The Three Letters on Everyone’s Mind: A-O-R

Bob Bailey
Bob Bailey



agency-aor-debateBack in March of 2014, Dana Anderson, vice president of marketing strategy and communications for Mondelēz International, wrote an editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal where she pronounced agencies of record (AOR) “are no longer the pathway to Oz for clients or agencies.” This statement alone spurred a series of articles from both Advertising Age and Agency Spy, showing both sides of the AOR debate and generating an even greater online conversation on the topic.

So when does an AOR make sense, and when does it not?

Those in favor of AORs say they lead to more consistent relationships and more resources. Agencies are able to be better “caretakers” of the larger creative ideas.

Those not in favor say "big ideas" can be translated across media channels by individualized specialty partners more effectively and efficiently.

Our belief is that an agency partner should figure out what its true value is, then deliver it better than others — as opposed to trying to be everything under one roof. This is easier said than done for most agencies.

The No. 1 goal of most agencies today is to capture 100% of a client's service fees so that the capacity can be filled, full-time equivalent employees inch closer to billable targets, and everyone at the agency — from top to bottom — is happy. Brands that are AOR proponents can call me out, but I bet this isn’t one of their goals when hiring an agency.

New brand and business challenges call for new solutions and partner companies who think differently.

Today’s brand opportunities and challenges are far less planned and structured. Oftentimes, they come from out of nowhere, and call for subject matter experts. The brand has a market mandated product launch for a product that doesn’t exist yet. A competitive channel leadership opportunity comes up, and if won, it will boost revenue by double digits for years to come. A newly merged organization needs a sharp positioning strategy (in a week). Maybe the brand is about to launch its company and realizes it will attract more lawsuits than customers because of a mismanaged naming and brand identity.

These are real brand opportunities we’ve addressed with our clients. And they weren’t in any annual operating plan or fancy presentation.

They didn’t even come with a client brief.

They were solved by professionals who are capacity creators, not capacity fillers.

Being a marketer is to listen to what the market is telling you about your brand and your value. One of our truths is that our goal is not to be a brand's AOR. Because it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you focus on the client need, not your own structural wants.

Let the great AOR debate continue. Truth be told, we already know where our sweet spot lies.

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