My CMO Q&A: What billion-dollar companies want from their marketing agencies today

Written by: Karl Sakas

Many of my clients say their digital marketing agency wants to get bigger clients. In my experience, this starts by understanding how your agency can help big brands.

Wish you could read the mind of a Fortune 500 CMO on what they want from agencies? You don’t have to, because I asked for you! The CMO Panel at the recent American Marketing Association (AMA) Leadership Summit included people who’ve led marketing for billion-dollar global brands like Diageo, IBM, and Walgreens:

Kim Feil headshotKim Feil (president of the Chicago chapter of the CMO Club; former CMO of OfficeMax, Walgreens, and Sara Lee North America, and senior marketer at Kimberly-Clark and Cadbury Schweppes)

Mary Garrett headshotMary Garrett (VP of Marketing and Communication at IBM Global Sales & Distribution, overseeing marketing in 170 markets worldwide and via

Rob Malcolm headshotRob Malcolm (former president at Diageo and senior marketer at Procter & Gamble; current board member at Hershey, Logitech, and the American Marketing Association; current advisor at Boston Consulting Group)

The three Chief Marketing Officers talked about industry trends, including globalization, big data, and social media. In short—more’s happening, and it’s happening faster than ever.

During the Q&A, I asked the panel,“How can agencies help you get to the future better and faster?”

Rob Malcolm shared:

Help us figure out what to ask for. Help us understand what’s happening in the world.

Back in the day, agencies were strategic. Now, it’s a different agency for everything—digital agency, social agency, etc.

The new tilt is that agencies and other partners will help companies find their new business model.

Mary Garrett shared:

We want a partner to help us solve our problems, a strategic advisor to think with us. And one who’s bold enough to tell clients how to be a client.

Don’t be all things to all people; develop a niche.

Kim Feil agreed with Rob and Mary and added:

If you are narrowly focused, collaborate with the other agencies.

Rob responded:

And stop trying to steal each others’ cookies.

We also heard a related keynote that evening:

Al Callier headshotAl Callier (VP, Strategic Innovation & Emerging Technology for Universal Orlando Resort; former marketer at Overture, Coca-Cola, and Pillsbury) on “What the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Can Teach Marketers About the Value of Innovation”

After his talk, I asked Al about the role of marketing agencies in helping brands innovate. Al said:

You need a hybrid approach when it comes to innovation. A company can’t delegate 100% of innovation to an agency. But a company also needs outside guidance and input, to help it navigate the innovation process.

My take on the topic: Your agency can get bigger clients by being the expert they need you to be

The biggest themes were around clients wanting strategic advice, including helping clients understand where the industry is going. Capstrat president Karen Albritton spoke later during AMA Leadership Summit about the concept of becoming a Trusted Advisor.

Current marketing trends from the CMO Panel

Marketing trends from the national AMA CMO Panel (click image for full size)

Are you dedicating time at your digital marketing agency to keep up with trends… or, even better, understanding trends before they happen? To get bigger clients, you need to understand marketing trends—and your clients’ industry trends. That time isn’t billable but it’s critical to building your agency’s positioning as an expert. The investment will produce new business and opportunities to expand your relationship with existing clients.

Your clients have high expectations. Whether you’re working with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, or somewhere in between, they want your help. The question, of course, is whether their budget matches their appetite.

Question: Have you found your marketing agency’s clients are ready to pay for high-level strategic advice, beyond tactics or strategy on specific projects?

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