In our work with agencies throughout the US and Canada, we've noticed some constants.

  • Agency owners have a wicked sense of humor.
  • Agency owners both hire and fire too slowly.
  • Agency owners have a love/hate relationship with clients.

For the most part, agency owners like and respect their clients, but they're often frustrated by the games they have to play to get information, and they're never quite sure where they stand.

In many ways, the relationship is like a dysfunctional romance. When a client works with more than one agency, there are hurt feelings, and when the agency pushes for answers or more projects, the client feels backed into a corner.

Agencies can usually ferret out what the client is up to, but the attitudes and beliefs that lead to those actions are often hidden from view.

That's why, in Summer 2014, audience segmentation research firm Audience Audit partnered with Agency Management Institute (a consultancy that helps marketing, PR, digital, and advertising agencies be more successful) to conduct an original study exploring the reasons organizations hire agencies, what they're looking for, and how agencies can position themselves for relevance with their target customers.

Three Segments of Marketing Decision-Makers

What we discovered is that there are three distinctly different segments of marketing decision-makers with marketing budgets of $1 million or less annually:

  • "Looking for Love" (29% of respondents) segment value agencies as a critical partner for business success. For this group, agencies are a key participant in strategic planning efforts, a trusted source of new ideas and insights about marketing trends, and a tactical partner across a wide range of marketing services and expertise. These decision-makers feel it's important to develop a long-term relationship with an agency, and they expect that if their agency doesn't have an answer, they'll know where to find it.
  • "Playing the Field" (38% of respondents) segment sees hiring a marketing or advertising agency as a necessary evil to gain specialized expertise. They prefer to work with subject matter experts and feel changing agencies periodically is important even if they're doing a good job.
  • "Single and Satisfied" (33% of respondents) segment feels their organizations are fairly self-sufficient regarding marketing. They believe that they have clear marketing plans and know exactly what they want. When these CMOs do use agencies for strategy, they do so as a source of ideas that can be executed by the organization in-house.

Frustratingly, there are no demographic clues as to which prospect would fall into which segment. There's absolutely no difference when you look at company size, budget, maturity of the company, or experience level of the CMO.

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image of Drew McLellan

Drew McLellan's a 25+ year marketing agency veteran who lives for creating "a ha" moments for his clients, clients' customers, peers and audiences across the land.

Drew writes at his own blog, Drew’s Marketing Minute and several other hot spots. He authored 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing, co-edited the Age of Conversation series of books with Gavin Heaton, and he launched his own firm McLellan Marketing Group in 1995.

LinkedIn: Drew McLellan

image of Susan Baier

Susan Baier is the CEO of Audience Audit, which focuses on custom quantitative attitudinal audience segmentation research, marketing strategy based on customer insights, messaging development, strategic planning, and business development consulting.

LinkedIn: Susan Baier