You might be familiar with the concept of fractional CMO, a marketing executive hired part-time to help with customer acquisition, sales development, and company growth. The benefit is that your company gets executive experience without the full-time cost.
One less familiar concept is that of a fractional agency account planner or Chief Strategy Officer.
Account planners at communication agencies are basically the “voice of the consumers”. Their job is to ensure that the communication developed is true to consumers, help condense strategies to their most effective core, help understand consumer audiences, and more importantly, help turn data into actionable insights. They basically ensure -in an ideal situation- that 1. The agency works off a clear and inspiring strategy that addresses a clearly defined business problem, 2. The creative work produced by the agency is on strategy and engaging with consumers; 3. The impact of the creative advertising is monitored and tracked and if necessary, adjusted.
Working with the Chief Strategy Officer of your agency is, in my experience, often welcomed for the value he/she can add if that CSO is experienced and focused on your business. The disadvantages of working with an agency CSO are that:
- You pay for all the overheads in addition to paying for the CSO’s time, i.e. you benefit from his/her experience but also have to pay for all the other people in the team (PM, account managers, etc.) which maybe do not add strategic value. This adds to the costs/fee and typically slows down the process.
- Also, unless you are the biggest client in the agency, the agency’s senior strategist will only give your business his/her partial attention. Instead, you’ll have to deal with and pay for, younger, less experienced strategists. You don’t get the senior strategist’s full attention and dedication.
- More often than not, agency strategists have internal constituents to manage and account for. As such, their priorities and agenda will always be the agency’s creative output and deliverable rather than the client’s business needs. And depending on the agency, the recommended solution will always be based on what the agency wants to create. Or when was the last time your agency strategist recommended skipping an advertising spot and instead investing your limited budget in point-of-sales activation?
- The constant cost pressure on advertising agencies forces them to hire younger, more inexperienced and cheaper strategists while witnessing an exodus of senior talent. In fact, a recent survey among agency strategists shows that a full 63% of strategists do not expect their next role to be within an agency (a quarter expects to be at a consultancy in their next role, and 18% on the corporate side).
- Last but not least, and that’s also the result of this ongoing pressure on their bottom line, most advertising agencies are becoming more and more executional and transactional rather than strategic, i.e. simply can’t afford strategists any longer.
To address this situation, some companies have started to hire senior account planners in-house to help bridge the gap between their research department and the brand management teams and to help get a better creative output of their communication agencies. But not all companies have the resources, or frankly the culture, to be able to do so.
An attractive alternative would be to hire a fractional CSO, a very experienced agency strategist that is not tied to an agency’s politics, overheads or creative ambition but who understands how agencies work and operate, at the fraction of the costs of hiring an advertising agency or even full-time employee.
So, here are 13 scenarios where you should consider hiring a fractional CSO:
- You are always on the hunt for fresh insights and perspectives on your business and brands. In fact, a good and experienced fractional strategist should always be able to bring a unique consumer perspective and insights to everything you do, and thus help shift your perspective on the brand or the business.
- You need strategic work done (customer understanding, brand strategy, communication strategy, and briefs) on a brand in a portfolio but do not have an assigned agency yet (or you don’t want to assign it to one of your agencies at this stage in the process).
- A brand in your portfolio doesn’t yet have the necessary internal funding but still needs a strategy to be developed. Or you need a new strategy for a low priority brand with the objective to re-ignite internal excitement for this brand.
- You don’t fully trust the skills or agenda of your agency and agency strategist.
- Your advertising agency doesn’t have senior and experienced strategists.
- You need an unbiased third-party expert to help you explore and improve the quality of creative ideas through research.
- You want to develop internal strategy templates (brand frameworks, briefing documents, creative briefs, etc. etc.) but also want to ensure that they’ll be actionable and inspiring for your agency partners.
- You want help training and inspiring your internal brand teams. Or simply help your brand teams write more inspiring brand architectures and positioning statements.
- You want to create brand and communication strategies that are more inspiring to your agencies and thus lead to better, more effective creative work (let’s be honest, most client briefing aren’t).
- You don’t want to replace your advertising agency but want to add consumer expertise to the work.
- You have a great market-research department but need help turning all this data into actionable insights and better stories. We have all been exposed to a 200 pages research summary that ends up in a drawer because it is not insightful enough nor actionable.
- You don’t have a market research department, or it is so small that it primarily focuses on reporting.
- You are short on internal resources, and those resources spend 95% of their time on implementation and execution rather than strategy.
All the scenarios above are actual scenarios for which I have been hired by marketing directors. And to be frank, it was their initial requests and feedback that made me realize that most marketing departments could benefit from a fractional CSO, prompting me to write this blog entry.
So if you think your marketing team could benefit from the input of a fractional CSO, or simply would like to explore this option further, feel free to reach out to me at Ulli@first-the-trousers.com, as I’d love to talk to you.
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