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3 things to look out for when appointing your first ABM AOR

If you’re selecting your first agency of record for your account-based marketing efforts, here are the most important characteristics you may want to consider, explains Clive Armitage

In a previous incarnation, I was lucky enough to be part of the team that grew technology PR consultancy Bite Communications from five people in a serviced office in Richmond to 340 people in 14 offices around the world.  It was a hell of a ride; I got to work with some amazing people both within Bite, as well as with some great clients and I also got to fulfill a lifelong ambition to live in California. While we grew strongly pretty much from day one, the thing that really propelled Bite’s growth was when we started to win contracts that saw us established as the PR agency of record (or AOR) for brands. AOR status opened up global opps to support the client in multiple territories and gave us the confidence to know that the relationship (and associated revenue) was on as firm a footing as it possibly could be. 

Fast forward to Agent3 and we are on a similar growth trajectory to that which Bite enjoyed; after five years of operation we have four offices (with more to come later this year) and nearly 60 people worldwide. But that’s where the similarities largely end, with three major areas where we are markedly different to Bite. First, our market focus is obviously much different; Agent3 serves the growing demand for account-based marketing (ABM) services as opposed to providing public relations services, as Bite did. Secondly, to drive the right outcome for our clients, we provide them with a mix of products and consultancy services whereas Bite made its money from purely selling consultancy ‘hours’. And thirdly, Agent3 does not have a single official AOR relationship with any of our customers. Yet!

Here’s the rub; even though

ABM is maturing fast and people are starting to recognise what good looks like

(thanks to the likes of ITSMA and Sirius Decisions taking a lead in educating the market), I have still yet to see a single brief for an ABM AOR. As ABM moves to be a mainstream element of marketing, I expect this situation to change; it can only be a matter of time before progressive brands look to appoint an AOR to handle ABM for them.  By doing so, they will create strategic relationships with agencies who will be motivated and incentivised to invest to drive long-term value. 

But say you are heading up ABM at a large brand and thinking about selecting your first AOR, what are the things you should look for when determining who to select? Here are my top three things to look for.

1. Chef or short order cook?

As the incomparable

Bev Burgess tells anyone who will listen

, ABM is a strategic not a tactical discipline. Knowing this, you need to select an agency that isn’t content to just act as a delivery service for you. Instead, it needs to serve you with a constant stream of ideas and innovations which will drive ever better outcomes for your ABM efforts. Think about it; if you are a smart digital marketer in an agency, would you want to wait to just be told what to do by the client? Of course not. You’d want to be innovating, creating new approaches and getting the plaudits for what you deliver, as a result of your expertise. So, go look for agencies that hire ‘chefs’ rather than ‘short order’ cooks.

2. Blend the approach

We all know that ABM has been transformed by technology

; processes are increasingly being automated, data sources have exploded, communication channels have fragmented and tool proliferation abounds.  Yet, even in the face of this change, it appears that many fellow marketers (both client-side and in agencies) cling stubbornly to the past, doing much the same thing they have traditionally done (but expecting different outcomes). This is truly the definition of madness. So, look for the agencies that have embraced technology fully; ask them if they have their own in-house data scientists or their own dev resource. Ask them which tech vendors they are certified in or who they partner with. And then, (here’s the killer) ask them which % of their revenue comes from delivering products as part of their offer. Here’s a hint; it needs to be north of 20%. At least. Why? Because for ABM to be done well, it has to be delivered via a mix of products and people. No ifs or buts. 

3. Think global but act local

This might be a bit of a cliché, but when deploying ABM globally, there are absolute benefits to having one strategic partner. Control and management is an obvious benefit, but if your agency has developed consistent methodologies and approaches to delivering campaigns then there are also big gains to be achieved through driving efficiency. This will obviously save program dollars but will also be a boon to those smaller territories where resources may be tight and where ABM may be one of only a number of initiatives in play. So far so good, but you also need your agency to ensure they can tailor campaigns to meet local needs (this is ABM after all – the clue is in the name). So, dig into what experience the agency has in creating localised campaigns based on global briefs to ensure you are getting ‘best fit’ activity locally.

It truly wouldn’t surprise me if the ink on the first ABM AOR RFP (three acronyms in a row there – love it…) is only just now drying; the day when one pops into my inbox cannot be too long off. When it does so, it’ll be massively interesting to see the approach that is taken to identifying the right AOR; my hunch is that the three points I”ve copied above are likely to feature prominently in the documentation. And if it that is the case, the rise of the ABM AOR is going to drive fundamental change in the agency landscape.  What a time to be alive! 

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