Demands for productivity boosts have CCOs looking at their firms

Most CCOs right now are under intense pressure to streamline their budgets. CEOs and CFOs seem to be preparing for a further downturn in 2009.

Most CCOs right now are under intense pressure to streamline their budgets. CEOs and CFOs seem to be preparing for a further downturn in 2009.

One area that often gets attention is outside agency spending. Having held senior posts at Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, and GCI Group, and as a former client-side CCO, I know something about this subject.

If you're a CCO, before you focus on the agency, focus on your own practices. Some things to think about:

• Number of firms. Many companies retain several agencies because agencies accrue over the years. Everyone has a story as to why. Regardless, now might be the time to impose order and some level of consolidation. You might get more focus, impact, and better pricing leverage.

• Make sure you manage the agencies well. Frankly, most clients don't. Senior communications executives often get engaged in the agency selection process, only to delegate to staff the responsibility for agency management. Conceptually that's fine, but often these staffers lack the experience to provide the kind of clear, strong management the firm needs. If you want to delegate, then train.

• Prioritize. You could probably cut 10% of the work agencies do without negatively impacting market results. Why? Firms are often asked to do work that just isn't that important. Most agencies will tell you so if you ask. It's then your call to reallocate those dollars to the agencies for higher priority work or to just save money.

OK, now what about the agencies?

• In a tight economy, CCOs might want to have their firms consolidate their teams and be sure a tight, core team is totally engaged. The larger the agency, the more resources available to the client. While that's often a positive, it also often dilutes (or expands) the budget. Tight times call for focus.

• Agencies need to double down on quality. I once heard a client say that agencies could distinguish themselves by just doing what they're supposed to do really well. I think that's still true. I'm an agency fan, but I do think scoring a “5” on a 1-5 client satisfaction scorecard is still really tough, but very worthwhile.

I've spent a good deal of time on this subject and have helped many companies maximize their agency partnerships. While any CCO is free to simply cut budgets, it's far more worthwhile to look at the bigger picture and focus on prioritization and productivity. When you do, you'll see there's work to do on both sides.

Bob Feldman is CEO of Feldman & Partners, a communications management consulting firm. He can be reached at bob@feldmanandpartners.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate comms function.

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