How GM and Starbucks are using data to make their agencies more efficient

Marketers are using data in many ways, including to hold their agencies accountable, but they run the risk of drowning in numbers if they don't evolve.

Marketers use data in many ways, from powering automation to tweezing out actionable consumer insights. Starbucks and General Motors are among the brands also using it to increase accountability for their PR agency partners.

Tony Cervone, SVP of global communications at General Motors, says a data-driven approach has long been a key way the automaker has managed relationships with agency partners. He calls it "a critical strategic component in managing our relationships with our communications agencies."

"Rather than asking our agencies to provide data gathering and analytics, we've created our own internal team that centralizes data, research, and analytics to help us drive greater ROI from every single activation," he says. "This allows for us to have a partnership with our partners that is based much more on results and shared accomplishments, which I believe is very healthy."

Cervone declined to give specifics on GM’s methodology, but he notes the company sees it as a "strategic advantage."

The automaker is far from alone. More than 80% of marketers are using data to improve decision making and efficiencies from agencies, according to a study released this week by the Association of National Advertisers. It also found marketers anticipate collecting more data as they optimize agency relationships.

More than half of the organizations surveyed have annual media budgets in the U.S. of $100 million or more. The study, conducted with Decideware, a maker of marketing software, surveyed 92 clients.

It found companies use data for agency performance evaluations, tracking of hours, creative testing, and driving media efficiencies. Eighty-two percent of respondents say doing so improves the client-agency relationship.

"The data isn’t being used so clients can say to agencies, ‘I gotcha on this," says Bill Duggan, EVP at ANA Group. "With the use of data comes a certain level of accountability and increased conversation and dialogue. It is really about increasing transparency and building trust." 

Ninety percent of respondents who work at companies that use data to manage agency relationships say it led to the firm becoming more efficient. Seventy-eight percent say it also makes their own internal processes more efficient.

Duggan notes the double-digit gap between those that say it makes agencies more efficient versus their own companies suggests clients could be doing more on their end.

 "It is very important for clients to look internally, as well," he says. "There may be a lot of opportunity with the copy approval process; we’ve heard for many years that it is a real pain point for many clients."

The study finds media investment is one of the most utilized data points. Given the prominence of media transparency in the marketing industry, the ANA suggests in a statement that advertisers should "assume greater internal stewardship of their media investments."

Many marketers say they are already doing this, including with PR activations. Starbucks has worked with Edelman to create a bespoke dashboard, a product they started building together after years of the coffee giant relying on various reports and data sources.

Corey duBrowa, SVP of global comms at Starbucks, says the dashboard "has become a key part of how we manage our campaigns, agency dollars, and internal resources, up to the minute."

"[It] helped us to vector in on what’s most important about our narrative in any of the 75 countries around the world where we operate: anywhere, anytime, on any subject," he says. "This is a very different approach to real-time data collection, analysis, and application than we first had when I arrived here seven years ago."

Huw Griffith, CEO of M&C Saatchi Los Angeles, says the growing reliance on data to inform how marketers work with agencies is a good thing for the entire marcomms industry. In particular, Griffith says it compels clients to identify campaign goals from the start. 

"Agencies can use this trend to their advantage by saying to the client, ‘Tell me what the KPIs for this are. What are we exactly trying to achieve?’ It helps us to get a detailed achievable KPI set," he says. "It gives us clarity of task and [determines] what we are really being judged on."

Drowning prevention
With so much information flooding in from consumers, sales, digital, and other channels – not to mention their work with agencies – the risk for marketers is that they drown in all the data.

Another new study, this one from Gartner, indicates that marcomms departments are investing more than ever in marketing technology. The organization indicates marketing tech spend is on-track to outpace technology expenditures by CIOs by next year, according to the survey of 377 marketing leaders in July and August.

Technology is the second-largest piece of the marketing-spending pie, at 27% of the expense budget, behind labor and ahead of paid media.

"Crucially, it means marketing has a responsibility to collaborate with enterprise IT," the report adds, given the marcomms function will become the biggest tech spender. It also suggests brands look into hiring a "chief marketing technologist" to sort out marketing’s growing technology turf.

Executive recruiters say they have yet to be tasked with employment searches for chief marketing technologists. However, they are seeing new job descriptions for CMOs and an expectation from some companies that they oversee this burgeoning area.

"They are being asked to take on a hybrid role and really understand what a CTO or CIO would do," says Brian Phifer, CEO of global executive recruitment firm Phifer & Company. "I’d say tech is about 20% of the CMO’s job function. Good CMOs are starting to immerse themselves into the tech area and make sure they have a great understanding of what that entails."

However, he suspects it will take a few years before the CMO role evolves into a marketing-tech hybrid position.

"The skillsets of the generic CMO will become obsolete, but it could take years as the marketing role becomes meshed with the tech role," Phifer says. "Right now, they are kind of like a unicorn; there are only so many who have both skillsets."

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