Part 2: Are Agency Org Charts Undermining Knowledge Transfer?

Posted on March 10, 2014

Back in January 2014, I posted that I believe that the traditional full-service agency organization structure is outdated and that it may actually impede the agency’s ability to deliver value to clients.  Why?  Because the idea of production silos with separate P&L focus contradicts what CMOs need to generate leads: integrated marketing touch points that align with the customer decision journey.

In February 2014, I followed up with a post that talked about the first of five fatal flaws of the traditional full-service agency Org Chart: production silos are misaligned with assisted-attribution models. Specifically, if we know it takes 5-7 buyer touch points working together to generate a conversion (particularly for B2B), then why does it make sense for these functions to be organized separately?  Simply put, independent links cannot form a chain.

This month, I want to tackle the second fatal flaw of traditional full-service agency Org Charts: lack of knowledge transfer between departments.

Separate agency production silos undermine learning between functional groups responsible for the delivering lead generation results.  It’s just not realistic to think an Account Executive can be responsible for improving performance across each link in the assisted-attribution chain.  So who owns it – the Account Director?

Knowledge Sharing Produces Better Outcomes

A self-test you can use is to ask yourself if each production team (creative, web design, media buying, social, PR, etc.) can explain their role in the assisted-attribution path(s) for the clients they serve.  For instance, does the online community manager have any idea how their social media posts fit into the buyer behavior model or what specific outcomes (path goals) they are trying to achieve?   Does the web design team understand the Buyer Personas that will likely be visiting the websites they design and the information needs of those buyer personas such that the appropriate design and content considerations can be built into the site so that it converts?   Is the AE supposed to oversee both project deliverable dates and be the SME across all of these disciplines?

One of the problems with not building integrated teams is the lack of knowledge transfer that can benefit each team member.  If the web designers understand the content goals, then they can be thinking about the best way to organize the content to maximize engagement.  If the social media analysts understood how social engagement needed to drive referral traffic to specific pages on the website to feed web form conversions, then they can design their posts and linking strategy to maximize this goal.  I’m not saying that agencies aren’t doing a good job of providing goal direction to individual teams, but collaboration accelerates innovation.

Knowledge Sharing Can Improve Staff Engagement

Last year, I acted as a contract CMO for a successful digital agency that was organized in silos and whose two partners were insistent that they micro-manage every production aspect in the agency.  The owners were burned out and the employees never got the chance to understand the entire solution that was sold to the client because they were “face down” in their individual production tasks.  When I changed the client kick-off meeting format and handed everyone an integrated Creative Brief to involve all cross-functions that had to execute — something cool happened.  The web designers offered input to the social media team for integrating social feeds into the site design.   The social media team setup a process for feeding trending topic and top converting post information to the content team, etc.   What’s more, weekly team collaboration meetings to brainstorm strategy and tactics (as well as holding Google Analytics training as a “lunch & learn”) inspired the team to become intellectually engaged to think beyond their functional silo.

Upon leaving that agency engagement, I had many of their staff say that the collaboration reinvigorated their careers and they realized that the opportunity to work along side an integrated marketing client team was essential for learning and better understanding the challenges of their peers.

Again, I am sure there are some great full-service agencies out there doing this right — and I’d like to hear from you.  However, production silos work against building tight-knit teams, singular focus on client objectives, and the transferal of marketing knowledge essential to maximize effectiveness in the multi-touch point world of lead generation.



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