, Insights & other functions, a Creative agency has a slightly different orientation.

The primary roles that exist inside a Creative agency are ‘Client Servicing’, ‘Planning’, ‘Creative’ & ‘Studio’.

The Client Servicing Team is the team who as clients we directly interact with.

They are the liaison between a client and the inner workings of the agency.

They take requirements and ensure delivery is as per expectations. It’s a tough job managing clients’ expectations and getting the best work out of the Creative & Studio teams.

The Planning Team is considered the ‘brains’ of the agency and these are the geniuses who help in the creation of ‘concepts’. Concepts essentially are the link between the ‘product’ that the client has, and the ‘offer’ that can be sold to the consumer. It was probably a planner who once devised the connection between Dove, a soap with moisturisers and the promise of ‘real beauty' which made it iconic.

If the Planning team are the ‘brains’ of an agency, ‘the beating heart’ is probably the ‘Creative’ team. These are the crazy folks who dream up the iconic, emotional and memorable ads that you & I are fond of.

And finally, there is the ‘Studio’ team, who are often a profit centre inside the agency. They work on fancy computers and know how to play with design, art, copywriting and all the skills that make a creative agency truly creative.

Often when as a client, you share a brief with your client servicing counterpart, it’s converted into a concept by the planners and then into a script by the creative team and finally chiselled into a storyboard with dialogues by the Studio team before it comes back to you for feedback.

The emergence of the Digital Agency

While creative agencies have existed for many decades, the iconic American drama ‘Mad Men’, built a fictionalized piece about an Ad agency from the 1960s, however, it is interesting to note that the digital agencies have emerged largely over the past decade.

As digital portals like Facebook, Youtube & Instagram garnered scale, we realised that there is now a need for specialized competencies that most creative agencies don’t readily possess and hence a specialized creative agency named ‘Digital Agencies’ evolved.

Now, the first thing that marketers realized is that the creative units that work on digital need to be made quite differently than those on TV. Creative on Digital often need to be made quite short, say 5-15 sec to be effective as on website as a person clicks on ‘skip ad’ very quickly.

Next, those creatives should work on a mobile screen just as well as on a laptop and films are often seen on mute and hence should work even without sound.

Further, digital agencies need far better in-house studio and content creation capability as unlike mainline creative agencies they need to create a far more amount of affordable and engaging content.

Finally, digital agencies need to be far more responsive as most brands churn out posts every day and expect to keep consumers engaged on their social handles on an always-on basis.

All these factors need digital agencies to nurture very different competencies than a mainline creative agency.

The Media Agency

Now, while the Creative Agency & the Digital Agency create content, there is also the task of dissemination of the creative content to reach consumers with optimal costs and through the right partners.

This is where the Media agency often becomes the most critical leg in most campaigns. The primary task of the Media agency is to ensure that they have negotiated a large amount of media inventory at affordable rates from various media houses like TV Channels, Radio, Outdoor, Print and so on.

Also, media agencies have deep relationships with other partners like Online Food Portals, Influencers, micro-communities on digital and so on, so that they can come up with the best way to provide a brands message, the route to the right audience.

In my past experience, owing to the share range of partners that Media agencies work with, they can often be surprisingly effective in cracking executable ideas that creative agencies haven’t even dreamed of.

Roles of the Three Agencies

So now that we have understood the individual roles of each of these agencies, let us look at how they collaborate with each other to execute one big idea for a brand or product.

Usually, the first port of call for a marketer is the Creative Agency and the creative agency understand the brand, its history and its proposition the best. Their key task is to create a compelling creative strategy and advertising and are most often measured on shifting the Imagery metrics of a brand, to make it more youthful, modern, trendy, wholesome etc as the brief may be.

The creative agency plays an end to end role from the point of understanding the Brands strategy to building a creative approach and finally recommending the right advertising scripts, the right celebrity to be a brand ambassador and so on.

On the other hand, a Digital agency best understands topicality. They take the baton from the Creative agency and own the brand's language on social media. They are tasked with engagement or being able to participate in conversations that the consumer is currently having.

If the key task of the Creative Agency is Advertising, the key task of the Digital Agency is to ensure healthy consumer engagement with relevant posts on a festival occasion or to leverage the moment marketing by commenting on a trending topic.

The Digital agency works on pre-aligned engagement buckets and their key output is often to put out daily or weekly posts, contests and conversations.

While the key value that a Media agency brings on board is that they understand media channels. They make media plans and help optimise how many consumers you can reach, how many times at the most optimal cost.

Basis your brand's strategy and the choice of target group they will also offer the brand the right media elements to focus on. For example, kids in metros could be best targeted through Cartoon Network or gaming websites while consumers in smaller towns may be best reached through outdoor media.

Also, the media teams, spend time understanding what the brand's communication task is. If the Brand is wanting to just spread awareness of its promise perhaps a TV plan would work best. However, if a brand is wishing to deeply engage with the consumer on a complicated topic perhaps Radio would provide better engagement and so on.

The media agency is eventually measured on efficiencies and return on investment in terms of money spent and exposure earned.

The Standard Process

The standard process usually followed by Marketers is to first work with the Creative Agency and to share an inspiring activation brief. As the creative agency understands the change in the consumer behaviour that a brand wishes to deliver, they propose an activation approach.

This approach is next shared with the Media agency. The media agency then recommends the right choice of media to focus on as well as the right potential partners to work with, for example, Times of India, or maybe the sponsorship of a hit show on mainline television.

The digital agency usually steps in next and builds engagement as the central element of the campaign or as surrounding elements to build deeper engagement.

However while the above process appears sequential, it’s actually best done when all partners together get into the room and brainstorm together.

How Agencies Work Together

Now, while a Creative agency best understands the tone of voice, the brand's language and the proposition, they are not aware of topics that consumers are interested in having conversations about.

Hence a Creative agency may make the first or an ideal post that can then be taken forward by the Digital agency in multiple ways to engage with consumers on trending topics.

Again, while a Creative agency can let their imagination run wild on what they would love to see their Brand do, but most of the time, they are often unaware of the media partnerships available and hence close working between all three agencies is often the silver bullet that makes iconic brands tick.

Other Agencies

Often the magic element in many campaigns emerges when new and innovative agencies are introduced into the mix. A few such agencies are:

1. PR Agency: A PR agency helps build the brand proposition into a newsworthy topic that mainline media outlets would be happy to publicise. They often use levers like syndicated research to help build a story that the consumer may be interested in.

2. Media Outlets like Times of India: Often have large in-house teams to help Brands and agencies use their full-page ads and other portals better.

3. Promotion Agencies: Rapid digitization has led to the emergence of several ways of gratifying the consumer through Pay TM cashback, redeemable vouchers, promotions through QR codes etc and there are very popular ways of engaging with the consumer now.

4. Artificial Intelligence: The latest kids on the block is the agencies who have mastered Artificial Intelligence as a service to further strengthen the relationship between consumers & brands.

5. Hyperlocal Services: Today there are several free services like Society ‘Adda’ Aps and ‘MyGate’ Apps that hold rich consumer data and offer ways for brands to reach even closer to their consumers through promotions, sampling etc.

Winning Examples

A few campaigns that have emerged by several agencies working together are and are one of my favourite works to date:

1. Saffola World Heart Day is a fabulous long-running campaign. Not only is a creative and digital agency important here but the X factor is perhaps brought by a PR agency that helps them conduct the right studies, seed the right press releases so that the topic becomes more engaging for consumers than just a brand activation.

2. Covid showed us several examples where Paid & Un Paid PR was deployed by brands like Lifebuoy and Dettol to not just spread the message of washing your hands, maintain hygiene but also bring awareness of their products like sanitisers.

3. Media teams often play a spectacular role in forging winning alliances like the sponsorships for IPL, Master Chef, Big Bollywood Releases etc

4. The Amul Girl Hoarding is a great example of a mainline creative agency having the skills of daily engagement that only Digital agencies are known to possess.

5. The Dairy Milk Campaign of the Unity bar with different language prints in different print editions was again an example of a Media agency offering the right execution for a proposition crafted by a creative agency.

6. Cadbury Celebrations Shah Rukh Artificial Intelligence led gifting initiative of this year was again an amazing fusion of next-generation technology where every retailer could custom make an ad for his store with Shah Rukh taking the name of the store driven through AI technology

What's Next?

As the consumer continues to interact and socialize in new ways, opportunities for new agencies to arise to service new requirements for brands will continue to exist. A few top trends that could create the agency ecosystem of the future include:

1. Conversational Agencies: Even as Moment Marketing continues to grow Digital agencies have started to realise that even they are not fast enough in being able to respond to new topics of conversation. These skills exist with agencies that have tools for social listening. A set of agencies that would allow brands to participate in real-time conversations with the consumer is surely something worth looking forward to.

2. Metaverse: If metaverse indeed lives up to the hype and creates a whole new world of opportunities for brands to interact with consumers we may again need agencies to either step up or a new generation of agencies to help Brands navigate this new world of engaging possibilities.

3. Artificial intelligence: While we are already seeing some agencies offering rudimentary tools for Brands to experiment with, this definitely appears to be a whole new frontier that could offer personalization at scale and curated experiences for Brands to offer consumers

In Conclusion

Manufacturers and Marketers cannot house all capabilities within their own ecosystem. As technology advances the consumer demands deeper engagements and new possibilities. These offer opportunities for the evolution of new agencies for Brands to seek the services off. We live in an era of accelerated change and the future appears poised for further growth & evolution.

About the Author

Saurabh Bajaj is the Marketing Head for the Dairy Business at Britannia Industries Limited since September 2019. He is an alumnus of Delhi College of Engineering and completed his PGDM (MBA) from the Indian Institute of Management Indore in 2004. He has since, spent over 16 years in the field of Sales & Marketing having worked for a decade with Mondelez from 2005 to 2015, then as the Innovation Head for Premium & Luxury Spirits with Diageo for 2 years, before joining Britannia.

Saurabh joined Britannia in Sep’17 as the Marketing Head for the International Business which has offices in Bangalore, Dubai & Kathmandu where he worked on several exciting Innovations & Activations across the Middle East and South Asia. Now, he is working on an exciting mandate to scale-up Britannia’s Dairy play across India & Bhutan. Recognized as 50 Best Marketing & Communication Professionals by White Page International in 2020 & as a DMA Trailblazer Rising Star CMO in 2001.

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