Spark Foundry study finds clients want agency teams built around skillset – not seniority

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Imogen Hewitt: “We all have plenty of data, so it’s about how you best use it as one of the key ingredients of good strategy”

Spark Foundry Australia has released new findings revealing that marketers view strategy and specialist skillsets as the most valuable contribution agencies can make to their business.

However, many agencies believe that data and seniority are at the top of the most critical list for clients.

The results come from the newly released ‘Finding the Holy Grail: The Quest for the Ultimate Client Agency Model’ report – a qualitative and quantitative study of agency and marketing professionals across disciplines. 

Imogen Hewitt, Spark Foundry CEO, said: “To set the scene, our 2022 ‘In it for the Long Haul’ report found that there is so much upside for sustained client/agency relationships, and yet the industry operates a system that works against long-term tenure.”

Last year’s report found that while 80% of respondents believe that longer-term relationships made for stronger brand performance, the average tenure of a CMO has dropped to 2.4 years, and the average pitch cycle is as frequent as two years. Further, while 62% felt that longer-lasting relationships generated greater creativity and innovation, the industry agrees it takes 3-9 months to onboard a new partnership.

“In 2023, we set out to understand what agencies can do across service or structure to help create the conditions for more sustained engagement. And it exposed some practical solves and some interesting disconnects,” Hewitt said.

This year’s follow-up study, ‘Finding the Holy Grail’, reveals clients want agency teams composed of experts who can interpret brand, category and consumer data, with 67% of marketers saying strategy and strategic insights are the most valuable contributions agencies can make to business conversations. Only two marketer respondents referenced seniority as the most important factor.  

Meanwhile, the Spark Foundry study found 25% of agency respondents, the highest grouping, stated the provision or reporting of data represents their most valuable contribution.

Hewitt said: “Interestingly, marketers are calling for ‘column-shaped’ teams. Less hierarchy, more expertise and greater flexibility. And an agency’s ability to differentiate, think broadly and creatively, to innovate and to connect best with customers trumps the tsunami of data many agencies bring to the table.

“For agencies, that means drawing out the insight and action in the data, not just providing it to clients as a standalone deliverable. We all have plenty of data, so it’s about how you best use it as one of the key ingredients of good strategy. As an agency, we’re relentless about using the data to shape future recommendations for our clients, not as the means to retrospectively mark our own homework”.

Marketers identified business understanding (30%) and responsiveness (30%) as the most important drivers of successful relationships, however cost reductions remain the most pressing issue year on year. Simultaneously, while marketers reported knowing that fully retained teams work best for the agency and client, 46% say the greatest pressure they receive from non-marketing stakeholders within their business is substantiating why agency investment is required.

“So, what does this all mean? Marketers and agencies want the same things – the time to develop relationships, and the ability to deeply understand business and people. Access to the right skills at the right time and at the right cost as well as mutually well-understood value creation.

“At its heart this is an age-old story: clients and agencies need to collaborate on building the team, skillsets and access that optimally meets their needs. This has to be ongoing and as a partnership. Get this right and everything else follows – relationship, longevity, trust, innovation and business results on both sides.”

Top image: Imogen Hewitt

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