Recently, my friend Gary Angel (certainly *the* one blogger you should follow in Web Analytics if you had to keep only one) wrote about something I thought had profound consequences. In a few words, Gary says that an online marketing agency could not fundamentally be the same one who reports on whether strategies and campaigns were successful or not. I must say that, in general, I certainly agree with him.
I was attending a small Web Analytics conference here in Montreal this week, and that question came up. There were several people from agencies (here, by agencies, I mean online Marketing ones, not measurement consultancies), and their stance, not surprisingly, was that, “absolutely, we are objective, and everybody is on board with what we do.” I don’t think they’re lying, not even bullshitting a little, and those analysts really believe it. However, I’m not convinced that analysts in agencies can be totally free to tell the absolute truth. Pressure must be very high to present multi-million dollar projects as successful. Gary uses even stronger language:
In a world where there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, why would you let your Agencies measure their own performance? If you’re agencies are siloed, they have every incentive (and ability) to make their channel look maximally successful. If you’ve concentrated everything in a single agency, that agency has every incentive (and ability) to make their entire program look successful and not delve too deeply into any single piece.
This is a complex question that has deep root in agency cultures, agency-client relationships, and how much those relationships leave room for errors.
Everybody knows that creativity is at the heart of what agencies do; gee! it’s the reason why clients hire them. I think too many people believe that creativity is antithesis to measurement, or at least that in the face of rather poor results, a very original concept must have the larger share of value. I have discussed that elsewhere, and all I wanted to touch here is the creativity for creativity’s sake moto that is often the main dynamics at many, many agencies (you know, “I didn’t make an extra buck, but my agency won prizes”).
The other point is I think the main factor why it is very hard to build strong analytical cultures at agencies. I very much doubt that clients are yet ready to accept candid and transparent admissions of failure. And this is especially true if their own culture leaves little room for mistakes. Since basically, to many clients’ mind, one hires an agency for its expertise, “they sure know what they’re doing”, it is easy to imagine that expertise means being right, always. Anyway, why would you pay someone to mess up, which you can easily do yourself for far less money?
So, I am not sure analytics have a viable proposition within agencies. Yes, you can call my own and Gary’s bias on this, since both our firms are in the measurement business.
The choice of bias is yours.
[August 29th Update]
Gary Angel in a new post reviewing Marshal Sponder’s new book Social Media Analytics, quotes from Marshall’s book about the role of agencies in measuring what they do for their clients in Social Media (NOTE: I am reproducing the book quote here without permission. Since this is a very small excerpt, I believe it will not pose a problem):
…I have come to believe marketing and communications agencies are not the most appropriate entities to measure marketing or PR campaigns run on behalf of their clients, especially within social media. Too often there is an inherent conflict of interest, as MarCom firms measure their client’s online buzz, and data can be skewed, often unintentionally, to show the successful completion of agreed-upon campaign goals.