Data can be a tricky beast. Marketers need it in order to fully understand their customers and increase business sales; but agencies often hold onto it in order to ensure their clients will stay with them. Sometimes the arrangement works well. After all, it’s a daunting prospect for any new (or even established) business to sift through thousands of gigabytes of data in order to perform analysis on an ever-changing consumer landscape. More often than not, however, the marketer and agency are at cross-purposes when it comes to who owns, and more importantly, who has access to the client’s data.
According to Advertising Age, this battle is only going to intensify. A recent article quoted Andrew Swinand, a former media-agency executive who is a partner at an analytics firm, as saying: “What’s fascinating is how many clients have given away license to their data without knowing it.” Once a marketer signs with an agency, they are often beholden to that agency’s technology systems. Retrieving data from these agencies can be arduous at best. At worst, the information can be provided as an unusable data dump. This means that leaving an agency, even one where the relationship clearly is not working, can seem like it’s not worth the price.
The fact is that algorithms may not make people swoon, but their importance can’t be underestimated. The merger between New York-based Omnicom Group and Paris-based Publicis Groupe, for instance, has struck a chord with both marketers and agencies alike. It’s clear that by joining forces, these advertising powerhouses will be able to utilize their data to zero-in on precise segments of the population for which many of their competitors simply won’t have the scale to access.
As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Madison Avenue is increasingly a bastion of geeks: computer programmers, data heads and quantitative analysts.” Marketers that don’t work with a Madison Avenue outfit have to play even smarter. This means partnering with agencies that have complete integrity and data transparency. It also means working with agencies that are invested in building, maintaining and updating their data systems. An agency can’t just provide data on inbound calls or web orders without also looking at predictive models, market segmentation, and multiples angles of comparison.
The bottom line is that although many agencies are attempting to hold data hostage (in part by not revealing all the types of data they’re gathering in the first place) marketers would do well to stand firm on the battlefield. It’s critical to ask the kinds of questions that will lead to a more balanced relationship, where clients own and have access to their data, and the agency has the right to use the data on the clients’ behalf. By the same token, in an age where business competition is at its fiercest, agencies would be wise to rethink the old idiom, “All’s fair in love and war.”